It will be Harbaugh vs. Harbaugh come Super Bowl Sunday in a couple of weeks in New Orleans. John Harbaugh’s Baltimore Ravens went into New England and pounded out a 28-13 victory over the Patriots. Brother Jim led his San Francisco 49ers to 28-24 come-from-behind win in Atlanta over the Falcons.
The games ended the way you would expect from teams coached by two demanding, fiery personalities.
Defenses knocked the other guy out.
Ravens rip Patriots
It was a pronounced hammering in Foxboro, where the Patriots hardly ever lose. Baltimore grew stronger and stronger as the day wore on and by the second half, just pounded out a win, the way the Patriots used to win games.
The Ravens outscored New England 21-0 in the second half, hit them with big pass plays, ran over them and knocked three key players out of the game with big time hits.
Brady, who was 62-0 when leading at halftime in games, was reduced to trying to rally his team without his top running back and without his superstar tight end. Rob Gronkowski did not play with a broken arm, then running back Stevan Ridley went out with a concussion. Complicating matters, New England lost big, physical defensive backs Aqib Talib and Patrick Chung with injuries in the second quarter.
New England couldn’t stop big receiver Anquan Boldin, who had two more key touchdown catches. The Pats could not put a lid on Ravens’ running backs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce when they needed to in the second half. And Baltimore QB Joe Flacco threw for three touchdowns and 240 yards in a biting cold wind.
Brady self-destructed, trying desperately to rally his team. In the fourth quarter alone, Ridley fumbled after a helmet hit, Brady had a deflected pass picked off at the Ravens 17, got stopped on downs at the Baltimore 19 and then threw another pick in the end zone.
To complicate things, Coach Bill Belichick, the smartest man in the NFL coaching ranks, screwed up his timeouts. Right at the half, he wasted 30 seconds when he could have stopped the clock and taken a couple of shots at the end zone that would have given his team a 17-7 bulge. Instead, he wound up with a field goal. Then, with six minutes left and three timeouts left in his pocket in the fourth quarter, he burned off three minutes of time, before starting to use them when he needed two scores to win the game.
End of game, season and Super Bowl hopes.
49ers ambush Atlanta
It started out badly for the Niners, when the Falcons came out throwing, scoring and building a 17-0 lead. At one point, Atlanta out-gained San Francisco 182-2 yards after the first quarter.
But the Niners did not cave in. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick found his comfort zone, moved the pocket, found open receivers and got them back in the game.
Michael Crabtree and Randy Moss caught big yardage plays. Frank Gore started to tear up yards off the read-option offense and backup LaMichael James contributed, too.
The pressure seemed to build on Atlanta this week, like it did last week. They started to press and started to struggle protecting quarterback Matt Ryan. The open seams for tight end Tony Gonzalez and big play receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White disappeared. And when tough guy running back Michael Turner went out with a sprained ankle late in the first half, the Falcons became one dimensional.
The Niners defense intercepted a pass, recovered a Ryan fumble and gradually started dictating the tempo of the game. They finished with a flourish, stuffing the Falcons on a fourth down at the 10 yard line when Atlanta needed a first down that could have led to a game-winning touchdown.
It was another bitter end to the season for those in the Georgia Dome. A 13-3 regular season means nothing when you don’t win in postseason.
Ryan and Coach Mike Smith are now 1-4 in postseason games over four years and it feels like a cement block around their necks. Next year doesn’t seem very promising when you have failed so many years in a row.
Super Bowl Sunday
Get ready for the hype. Two weeks of tales about Jim and John. Two weeks of tales about Ray Lewis’ emotional farewell tour. Two weeks to wonder if Belichick has lost his magic in New England.
Two weeks from now, it will be ugly. Just enough offense. Lots of violent defense.
It won’t be sexy. But it will be the Super Bowl.