The Harbaughs are going to the Super Bowl. While there has been intense scrutiny over the better running back, the more clutch quarterback, the more dominating defense, the focus of the questions for brothers Jim and John Harbaugh for the past two weeks has exclusively been centered around the fact that they shared a room growing up. That they battled each other in every aspect of life (as brothers so often do), and now the two get to battle on arguably the biggest stage in sports. Different as they may be, the two have cultivated very similar teams with a defensive focus and a recently revitalized offensive vigor. Instead of scrutinizing the men, let’s scrutinize their teams.
The most striking performance for me in the championship games was that of Joe Flacco. By all appearances, he had an absolutely average regular season. He threw for 3,817 yards and posted 22 touchdowns to his 10 interceptions. Better than your John Skeltons; worse than your Tom Bradys. In the playoffs, however, that Joe Flacco simply disappeared. He has yet to throw an interception, is throwing for more yards per pass than he did in the regular season and has been a touchdown machine. We need to look back only two years to find a playoff performance like this one: Eli Manning of the New York Giants. If you find that hard to stomach, take a look at the stats.
Eli, too, was having an average year (perhaps better than Flacco’s this year, but nowhere near “elite” status) as the Giants stumbled into the playoffs, losers of five of their last eight. Eli and the Giants then went on to have a phenomenal playoffs, capping off the year with a Super Bowl and a Super Bowl MVP for Eli.
In the three-game road leading to the Super Bowl, Eli threw for just over 900 yards, eight touchdowns and one interception. In his three games, Flacco has thrown for just over 850 yards, eight touchdowns and no interceptions.
Eli has often been called Mr. Clutch due to his remarkable penchant for turning his game up in the playoffs. Perhaps that title should instead be awarded to Flacco, who, in addition to putting up comparable numbers in passing yards, touchdowns and interceptions, has had a higher QBR and has put up his numbers on 30 less attempts than Manning.
Am I suggesting Manning and Flacco are the same quarterback? Certainly not. Am I suggesting that the Ravens will win the Super Bowl? Not necessarily. But Eli and the Giants figured out the winning formula, and the Ravens have the right quarterback to do the same.
On the other side of the ball, Colin Kapernick is not your prototypical quarterback. He is so far removed from the gunslinger playing styles of Steve Young and Joe Montana, one can hardly imagine him winning a championship for the same team as them. But maybe just the right amount of Kapernick’s running, his clutch pocket passing, the blocking of the offensive line and the immaculate ability the defense seems to have to stand up to pressure can lead them to their sixth Super Bowl title.
The last time the two met was just over a year ago when the Ravens handed the 49ers a 16-6 thumping. While the score does not scream blowout, (then-starting) QB Alex Smith managed only 140 yards with no touchdowns, Frank Gore produced only 39 yards on the ground and the offensive line proved entirely ineffective against the ferocious D of the Ravens, allowing an astonishing nine sacks.
But this is a team headed by Colin Kapernick, who has proven that not only can he be a mobile quarterback and run for 181 yards, but when he is limited on the ground (last week, he had only one designed run that was stopped for a loss of two), he can still be a leader and throw the ball from the pocket. This is a team with a revitalized offensive line that allowed only one stack and allowed for an overwhelming 5.1 yards per rush and two rushing touchdowns.
It’s safe to say the 49ers are a different team, but so, too, are the Ravens. They are not just playing for themselves. They are playing for the face of the Baltimore Ravens franchise, for Ray Lewis’ “last ride” (Sports Illustrated) as a professional football player. After coming out strong for Ray in their first playoff game, I thought the Ravens were going to be a one-and-done kind of deal. Not so, it would seem, as every single player on the Ravens has stepped up like never before.
This Super Bowl is a tale of two brothers, of one revitalized team versus one running on emotion. While the past few Super Bowl stories have featured headlines like Brady v. Manning, few scripts have been this personal. It’s going to be a passionate, hard-fought game, and I could not be more excited to watch.