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The San Francisco 49ers will be contenders every year in the NFC. The Baltimore Ravens won't go away. What can we learn from their Super Bowl?
The Baltimore Ravens more or less snuck into the playoffs after a weak regular season, but as we've learned repeatedly over the last several years, you just have to make it to have a shot.
The Ravens walked out of New Orleans on Sunday with a win in the Super Bowl, a 34-31 game that was closer than it should have been. It was aided by a bizarre power outage, some weird defensive calls by the Ravens earlier in the game and Colin Kaepernick's young quarterback decision-making throughout. At the end of the day, though, the Ravens simply beat the 49ers, led by a strong game from Joe Flacco and a pretty stellar defensive effort in the first half.
We learned a few valuable lessons from this game. While we may not love the praise of the Ravens to come—Flacco in particular—they turned in an excellent post-season. We can quibble over stupid calls and non-calls in this one, but it's likely the Ravens still would have won. The talent has always been there, and the talent is what we care about today.
To beat the 49ers, who have been rumored to be looking at Darelle Revis in the off-season, you have to exploit their real weaknesses. One of those weaknesses is obvious and not likely to last forever, and that is Colin Kaepernick's lack of experience. He made panicked throws under pressure and poor decisions on multiple occasions not because he's a lousy quarterback, but because he's young and hasn't played a lot of games.
Everything else has to do with deep passes against a lackluster secondary (which may not work if they get Revis), quality coverage on their tight end and smart play calling on both sides of the ball. It's not an overly complex formula and it requires talent to pull off, but the Ravens did it because they had the talent and athleticism to pull it off. The Falcons can certainly emulate that with a smart off-season focused on the defense. They already showed that they can blow away the 49er defense, at least for a half.
And on the Ravens' side of the ledger, we should learn something about the relative value of putting up huge win totals in today's NFL. It's not very valuable. The Ravens stumbled and bumbled their way in and then played stellar football when it mattered most, running the table in the post-season. The Falcons, by contrast, have been a dominant regular season team for years now but do not have a Super Bowl victory to show for it. I'm not saying they should let off the gas during the regular season, but it's fairly clear from the Ravens, Giants and Packers in recent years that straining to win as many regular season games as possible isn't necessarily a winning strategy.
And what we learned from both of these teams is that a 16 game sample size is not enough, as Bill Barnwell notes in his column today. Looking at the full season, you would have thought the 49ers were a clearly superior team to the Ravens, and that they would have won this game handily. But the Ravens played to the very peak of talent level in the playoffs and trucked over some great teams on the way, and frankly given their talent you would expect them to be capable of that kind of performance. They did it.
So there's a few lessons coming from my addled brain. What did you take away from the Super Bowl?