TOP 20 GAMES OF 2012

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Game 5: Super Bowl XLVII

Better with the Lights Off

Conspiracy theories abound these days, like Yanni records in a hot yoga studio. It's getting pretty ridiculous. FDR knew Pearl Harbor was getting bombed before it happened. Astronauts landed on a sound stage in Arizona, not the moon. David Stern made sure the Knicks got Patrick Ewing in '85 ...

... and the league kicked out the lights in the Superdome to cool off the Baltimore Ravens, get the San Francisco 49ers back in the game and make Super Bowl XLVII interesting.

A faulty relay device is the official reason for the infamous blackout during the third quarter of Super Bowl XLVII.

Here's a theory to stick in your vinyl collection: The difference between teams in the NFL is so razor thin that any -- any -- let-up will allow a really freaking good football club back in the game. How about that? Induct me into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame later with that brilliant piece of writing. Or not.

To review, Baltimore played quality football for two-and-a-half quarters before Jim Harbaugh's 49ers started ballin'. John Harbaugh's Ravens jumped out in front with a brilliant offensive game plan that allowed them to move the football on the league's second-best scoring defense.

Joe Flacco was outstanding in the first half, completing 13 of 20 passes for 192 yards, three touchdowns and no picks. He looked more relaxed than Joe Flacco at an AFC Championship Game, leading the Ravens on scoring marches of 51, 75 and 56 yards. Meanwhile, the consistent use of the ground attack (35 carries by game's end) kept San Francisco's front seven on its heels -- forcing the vaunted group to react, not anticipate. All of this allowed Baltimore to take a 21-6 lead into halftime.

To make matters worse, just when the 49ers were hoping to climb back in this deal, Jacoby Jones seemingly sealed the deal when he danced his way to a 108-yard return touchdown on the opening kick of the second half.

Then the lights went out. Literally.

You saw it. (Well, sort of saw it. After all, the lights were out.) Two plays into San Francisco's ensuing possession, the Superdome went dark and both teams were forced to sit and wait ... and wait ... and wait. About 35 minutes later, the game resumed, and the 49ers made a contest of it.

Colin Kaepernick led an 80-yard drive that ended with a nice catch-and-run touchdown by Michael Crabtree. A big punt return set up a Frank Gore TD run, and it was 28-20. Then, a Ray Rice fumble allowed the 49ers to notch a gimme field goal from David Akers.

The 49ers rallied, and thanks to individual efforts like the one Michael Crabtree gave on his impressive touchdown, were able to roar back into the game.

Yes, the overactive brains of conspiracy theorists were firing on all cylinders, as the Niners closed the gap to 28-23.

OK, but the Ravens weren't shrinking violets, either. Two Justin Tucker field goals kept them ahead. Nonetheless, there was that annoying athletic QB again -- a Kaepernick touchdown scamper put Super Bowl XLVII at 34-29, Baltimore.

So, with under five minutes to play, San Francisco mounted its final surge, advancing to the Ravens' 7-yard-line with a first-and-goal. Which leads us to ...

Play(s) of the Game: Call it the sequence of the game. Call it the sequence of the 2012 season. Rewatch the whole series right here as you continue.

* First-and-goal from the 8: The Niners go basic, running LaMichael James up the middle for two yards. Basically, this is a let's-make-second-down-more-manageable-and-maybe-get-lucky play.

* Second-and-goal from the 5: Offensive coordinator Greg Roman calls a designed rollout by Kaepernick, with Vernon Davis and Crabtree as his primary targets.

Two problems:

  1. This shrunk the field, allowing several Ravens defenders to flood that side of the end zone.
  2. Crabtree could have taken his defender deeper before coming back for the ball, leaving Kaepernick a larger window to fit that ball.

Incomplete pass.

* Third-and-goal from the 5: The 49ers send Crabtree in motion to the right. Kaepernick takes a five-step drop, looking solely to his right. The ball is obviously heading toward Crabtree, who is running to the flat. The ball is there. So is Ravens CB Jimmy Smith. Drop.

* Fourth-and-goal from the 5: Roman again limits Kaepernick's reads, calling for a back-shoulder fade to Crabtree on the right side of the end zone.

Baltimore defensive coordinator Dean Pees calls for a blitz right up the gut. Kaepernick feels the pressure in his face and responds by heaving the ball in Crabtree's direction. Yes, there's contact between Smith and Crabtree, but not enough to be called. Honestly, it appeared as though Crabtree initiated it.

Turnover on downs. Baltimore football. Baltimore Lombardi Trophy.

Joe Flacco and the Ravens were able to claim football's most coveted prize thanks to a total team effort before and after the blackout.

Before we move on from the Niners' most important possession of the season, here are three quick takeaways:

  1. The 49ers' best play call might have been nullified. Roman called for an apparent QB draw on third-and-goal -- allowing Kaepernick to use his most dangerous attribute -- but Jim Harbaugh called a timeout a millisecond before the snap.
  2. Speaking of play calls, I wasn't a huge fan of Roman's decisions. He's been an innovative coordinator, no doubt, but three play calls in a row gave Kaepernick approximately four TOTAL reads. Roman didn't seem to trust his QB to hold the ball and look for options, rolling with simple strategies.
  3. What a gut check for Pees. To blitz straight up the gut on fourth down took two brass stones.

Best Player on the Field: Flacco capped off a fantastic postseason with a stellar Super Bowl, completing 22 of his 33 passes for 287 yards, three touchdowns and no picks. He played with utter composure, particularly on third down.

Joe Flacco on Third Down – Super Bowl XLVII
Att-Comp 7-10
Passing Yards 158
Yards per Att 15.8
TD-INT 2-0
Passer Rating 152.1*

Historical Symmetry: Prior to the 22-point deficit San Francisco faced in the second half of Super Bowl XLVII, the most this franchise had ever been down in a Super Bowl was seven points.

Ironically, San Francisco fell behind by those seven points in Super Bowl XXIII by virtue of a third-quarter kickoff return. The returner? Stanford Jennings.

Why This Game is No. 5: The only debate was whether to put this game at 4, 5 or 6 on our list. Because of the fact it was the Super Bowl, Ravens-49ers was placed ahead of 49ers-Patriots, our No. 6 entry.

What held this game back was the poor first-half showing by the 49ers, as well as the power delay. Combined with the lengthy halftime show, it made for a game that lasted longer than Dune.

Visit NFL Game Center for more on Super Bowl XLVII.

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