Super Bowl Sunday is the most glamorized sporting event of the year, and the hype leading up to the game is maximized. Those players participating in the game have more physical and mental preparation than any other game of their careers, along with a much bigger media spotlight. But in the end, it is still a football game, and player performance dictates the difference between winning and losing.
Super Bowl XLVII offered many exciting twists, ultimately netting Baltimore another Lombardi trophy. Joe Flacco earned the honors of Super Bowl MVP, but did he really deserve such an honor? Regardless, Baltimore’s front office knew long before the Super Bowl whether or not they were keeping Joe Flacco and the price tag attached to do so.
The Super Bowl might have simply netted Flacco a few extra million toward the end of the contract or a couple hundred thousand dollars annually in incentives. Nonetheless, he will be paid handsomely this off-season. He might want to share some of the nine figure contract with some well-deserving teammates! They helped to make it happen. Let me shed some light on plays and players lost in the shuffle.
Baltimore receiver Jacoby Jones will be remembered for his 108 yard kickoff return, but what about his play prior to that? Jones is known for his speed, and Baltimore made a play for him in free agency last year for that very reason. Houston released him, deciding that they no longer had a need for him or that he wasn’t worth his $3.5 million cap charge. Jones is not a top tier talent, and his route running and hands have been suspect at times. After all, this season he only had 30 catches and one touchdown during the regular season, which hardly makes him a premier performer. But his speed is undeniable, and he does have the ability to return kicks for touchdowns.
Whatever the case, Baltimore made the decision to sign him. George Kokinis, Vincent Newsome, Chad Alexander, and the entire Baltimore Pro Personnel department need to be commended for recognizing how to use his talent to their advantage and paying him accordingly. Baltimore targeted him in free agency, but only to play in those roles in which he excels: Slot receiver in three or more receiver sets, punt returner and kick returner. A prime example of fitting a player into a scheme.
Jones’ first touchdown almost didn’t even occur. Jones was back to field the punt that started Baltimore’s drive, and he dropped the ball instead of catching it clean. Had a 49ers player been near him, the ball could easily have been dived on while it was on the ground for that brief instant. Mistake #1: On the very next play, Jones dropped a very catchable pass from Flacco. Mistake #2: Such drops can cripple a drive if it leaves a team in a third-and-long situation. (Luckily that was a first down play.)
However, on 3rd-and-10 Baltimore sent Jones deep down the field on a superbly designed play. Jones burnt his man deep, but Flacco severely under threw the pass. Despite the poorly thrown ball, Jones adjusted and not only caught the ball with the defender in his face, but he also had the awareness to get up and run in for the score. Some receivers would have just stayed on the ground or assumed they were touched down by the defense.
After a long halftime intermission and with a comfortable 21-6 halftime lead, Jones came out to field the second half opening kickoff. As he fielded the ball 8 yards deep in the endzone, it was instantly apparent that he had no intention of taking a knee. Running the ball out can be a costly mistake if the kickoff team has great coverage or is already down the field inside the 20 yard-line. Typically returners take a knee with a kickoff that deep into the endzone, knowing that they are not likely to make it out past the 20. (Taking a knee would at least net the offense a starting point at the 20 yard-line.) But for whatever reason Jones was not going to take a knee. He caught the ball with momentum already moving forward. Maybe his lead blocker (#35 Anthony Allen) did not yell or signal to him to indicate that he should not run the kick out of endzone.
Credit goes not only to Allen but also to Special Teams coaches Jerry Rosburg and Chris Hewitt for emphasizing this important aspect of the play. If Allen takes this job lightly, Jones is unsure of his return potential and he may not come out running with such a head of steam, if at all. Whatever the case, the play resulted in a touchdown, and once again Jones’ speed was an asset. Flacco should say thank you.
Jones’ salary cap charge this past season was $1.6 million. We will see in the coming months if Baltimore feels his playoff performance is worthy of a 2013 $4.9 million cap number.
Leading by Example
What makes a great team leader? What makes a primetime performer?
On a 1st-and-10 in the first quarter, Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick threw 24 yards down the field to tight end Vernon Davis, and Baltimore safety Ed Reed made a great play on the ball. The two players collided and Davis made the catch, but both players came up a bit lame. Reed injured his knee, and Davis hurt his elbow. Both players had to leave the game. But both returned rather quickly, realizing the magnitude of the game and determined to overcome the pain. Davis went on to add 6 catches for 104 yards, and Reed made a key interception to go along with his 5 tackles.
Baltimore’s other safety, Bernard Pollard, was even more impressive: He played through 6 fractured ribs!
Rather than nursing an injury, these players went on to impact the game. Flacco should thank Reed and Pollard.
Flacco was only sacked twice in the game. And while he had to scramble numerous times in the face of pressure, many of those scrambles were self-induced. If you go back and watch the film, Flacco was quick to leave the pocket. A good quarterback knows how to step up into the pocket and buy time, but maybe Flacco’s instruction was to avoid unnecessary hits at all costs. In addition, Flacco often held the ball too long as he scrambled looking for an open receiver. Holding the ball for an extended period of time instead of throwing it away often leads to an unnecessary sack or a poor throw that results in an interception. But skill, good fortune, and blessing from above prevented such a scenario from occurring to Flacco.
Joe Flacco was one of the first to point out that he would have never had 3 touchdown passes had his offensive line not provided such superb pass protection against the 49ers top defense. The offensive line held up against numerous blitz schemes, and I only saw one bust in the game (by tackle Bryant McKinnie) that led to a sack.
Baltimore also remained dedicated to the run game. Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce only ran for an average of 3 yards per carry, but they only had one run for negative yards.
On the other sideline, the San Francisco offense did a fantastic job rushing the ball. This wasn’t simply Kaepernick running around, it was a commitment to a traditional running game with running backs Gore and James. The 49ers offense averaged an impressive 6.3 yards per carry! (Baltimore knew Kaepernick was going to run, so they schemed to contain him for only 62 yards on 7 carries.) In addition, the 49ers offensive line nullified the force that is Baltimore defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, before he was injured.
These men were dependable all game, and they need to be recognized by name. Popular media sources won’t do it, so I will. I respect the efforts of these men.BALTIMORE #78 LT – B. McKinnie #72 LG – K. Osemele #77 C – M. Birk #73 RG – M. Yanda #74 RT – M. Oher
SAN FRANCISCO#74 LT – J. Staley #77 LG – M. Iupati #59 C – J. Goodwin #75 RG – A. Boone #76 RT – A. Davis
So Joe Flacco won the Super Bowl MVP award, and he played a great game, no doubt. He only forced one throw. (49ers safety Culliver made the play but not the interception.) He didn’t have an interception or a fumble. He managed the game just as he was asked. He stuck to the gameplan. But was he really the MOST VALUABLE player? I would argue that the aforementioned players did more.
Joe Flacco should thank each of the Baltimore offensive linemen… again.
I will leave it to the skilled individuals in the 32 NFL team Pro Personnel departments across the country to decide which of these players played the best, but my vote for MVP would definitely go to one of these underappreciated offensive linemen!