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WHETHER JOE FLACCO IS AN ELITE QUARTERBACK IS A MATTER OF OPINION. WHETHER HE IS A CHAMPIONSHIP QUARTERBACK is now a matter of fact. The only signal-caller in NFL history to take his team to the playoffs in each of his first five seasons, Flacco struck the mother lode at the Superdome in New Orleans, where he led the Ravens to a scintillating 34--31 victory over the 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII.
En route to winning the MVP trophy, Flacco completed 22 of 33 passes for 287 yards and three first-half touchdowns. He became the sixth player in one of the NFL's most prestigious clubs: active quarterbacks who have been a Super Bowl MVP. Move over Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. Make room for your new fraternity brother.
After throwing a pick-six and fumbling in the first half of a Dec. 16 loss to Denver, Flacco was simply unflappable. Over the next six games (two in the regular season and four in the postseason), he threw 13 touchdown passes and wasn't intercepted once. To go along with his 11 postseason touchdowns, he also tied Joe Montana's 1989 playoff record for most passes without a pick. "That's pretty cool," Flacco said upon hearing of his achievement. "Joe Montana has been my favorite quarterback."
Montana, who won four Super Bowls and was a three-time Super Bowl MVP, was known as Joe Cool. Now you can pin that nickname on Flacco, who has started every game since the Ravens drafted him 18th in 2008 out of Delaware.
Less than five minutes into the Super Bowl, Flacco got Baltimore on the scoreboard with a 13-yard strike to Anquan Boldin near the back of the end zone; halfway through the second quarter Flacco capitalized on a San Francisco fumble and drove the Ravens to the one, where he threw a dart to Dennis Pitta for a 14--3 lead. Then, with less than two minutes left in the half, Baltimore's QB heaved a 47-yard pass to wideout Jacoby Jones, who fell over backward as he caught the rainbow inside the 10-yard line, then scrambled to his feet, juked untouched past two defenders and raced into the end zone to make it 21--3. (The 49ers ended the half with a field goal.)
When Jones made another outsized play, returning the second-half kickoff 108 yards to give Baltimore a 28--6 advantage, the Ravens looked as if they were playing lights out. A few minutes later the lights really did go out. A power outage left the Superdome in partial darkness, and play was suspended for 34 minutes—the first time any Super Bowl had had an extended delay. And when play resumed, the 49ers suddenly looked electrified.
Led by Colin Kaepernick, their wunderkind quarterback making only his 10th NFL start, San Francisco came back with a flurry of points. A 31-yard scoring reception by Michael Crabtree, a six-yard touchdown scamper by Frank Gore, a 34-yard field goal by David Akers and a nifty 15-yard dash by Kaepernick cut the deficit to 31--29 with just under 10 minutes to play. The 49ers tried a two-point conversion that would have tied it, but Ed Reed got a jump off the edge. That hurried Kaepernick into throwing the ball, and the pass sailed high.
"You've seen those guys do it," Flacco said of the Niners' comeback. "They have the ability to score and score quickly."
Rookie Justin Tucker's 38-yard field goal with 4:19 left gave Baltimore a bit of breathing room at 34--29, but the throats of Ravens fans constricted when Kaepernick drove the 49ers to the five-yard line just before the two-minute warning. Kaepernick's magic ran out, though (and Baltimore's coverage came through), as he threw three consecutive incompletions, turning the ball over. After Ravens punter Sam Koch took an intentional safety, the 49ers had just four seconds in which to attempt a comeback; Baltimore's Josh Bynes pulled down Ted Ginn Jr., who was returning the free kick, at midfield to end the game.
Flacco made several big plays throughout the evening, including a 30-yard pass to Boldin on third-and-seven from the Baltimore 36 in the first quarter, when the quarterback scrambled to his right, looking as if he would just throw the ball out-of-bounds. Coach John Harbaugh cited a third-down pass in the fourth quarter—a 15-yard completion to Boldin that kept alive a drive that ended in Tucker's 38-yarder—as one of Flacco's boldest plays.