NEW ORLEANS (AP). Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens were turning the Super Bowl into a rout when, without even a flicker of warning, the power went off. When the game resumed 34 minutes later, the San Francisco 49ers were the ones playing lights out.
Instead of a blowout, the blackout turned the big game into a shootout.
The Ravens survived the frenzied comeback by the 49ers for a thrilling 34-31 win at the Superdome on Sunday night and their second NFL championship in 11 years.
How could it be any other way? Its never pretty. Its never perfect. But its us, coach John Harbaugh said after winning the sibling showdown with younger brother Jim. It was us today.
Leading by 22 points when most of the Superdome lights and the scoreboards went dark early in the third quarter, the Ravens used a last-gasp defensive stand to hold on after the momentum strangely swung to the 49ers. San Francisco receiver Michael Crabtree was bumped in the end zone on the 49ers final offensive play — the contact appeared incidental — but coach Jim Harbaugh insisted a penalty should have been called.
Theres no question in my mind that there was a pass interference and then a hold, Jim Harbaugh said.
As for the foul-up at Americas biggest sporting event, officials revealed that an abnormality in the power system triggered an automatic shutdown, forcing backup systems to kick in. But no one was sure what caused the initial problem.
Everything changed after that, though, until Ray Lewis and Co. shut it down. But there were plenty of white-knuckle moments and the Ravens (14-6) had to make four stops inside their 7 at the end.
I think it speaks to our resolve, speaks to our determination, speaks to our mental toughness, John Harbaugh said. That is what wins and loses games.
For a Super Bowl with so many subplots, it almost had to end with a flourish.
Flaccos arrival as a championship quarterback coincides with Lewis retirement — with a second Super Bowl ring no less. The win capped a sensational month since the star linebacker announced he was leaving the game after 17 Hall of Fame-caliber years.
At 4 hours, 14 minutes, it was the longest Super Bowl ever.
The loss of power left players from both sides stretching and chatting with each other. It also slowed Baltimores surge, and that was considerable after Jacoby Jones 108-yard kickoff return and Flaccos three touchdown passes made it 28-6.
Flaccos big start boosted him to the MVP award.
They have to give it to one guy and Im not going to complain that I got it, said Flacco, who soon will get a rich new contract. His current deal expired with this win.
Down by three TDs, back came San Francisco (13-5-1) in search of its sixth Lombardi Trophy in as many tries.
As far as the power going out, that didnt change anything for us, tight end Vernon Davis said.
Yet they got back in the game almost immediately.
Michael Crabtrees 31-yard touchdown reception on which he broke two tackles made it 28-13. A couple minutes later, Frank Gores 6-yard run followed a 32-yard punt return by Ted Ginn Jr., and the 49ers were within eight.
Ray Rices fumble at his 24 led to David Akers 34-yard field goal, but Baltimore woke up for a long drive leading to rookie Justin Tuckers 19-yard field goal.
San Francisco wasnt done challenging, though, and Colin Kaepernicks 15-yard TD run, the longest for a quarterback in a Super Bowl, made it 31-29. A 2-point conversion pass failed when the Ravens blitzed.
Tucker added a 38-yarder with 4:19 remaining, setting up the frantic finish.
Kaepernick couldnt get the 49ers into the end zone on the final three plays, and Ravens punter Sam Koch took a safety for the final score with 4 seconds left. Kochs free kick was returned by Ginn to midfield as time ran out.
The Harbaughs then met at midfield amid the Ravens confetti-laden celebrations.
Its very tough, John Harbaugh said, referring to their conversation. Its a lot tougher than I thought it was going to be. Its very painful.
Only one other championship game in the NFLs 80-year title game history, Pittsburghs 35-31 win over Dallas in 1979, featured both teams scoring at least 30 points.
In the first half, Flacco was as brilliant as Tom Brady, Joe Montana or Terry Bradshaw ever were in the NFLs biggest game. The only quarterback to win a playoff game in each of his first five seasons — his coach holds the same distinction — was nearly perfect. Overall, Flacco threw for 11 touchdowns to tie a postseason record, and had no interceptions.
The Ravens stumbled into the playoffs with four defeats in its last five regular-season games as Lewis recovered from a torn right triceps and Flacco struggled. Harbaugh even fired his offensive coordinator in December, a stunning move with the postseason so close.
But that — and every other move Harbaugh, Flacco and the Ravens made since — were right on target. Just like Flaccos TD passes of 13 yards to Anquan Boldin, 1 to Dennis Pitta and 56 to Jones in the first half, tying a Super Bowl record.
New Orleans native Jones, one of the heroes in a double-overtime playoff win at Denver, seemed to put the game away with his record 108-yard sprint with the second-half kickoff.
Soon after, the lights went out — and when they came back on, the Ravens were almost powerless to slow the 49ers.
Until the final moments.
The final series of Ray Lewis career was a goal-line stand, Harbaugh said.
Lewis sprawled on all fours, face-down on the turf, after the end zone incompletion.
Its no greater way, as a champ, to go out on your last ride with the men that I went out with, with my teammates, Lewis said. And you looked around this stadium and Baltimore! Baltimore! We coming home, baby! We did it!
It was a bitter loss for Jim Harbaugh, the coach who turned around the Niners in the last two years and brought them to their first Super Bowl in 18 years. His team made a similarly stunning comeback in the NFC championship at Atlanta, but couldnt finish it off against Baltimore.
Our guys battled back to get back in, the 49ers coach said. I thought we battled right to the brink of winning.
The 49ers couldnt have been sloppier in the first half, damaging their chances with penalties — including one on their first play that negated a 20-yard gain — poor tackling and turnovers. Rookie LaMichael James fumbled at the Baltimore 25 to ruin an impressive drive, and the Ravens converted that with Flaccos 1-yard pass to Pitta for a 14-3 lead.
On San Franciscos next offensive play, Kaepernick threw behind Randy Moss and always dependable safety Ed Reed picked it off. A huge scuffle followed that brought both Harbaughs onto the field and saw both sides penalized 15 yards for unnecessary roughness.
Reed, also a New Orleans native, tied the NFL record for postseason picks with his ninth.
Baltimore didnt pounce on that mistake for points. Instead, Tuckers fake field goal run on fourth-and-9 came up a yard short when Chris Culliver slammed him out of bounds.
The Ravens simply shrugged, forced a three-and-out, and then unleashed Jones deep. Just as he did to Denver, he flashed past the secondary and caught Flaccos fling. He had to wait for the ball, fell to the ground to grab it, but was untouched by a Niner. Up he sprang, cutting left and using his speed to outrun two defenders to the end zone.
Desperate for some points, the 49ers completed four passes and got a 15-yard roughing penalty against Haloti Ngata, who later left with a knee injury. But again they couldnt cross the goal line, Paul Kruger got his second sack of the half on third down, forcing a second Akers field goal, from 27 yards.
When Jones began the second half by sprinting up the middle virtually untouched — he is the second player with two TDs of 50 yards or more in a Super Bowl, tying Washingtons Ricky Sanders in 1988 — the rout was on.
Then it wasnt.
Everybody had their hand on this game, 49ers All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis said. We point the fingers at nobody. We win together and we lose together, and today we lost it.