NEW ORLEANS — Ray Lewis' last ride has ended with a Ravens coronation, and the vision he has been telling his teammates about for more than a decade is now fulfilled.
Twelve years since they won their first Super Bowl with Lewis and the defense leading the way, the Ravens reigned again, finishing off a surprising playoff run with a thrilling 34-31 victory Sunday night over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Behind the arm of Joe Flacco, the legs of Jacoby Jones and a defense that stiffened at the most crucial time, the Ravens survived a frantic comeback attempt to send Lewis out on top and give coach John Harbaugh bragging rights over his brother, Jim, coach of the 49ers.
When the two brothers, separated in age by 15 months, met at midfield after the game, John said, he told Jim that he loved him.
"It wasn't pretty, it wasn't perfect, but it was us," said John Harbaugh, who took the Lombardi Trophy from owner Steve Bisciotti and held it aloft. "The final series of Ray Lewis' career was a goal line stand to win the Lombardi Trophy. As Ray said on the podium, how could it be any better than that?"
But it wasn't easy, especially after a 34-minute power outage in the Superdome cost the Ravens the momentum they had gained in the first half and from Jacoby Jones' 108-yard kickoff return to start the second half. Following the stoppage in the third quarter, the 49ers scored 17 straight points to cut the Ravens' lead to 28-23.
"I just knew that with Jim Harbaugh on the other sideline and all those years being together, that those guys were going to come back," John Harbaugh said. "Those guys handled [the delay] better than we did."
But before the darkness, the game was all about Flacco. Completing one of the best postseasons for a quarterback ever, Flacco threw three first-half touchdown passes to capture the Super Bowl MVP award and perhaps, quiet his skeptics for good. Jones, who caught one of those touchdowns, gave the Ravens a 28-6 lead before the power cut out.
But fittingly, after a season in which they lost four of their final five regular-season games, battled injuries and had several players deal with personal tragedies, the Ravens needed one more defensive stand to win the Super Bowl.
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who fueled the 49ers' comeback by driving their offense to three second-half touchdowns and a field goal, got his team down to the Ravens' 5-yard line with two minutes to go. However, three straight incompletions, the final one just eluding the grasp of Michael Crabtree, gave the Ravens the ball back.
Less than two minutes later and only after Josh Bynes pulled down Ted Ginn Jr. at midfield on a free kick return, the Ravens burst toward the middle of the field to celebrate. Several players had a pile-on near midfield as the purple confetti rained down on them. Other players did snow angels in the pile of confetti as a pro-Ravens crowd , which sweated through the final minutes of the 49ers' comeback attempt, erupted.
It was exactly the scene that Lewis, as the team's only previous Super Bowl winner, had been telling his fellow players about for so many years.
"We finished it. It just shows what our team was built for. We were here to finish this race and we finished it," Lewis said. "I wanted to see their faces when that confetti came out of the sky. ... That's the greatest reward as a leader, to talk to them about a vision and then finishing it. To bring Baltimore a second ring before I hang up my cleats, there's just no better way to go out."
Now Lewis, the only remaining player from the team that blitzed the New York Giants to win Super Bowl XXXV, and his teammates will get one more ride, a trip through the streets of downtown Baltimore for a parade Tuesday beginning at 11 a.m..
It was Ozzie Newsome's second title, further solidifying him as one of the game's best general managers. But the top executives had said all week that this was about the players and nobody enjoyed the victory any more than safety Ed Reed, who had played 11 years to get this opportunity.
After the victory, which came less than a half hour from where he grew up, Reed went sideline-to-sideline whooping it up with fans. He called the victory a microcosm of the Ravens' season.
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"Started good, got ugly, ended great," said Reed who had an interception in the game.
Then there was Flacco who completed a near-perfect postseason — he had 11 touchdowns and no interceptions in the postseason — by completing 22 of 33 passes for 287 yards and three touchdowns. When the 49ers cut the Ravens' once-comfortable lead to 28-23 following scores on three straight possessions, Flacco answered with a drive that resulted in a Justin Tucker 19-yard field goal.
Following a 15-yard touchdown run by Kaepernick and a failed two-point conversion that left the Ravens with a 31-29 advantage with 9:57 left, Flacco engineered another march, this one ending with Tucker bootintg it through the uprights with 4:19 to play. Flacco then went to the sideline and, like everybody else, held his breath as the Ravens' defense, the second most effective red zone group during the regular season, held San Francisco out of the end zone.
Flacco threw first-half touchdowns to – a 13-yarder to Anquan Boldin on the Ravens' first drive, a 1-yard connection with Dennis Pitta to make it 14-3 and then a 56-yard strike to Jones to make it a 21-3 game. Jones came back for the ball, tumbled to the turf and then got up when he went untouched and ran into the end zone. In the process, Flacco tied Joe Montana and Kurt Warner for the most touchdowns in a postseason.
When Jones then burst through the middle and returned the opening kickoff of the second half for a 108-yard touchdown and a 28-6 lead, the Ravens appeared to be well on their way to a second title. There was still nearly 30 minutes left to play, but to that point, the Ravens had dominated in every way.
A 31-yard Kaepernick touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree, who spun off Cary Williams and Bernard Pollard, made it 28-13. Then just over two minutes later, the 49ers got a long punt return from Ginn to set up a 6-yard touchdown run by Frank Gore to make it 28-20.
"At no point in the game did we think that we were going to lose," said linebacker Terrell Suggs who had played 10 seasons before winning his first title. "As long as we had the lead, we knew we had them. They can call us whatever we want but they've got to put champions on it. The Baltimore Ravens are world champions, baby."