-First, the obvious: Joe Flacco’s sense of timing is exquisite. He is an unrestricted free agent after completing arguably the best postseason of any QB in history (he threw for 1140 yards, 11 TDs and ZERO INTs during this postseason) – only Joe Montana in 1989 has had a comparable playoff season of excellence. No QB has ever hit free agency on the heels of a Super Bowl MVP performance, so it’s hard to say where his contract will end up – I think five to seven years at $16-19 million is certainly in play. I’ve been hard on Flacco in the past but there’s no denying the fact that he came up absolutely HUGE this postseason AND last postseason, and he’s proven that he’s a top-10 QB in the league.
-Ray Lewis may be going out on top, but the Ravens won in spite of him on Sunday – he looked slow the whole game and unusually tentative at times as well. He’s a no-doubt hall-of-famer, and his leadership will be missed, but I believe he will be easily replaced on the field next season.
-I missed on my prediction, but I DID say that the 49er secondary was their hidden weakness – well, it isn’t hidden anymore. CB Chris Culliver was terrible in coverage, especially in the first half, and safety Donte Whitner also was torched a few times. As expected, the Ravens were more or less ineffective in the running game (2.7 yards per attempt) but San Francisco allowed Flacco to complete 66% of his passes and throw three TDs. This has to be the primary area for the 49ers to address in the offseason.
-Another glaring need is a second viable wider receiver – Michael Crabtree had a great game, and so did TE Vernon Davis – but only two other 49ers caught a pass, while seven different Ravens recorded catches. Late in the game the Ravens did everything they could to take Crabtree away, and Kaepernick had no other viable options on the outside. This is a very, very potent offense now, but it could become elite with one more good wideout.
-One has to wonder about Ray Rice’s future in Baltimore…he had yet ANOTHER crucial fumble, he was benched late in the game, and the Ravens will likely have to pinch pennies once they re-sign Flacco (which is a given no matter the cost in my opinion). Rice had a very disappointing playoff run and it’s clear that John Harbaugh has lost some faith in his ability to avoid big fumbles – this could be an interesting story to watch in the offseason.
-I’ll get to the officiating in a minute, but first let me say regardless of the quality of the refs, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh has to stop whining – both on and off the field. No one likes a crybaby, Jim – stop throwing tantrums on the field, and stop making excuses off the field. There were plenty of missed calls in the game, but the fourth down play Harbaugh so bitterly complained about after the game was a 50/50 call, and if you let a game come down to a ref’s judgment; sometimes it’s not going to go your way. Turnovers and poor defense led to their 22-point deficit. Maybe Harbaugh should worry more about his team’s errors and let others worry about the refs.
-Having said that…and most readers know I’m a ref myself, so I tend to be a little more lenient than most…the refs had an absolutely HORRIBLE game. Forget the 49ers last play, as I said it was 50/50…I saw missed holding all game, I saw at least one missed offsides call, but worst of all I saw a player get up after a scrum and PUSH AN OFFICIAL! That should be an automatic ejection, yet the player did not even get a flag! All that does is send a message to the players that they can get away with plenty, and sure enough they did. I read a report that the NFL ‘fixed’ the grades to get referee Jerome Boger on this game – if so, they brought this debacle on themselves. Boger and his crew had a performance unworthy of the game’s biggest stage.
-A quick word about the power outage: I think everyone is making too big of a deal out of it. Stuff happens, so what if the game was delayed a half hour? It didn’t ‘change the momentum’ – SF punted immediately after that. The only thing worth noting is how terribly CBS handled the outage – as others have noted, they acted like they had NO contingency plans for any sort of broadcast interruptions. Gee, guys, it’s the Super Bowl, you spent literally BILLIONS to have the right to broadcast it…that was the best you could do?
-Despite the win, I like San Francisco’s immediate future quite a bit more than Baltimore’s. The 49ers have a very young core, especially on offense, and Kaepernick has proven that he’s a keeper. The Ravens are losing Ray Lewis, probably losing Ed Reed, and there’s also a good chance they are losing WR Anquan Boldin – who was their best WR the past month by far. That’s a lot of talent to replace, and their defense isn’t exactly young anymore.
Both divisions are strong – the AFC North is always tough, but the NFC West has suddenly become one of the best in the league. Neither team will have an easy path to the playoffs (this, by the way, is part of why I think the Pats have been a bit overrated of late – their division has been poor for years now).
-Finally, the Ravens are just the latest example of how meaningless the regular season has become in all sports – and how fleeting ‘momentum’ really is. Had they blown their Week 16 game to the Giants, the Ravens may well have even missed the playoffs – as it was, they went in losers of four of their last five games, seemingly a team on the decline. Two dominant playoff wins (and a 70-yard miracle) later, they were in the Super Bowl and frankly they were the better team in all four postseason games they played. More than ever, records and seeding don’t matter, the goal is just to make the playoffs and see what happens.
Dave Glass can be reached at email@example.com.