NEW ORLEANS -- There are several ingredients that go into creating a championship football team. Good coaching, strong quarterback play and explosive playmakers have been essential elements of every recent Super Bowl-winning squad. This Baltimore Ravens team was rich in all three of those areas but there were two other ingredients that made them a special group: mental and physical toughness.
The Ravens battled through a tremendous amount of adversity during the regular season, playoffs and the Super Bowl itself. They battled numerous injuries to key players during the regular season, won difficult road contests over two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks during the postseason and survived a fierce comeback from the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII.
The Ravens' roster is littered with tough-minded players who enjoy playing a physical brand of football. Joe Flacco is one, but we'll get to him in a minute. Let's focus on two players who deserve special mention for their performances Sunday evening:
The veteran wide receiver might be the NFL's most physical pass catcher. He overpowered defenders throughout the game, hauling in six balls for 104 yards and one touchdown. Boldin operated fearlessly in the middle of the 49ers' defense and he also was effective making plays on deep crossers. His arrival in Baltimore added toughness to the receiving corps that had been sorely lacking and it paid off in the form of a Super Bowl title.
The Ravens' defense is loaded with big-name superstars. However, it was the lesser-known Kruger who made some of the biggest plays on the Super Bowl stage. With Terrell Suggs' pass rush ability greatly limited due to injury, Kruger filled the void with two huge sacks of 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Kruger's explosive first step and effective hand usage gave right tackle Anthony Davis fits all game long. Kruger is set to be a free agent and he drove up the price tag with his performance in Super Bowl XLVII.
And about that Joe guy...
Flacco capped off an incredible postseason run with an MVP performance in Super Bowl XLVII. While watching this game, there were three aspects of the Baltimore Ravens quarterback's play that continued to stand out:
Poise. Flacco looked very comfortable all night long. Offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell did an excellent job of dialing up an easy throw to start the game and that helped quickly get Flacco into a rhythm. He never looked frazzled and he quickly managed his way through his progressions to find the open receiver. He didn't force balls into coverage but he also didn't refrain from taking shots down the field.
Pocket movement. We heard all week about the athleticism of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. That was well-deserved praise but we might have short-changed Flacco's mobility. Flacco didn't pop any long runs but he did put on a clinic on how to successfully navigate his way around pressure. He avoided three potential first-half sacks by bailing out of the pocket and he successfully climbed up in the pocket to connect on a 56-yard touchdown toss to Jacoby Jones. That play was eerily similar to the tying touchdown pass late in the playoff game against the Broncos.
Play-making. Every time a play needed to be made, Flacco delivered. He set the tone with his touchdown strike to Anquan Boldin during the Ravens' first drive and he produced two scoring drives (two field goals) in the fourth quarter as the game was beginning to slip away from the Ravens. One key to the game was the third-down disparity. Thanks to Flacco, the Ravens were 9-of-16 while the 49ers converted just twice in nine chances.
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