Lights out on a Super Sibling Sunday
Last month, The Box Score revisited the NFC playoff game in which Colin Kaepernick arrived on the NFL’s world stage. With Super Bowl week upon us, we figured we’d play that season out and bring you back to the Blackout Bowl, when the lights shining on a brother vs. brother Super Bowl XLVII literally went out and a comeback came up a score short.
As the second decade of the 2000s was kicking into high gear, one of the NFL’s storied franchises was in the midst of updating its superior status. Having inherited the khaki’d genius of former Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh just a season earlier, the San Francisco 49ers were on the verge of capping his 25 regular-season wins over two years with a trophy celebration.
But that only accounted for 50% of the game’s Harbaugh. San Francisco’s opponents were Baltimore’s annually formidable Ravens, led by their head coach and Jim’s brother, John, the younger of the the duo who along with an aging Ray Lewis had guided his team to five postseason visits in his first five seasons. Though the Ravens’ record had dipped to 10-6 in 2012 (Jim had led them to a 12-4 record the previous season), they’d managed to capture consecutive AFC North crowns for the first time in the franchise’s 17-year history.
It’s difficult to set a more compelling stage in terms of narrative. It’s also difficult, we presume, to set any stage of this magnitude with proper lighting.
Though the 11-4-1 Niners had undergone some key personal changes in the handful of seasons leading up to Super Bowl XLVII, it was (Jim) Harbaugh’s midseason decision to give the ball to Colin Kaepernick after 2005 No. 1 pick Alex Smith suffered a concussion in the season’s eighth week that is rightfully remembered. Though Smith had posted career bests in 2011, earned a $24 million contract an offseason prior, and had upped his performance a tier higher in 2012 at the time of his injury, once the elder Harbaugh decided Kaepernick was his QB, he stuck with his decision and the career that came before the controversy took off.
It was most evident in the 49ers opening playoff game against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, just a season removed from their own Super Bowl title. On Jan. 13, 2013, Kaepernick racked up 181 rushing yards, which remains a playoff record for QBs and remains second among 49ers postseason performances, regardless of position. Raheem Mostert passed Kaepernick with 220 yards on Jan. 19, 2020 – also against the Packers.
After overcoming a 17-point first-half deficit the following week in Atlanta, Kaepernick and Co. hoisted their first NFC championship trophy since 1994, the year Kaepernick turned seven.
Baltimore’s march through the postseason involved a 24-9 win against the Indianapolis Colts before a thriller in Denver against Peyton Manning and his Super Bowl-favorite Broncos (38-35 2OT) in the divisional round, then a comparatively easy 28-13 win over Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots. An impressive run, indeed.
Super Bowl XLVII was the lone NFL title game played between the years 2003 and 2019 that didn’t involve TB12, Ben Roethlisberger or Manning. Even in 2013, this was already providing fresh air for neutral viewers. The 49ers were trying to become the only team other than the New York Football Giants, and fan-owned Packers of Green Bay to hoist a Super Bowl trophy in three different decades.
OK, enough set up.
Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans, Louisiana; Feb. 3, 2013
Actually, we almost forgot about Joe Flacco – AKA the highest-drafted player to ever come out of the University of Delaware. Joe Flacco – the [spoiler alert] MVP of this game. Joe Flacco – the last QB to start all 16 games for a Super Bowl-winning team and fail to connect on 60% of his pass attempts during the regular season. The other two recent Super Bowl-winning QBs to fail to reach the 60% mark were Nick Foles in 2017 (started three regular-season games) and one of the best ever to do it: the 2015 version of Peyton Manning.
On Feb. 3, 2013, however, Flacco looked more like the Super Bowl XXI version of Phil Simms (22 of 25 against Denver for his title-winning Giants), connecting with favorite wideout Anquan Boldin for a touchdown less than five minutes in.
Flacco then leads a run-heavy 10-play, 75-yard drive, capped by a 1-yard toss to tight end Dennis Pitta (Dennis Pitta has one more Super Bowl TD than Walter Payton) as the Ravens extend their lead to 14-3 with 7:10 to play in the first half.
