The lights went out on the Baltimore Ravens Sunday night and just as they were on the verge of the biggest collapse in Super Bowl history, along came a blinding laser that was Joe Flacco's to save them.
Flacco threw three touchdown passes in the first half and then stemmed a furious San Francisco comeback with one gorgeous, pressure-packed completion that ultimately meant the difference in Baltimore's 34-31 victory at Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Flacco completed 22 of 33 passes for 287 yards and no interceptions and was named Super Bowl MVP.
No team had lost a lead of more than 10 points in the previous 46 Super Bowls. Baltimore had piled up a 28-6 advantage when Jacoby Jones returned the second half kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown and it looked like the route was on.
Then the lights in the dome went out. For the first time in the 47-year Super Bowl history, the game was delayed by a power outage. It lasted 35 minutes. When it was over, it seemed as though the Ravens were sapped of all their energy.
San Francisco scored four times and the Ravens managed just one field goal as the 49ers cut the deficit to 31-29 with 9:57 to go, a missed 2-point conversion from tying it.
That set up 10 minutes of drama that ranks among the better ones in the nearly half-century these games have been held.
With the momentum clearly thrown to San Francisco's side, Flacco faced a third-and-inches at his 45 after a replay challenge had overturned a Baltimore first down. Instead of putting the game in the feet of Ray Rice, Flacco dropped back and rifled a pass toward the right sideline. Anquan Boldin caught it on his back shoulder for a 15-yard reception and a first down.
That allowed the Ravens to drive toward Justin Tucker's 38-yard field goal to push their lead to 34-29.
That proved indispensable when the 49ers took over with 4:19 left and drove from their 20 to the Baltimore 7. On four plays, they could not stick it into the end zone.
Baltimore ran out most of the remaining clock and then punter Sam Koch dropped into the end zone, danced around and took a safety with four seconds left.
Flacco, making his first appearance in a Super Bowl, put on a performance worthy of another Joe, Montana. Flacco had his Ravens in the playoffs all five of his years in the league, but often heard that he could not win the big one.
Yet he won the biggest game in a very big way, delivering Baltimore its second Vince Lombardi Trophy and first in a dozen years.
Flacco and the Ravens owned the first half. He threw three touchdown passes as the Ravens ran out to a 21-6 halftime lead.
Flacco scorched the 49ers pass defense and secondary, completing 13 of 20 for 192 yards. San Francisco aided the Ravens by losing two turnovers in the first half.
Then Jones put what looked like a cherry on the top of Baltimore's rout when he returned the kickoff to open the second half 108 yards, the longest in Super Bowl history. He deflated the Steelers in November with a 63-yard punt return for Baltimore's only touchdown in a 13-10 Ravens victory.
"When I was born, I was fast," Jones, a New Orleans native, said Thursday. "I think I ran before I walked."
The first half and the pre-blackout was all Baltimore's.
The Ravens snatched a 7-0 lead when Flacco hit Anquan Boldin in the middle back of the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown pass on their first series.
San Francisco looked as if they would tie it after quarterback Colin Kaepernick passed and ran the 49ers on a drive that carried from their 20 to a first down at the 8. But on third down from there, Steelers nemesis Paul Kruger sacked Kaepernick for a 10-yard loss and David Akers kicked an 18-yard field goal.
Baltimore still led, 7-3.
San Francisco threatened again in the second quarter with a first down at the Ravens 24 when LaMichael James fumbled when hit by Ravens linebacker Courtney Upshaw and Baltimore's Arthur Jones recovered at the Ravens 25.
Baltimore converted that mistake into another Flacco touchdown pass and a 14-3 lead. Tight end Dennis Pitta caught this one for 1 yard on second down to cap a 75-yard drive.
On their next play, the 49ers gave the Ravens yet another opportunity when Kaepernick overthrew Randy Moss, and Ed Reed, another New Orleans native, intercepted his ninth postseason pass, tying an NFL record. His 6-yard return put the Ravens at the San Francisco 38.
But Baltimore coach John Harbaugh offered up a gift to the 49ers when, on fourth-and-9 at San Francisco's 14, he ordered a fake field goal. Instead of kicking the 32-yarder to go up by 14, the Ravens snapped it directly to rookie kicker Justin Tucker. He skirted around left end but came up a yard short at the 6.
It didn't seem to matter much because on the next series Flacco reared back and threw a 56-yard touchdown pass to Jacoby Jones with 1:45 left in the first half. Jones blew past cornerback Chris Culliver and was 5 yards ahead of him when he caught Flacco's underthrown pass at the 8 and fell to the turf. No one touched him, he jumped up and ran the rest of the way to the end zone.
Baltimore led, 21-3.
San Francisco quickly moved on its next drive to Baltimore's 9 but two plays gained nothing and the 49ers settled for Akers' second field goal, from 27 yards on the last play of the half.
Jones long touchdown return seemed to put an end to matters as it pushed the Ravens lead to 22 points.
But the 49ers were revived after the blackout and in less than 21/2 minutes in the third quarter, they had sliced Baltimore's lead to 28-20.
They scored their first touchdown when Michael Crabtree took Kaepernick's pass, broke two tackles and covered 31 yards with 7:20 to go.
Tedd Ginn Jr. returned a poor punt 32 yards to Baltimore's 20 and two plays later, Frank Goore ran 6 yards around right end for a touchdown.
The momentum of the game had swung as quickly as the lights blanked out and they still weren't coming back on for Baltimore.
Rice fumbled at his 24 after catching a pass, stripped by cornerback Tarell Brown.
San Francisco later responded with a touchdown drive of 76 yards that ended with Kaepernick rolling to his left and running 15 yards untouched for the score. His pass for the 2-point lead failed, and Baltimore clung to a 31-29 lead with 9:57 left in the game.
Tucker's field goal gave Baltimore a five-point lead, hardly safe in a game that will go down in history as one of the most interesting Super Bowls in history.
It was Ray Lewis' retirement party, but the night belonged to Flacco.
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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