Sports

Joe Flacco is getting his credit, John Harbaugh should too

Quarterback Joe Flacco is getting the credit that he deserves for leading the Ravens throughout the playoffs and then to a victory over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII. It will be interesting if Ravens coach John Harbaugh gets his.

Aside from a curious fake field goal try on 4th-and-9 in the second quarter, Harbaugh had a near perfect week. From the moment he arrived in New Orleans, he did and said all the right things and set the tone for his team. He was relaxed, patient and accommodating, establishing a far different presence than his brother. He wore sharp suits to news conferences, projecting a business-like attitude, but he also smiled and joked around, sending a message that the moment wasn’t too big for his team. He encouraged his players to have fun with the experience and be themselves and the Ravens were clearly the looser team all week, yet they mostly managed to avoid saying anything that would have brought on controversy or distraction.

John Harbaugh trusted that his team would be focused and ready to play at game time and indeed the Ravems were as they burst out to a 21-6 halftime lead. His decision to have punter Sam Koch take the safety late in the fourth quarter was a sound call. And when it was over, he handled the situation with his younger brother with compassion and class. I know there are plenty of people out there who feel that Harbaugh has been significantly underappreciated as a coach. I’d imagine that this past week will change that.    

 

There were so many big plays in the Super Bowl that some are bound to become afterthoughts but I really think not enough is being made of linebacker Dannell Ellerbe’s speed and hustle to chase down Frank Gore and push him out of bounds following his 33-yard run late in the fourth quarter. If Ellerbe didn’t take the right angle and make the play, Gore would have gotten in the end zone and there would have been no fourth-down. The game statistics officially listed Ed Reed with the tackle but to me, it didn’t appear that the safety had gotten Gore out of bounds. Ellerbe clearly did.

 

Speaking of Ellerbe, I’d have to think that re-signing him would be the Ravens’ No. 2 offseason priority behind reaching a long-term deal with Flacco. Like he has been for much of the season, Ellerbe was the Ravens’ best defensive player Sunday. He made a team-high nine tackles and it was his blitz up the middle on Colin Kaepernick that forced an errant throw out of the end zone on San Francisco’s final play from scrimmage. The Ravens aren’t in great shape with the salary cap, and if they only have the flexibility to sign one of the three following free agents – Ellerbe, linebacker Paul Kruger, cornerback Cary Williams – I would think that Ellerbe would have to be that guy. They have a little depth at cornerback and outside linebacker, but that’s a weak point with the middle linebacker group.

 

Because the Ravens promise to be right up against the salary cap and need to get a deal done with Flacco, there has been talk that the team will release veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin, who is due to make more than $7 million next year. Count me among the people who think that would be a terrible idea. As you saw in the playoffs, Boldin remains the receiver Flacco trusts the most, especially in the clutch. His toughness and bravado give the offense its swagger. If one of the Ravens’ young receivers behind Torrey Smith, like a Tandon Doss or a LaQuan Williams or a Tommy Streeter had emerged this year, I would understand that move a little bit more. But I just don’t think the Ravens could do that right now, especially with Boldin coming off a great postseason. Perhaps, the best scenario would be negotiating a contract extension with him that would lower his cap number for 2013-14.

 

No Raven enjoyed himself more during Super Bowl week and then afterward in celebrating the victory than veteran safety Ed Reed. For all the talk about sending Ray Lewis out as a winner, I’ll guarantee you that helping Reed get his first Super Bowl, in his native Louisiana nonetheless, was every bit as important to the Ravens players. He’s beloved in the locker room, and seeing the unbridled joy that Reed showed was one of the highlights of the week.

 

With the Ravens lead down to 31-29 and just over seven minutes to go, they had 3rd-and-1 from their own 45. The 49ers stacked the box expecting a run from Ray Rice. Instead, Flacco called an audible and gave Boldin an opportunity to make a play, which he did with a 15-yard reception. It was a gutsy decision, and I’m not sure it’s one that Flacco had the confidence to make earlier in the season.

 

Rookie guard-tackle Kelechi Osemele completed an impressive first season by getting the best of San Francisco’s standout defensive tackle Justin Smith, who had three tackles and no sacks or quarterback hits. Smith was playing through a torn triceps, but that shouldn’t take anything away from Osemele’s effort on the biggest stage. He looks like a nice building block on the offensive line going forward.

 

Cary Williams turned in a really good season and he was one of the team’s unsung heroes. The competitiveness and chip that he has on his shoulder is one of the reasons that he’s such an effective player. But Williams lets his temper get the best of him on occasion, and he almost cost his team in a big way Sunday. Following Reed’s second-quarter interception, Williams got into it with several 49ers and after emerging from the scrum, he shoved a game official. Williams clearly didn’t know who he was shoving, but that doesn’t matter. The Ravens were extremely fortunate that he wasn’t ejected.

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