After an Ed Reed interception gives Flacco the ball on the 49ers’ 38, the Ravens settle for a Justin Tucker FG attempt. But instead of the uneventful kind of made FG you’ve come to expect from Tucker, this is when the first extremely bizarre moment of Super Bowl XLVII transpires. Tucker, now best known for his NFL-record 66-yard field goal, is perhaps also remembered for an all-out sprint with a tucked football from 14 yard out in a very important game. Yeah, it doesn’t work out. But the Ravens’ next possession does.
Flacco’s third passing TD of the half goes for 59 yards to Jacoby Jones – more from him coming very soon. The game seems to be coming apart at the seams for the 49ers, who find themselves looking up from a 21-3 hole with 1:58 to play in the first half after being victimized by a the always-demoralizing 22-second scoring drive.
Another field goal brings the Niners within 15. They’d come back from 17 in the NFC championship game, but this game is hardly going their way entering its planned intermission. It doesn’t get any better immediately after. Jones baskets the second-half kick deep in his own end zone, and refuses to play it safe by taking a knee (irony). Instead, he returns the football 108 yards, farther than anyone else in the history of an NFL title game, to extend the lead to 28-6.
Perhaps somewhere a 49ers fans, poetic or otherwise, said something about the lights going down on their efforts to lift another Lombardi Trophy. And then that very thing happens. The actual lights go out at the actual Super Bowl. The darkness lasts 22 minutes, and the game itself is put on pause for slightly longer than a sitcom would air on a major network – 34 minutes of inaction after an already lengthy halftime. Beyoncé doesn’t return for what would have to be an acoustic set.
After a punt from each team, Kaepernick gets to work. He finds the recently un-retired Randy Moss for 9 yards on a key third-and-8. Then, after connecting with tight end Vernon Davis for 18 yards to bring SF to the Ravens’ 31, he drops a dime to Michael Crabtree to make it a two-score game: 28-13 Baltimore with 7:28 left to play in the third.
Flacco doesn’t get anything going on the Ravens’ next possession, and just 77 seconds transpire before Ted Ginn Jr. returned a punt 32 yards to put the 49ers in business with great field position once again.
Kaepernick feeds Davis for 14 yards, then hands to Frank Gore for a 6-yard TD. Let’s pause for a moment to summarize: After trailing by 22, the combination of a Destiny’s Child reunion, a power outage and 2 minutes, 48 seconds of game clock have the San Francisco 49ers within a TD and two-point conversion of tying the game.
It continues to go south for the Ravens. Tarrell Brown forces a Ray Rice fumble, and the 49ers once again take over deep inside Baltimore Territory.
Just 24 yards from a potentially game-tying score, the Niners are forced to settle for a field goal. David Akers misses from 39, but the Ravens are flagged for running into the kicker. Mulligan made from 34 yards out, it’s 28-23 Baltimore.
By this point, Ravens fans have to be pulling out hair and perhaps wires at the Superdome hoping for another round of serious electrical outages. But fear not: Enter the steady hand of the University Of Delaware’s most famous sporting alumnus. Flacco engineers a 12-play excursion that not only eats more than five minutes, but results in three points from Tucker. Yeah, it typically works better when kickers kick the ball rather than hold onto it. Even so, this feels like a key moment in which the San Francisco defense holds Baltimore to a field goal. Flacco’s Ravens needed 72 yards and only got 71. Still, the Ravens’ lead swells back to eight: 31-23 Ravens.
But Kaepernick has the 49ers back in the end zone in 2 minutes, 57 seconds. The final two plays of the drive are both Kaepernick scampers, the last of which is a 15-yard TD run. He tries to connect with Moss on the 2-point conversion, but the jump ball is as errant as a poorly constructed paper airplane…31-29 Baltimore.
While he may not have had the natural mobility of his adversary, Joe Flacco knew how to manage the clock. A deliberate 10-play, 59-yard drive showcased this understated excellence under pressure, and though the Ravens once again fail to reach the end zone, another Tucker field goal puts the Ravens up by five once again with 5:38 to play: 34-29 Baltimore.
Frank Gore’s performance in Super Bowl XLVII was as workmanlike and humble as the rest of his illustrious under-the-radar career, but it’s his 33-yard run late in the fourth quarter that gives San Francisco field position and a final chance in the final minutes.
Gore got the 49ers to the Baltimore 7, setting up a first-and-goal for San Francisco with 2:47 left. Plenty of time. Perhaps too much time. LaMichael James inches them closer after gaining 2 on first down, and then it’s up to Kaepernick. Why (Jim) Harbaugh decided it was best to attempt three straight passes from the 5 is just one of those things 49ers fans will continue to question. The 49ers ran for 6.3 yards per carry for the game, and Kaepernick and Gore had already found the end zone from beyond 5 yards.
On fourth-and-goal from the 5, Kaepernick lofts a final attempt to Crabtree as the pocket collapses. Crabtree is barely able to get his gloved hands on the pass.
Jim Nance utters, “No flags,” and the 49ers’ perfect record in Super Bowls goes belly up. The elder Harbaugh waves his clipboard-gripping hands violently into the air, signaling for a pass interference call. Meanwhile, the younger Harbaugh is raising a victorious fist into the air.
The Ravens inherit the ball with 1:46 to play, run three understandably boring plays, and Sam Koch enters to punt. Koch opts to awkwardly shake and bake his way to taking a safety, bringing the 49ers within three points with four seconds to play…34-31 Ravens.
Koch sends an end-over-end kick into Ted Ginn Jr.’s hands. Though the speedster is able to take it back 31 yards, he’d tackled at midfield. Four hours and 14 minutes after the initial kick, the longest Super Bowl in history is over.
That safety may have been a safety move, but it was significant otherwise in terms of Super Bowl scoring. The 49ers didn’t care then and don’t care now, but they became the second team in Super Bowl history to crack 30 points and lose. It’s happened once since then when the Patriots set the Super Bowl record for points scored in a defeat:
The duration of the game is the record people will remember from this one, but it’s not the only record it holds. While Flacco won MVP honors, his teammate Jones remains one of two players with two TDs of 50 or more yards in the same Super Bowl. The other is Ricky Sanders (Super Bowl XXII), but Jones remains the only player with a return and receiving TD in the same Super Bowl.
In terms of the MVP, perhaps the decision-makers were underwhelmed by Jones’ efforts given the recent past: The Ravens allowed a punt return of 90 yards and kick return of 104 yards to in the same game to Denver’s Trenton Holliday just 22 days before. So two of the seven postseason instances in which a player scored two TDs of 50+ yards in the same game involved the same team in the same playoff run.
On the other sideline, Vernon Davis had what was then a record day for a tight end. His 104 receiving yards in a Super Bowl have since been surpassed by Rob Gronkowski (116 for New England against Philadelphia in Super Bowl LI) and Travis Kelce (133 in Kansas City’s loss to Gronkowski’s Tampa Bay in Super Bowl LV).
And then there’s Kaepernick, whose only Super Bowl ended in elongated, dimly lit heartbreak. As we pointed out last month, his game against the Packers established multiple records, among them the most rushing yards in a playoff game by a QB (181) and the longest postseason rushing TD by a QB (56 yards). His 62 rushing yards in Super Bowl XLVII remain the second-most by a QB in a Super Bowl behind Steve McNair’s 64 from the 1999 season. They contributed to a total of 264 ground yards that postseason – also a record by a quarterback, 21 yards ahead of his 2013 season.
And that 15-yard TD run he had? That’s actually a record for the longest Super Bowl TD run by a quarterback, beating Joe Montana’s previous record of – wait for it – 6 whole yards. It’s a record that seems too short in a career that also seems too short. It was a game in which he came up just short that was in reality much too long.
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Research support by Stats Perform’s Michael Donovan. Design by Briggs Clinard.