10 Super Bowl thoughts: First, Jim Harbaugh needs to grow up
BY MARK POTASH Twitter: @MarkPotash February 4, 2013 11:52AM
San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh protests a non-call by the officials after a fourth down play against the Baltimore Ravens during the second half of the NFL Super Bowl XLVII football game, Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Gene Puskar)
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Updated: February 4, 2013 9:43PM
Jim Harbaugh still is one of the best coaches in the NFL today. But the Super Bowl was not his finest hour.
What could have been a crowning achievement for the former Bears quarterback in just his second year as an NFL head coach instead exposed more flaws than greatness. Harbaugh’s performance in the San Francisco 49ers’ 34-31 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII legitimized one of the few knocks on Harbaugh as an NFL head coach: his staying power. As effective as Harbaugh is at building a championship team, he is so manic, so over-the-top driven and just ‘‘out there’’ that eventually the job will consume him.
Harbaugh’s whining about a pass interference call in the end zone that could have gone either way was at the least unbecoming of a coach of his stature on that stage. At the most, it was evidence that Jim Harbaugh still has some growing up to do.
You really want to complain about a borderline call in the final minutes after your team wasted two time outs in the second half that cost it a chance to make that call moot? After your team allowed three first-half touchdown passes for the second game in a row? After your team committed two critical — and inexcusable — penalties in the first 10 plays of the game? After your team allowed the longest kick return touchdown in Super Bowl history?
Had Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith mugged 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree on the fourth-and-goal play that sealed the 49ers’ fate, Harbaugh would have had a right to complain and plenty of support. But it was far from that. Did anybody remind Harbaugh that Colin Kaepernick had to get rid of the ball so quickly on that play because — on the most crucial play of their season — the 49ers allowed Ravens’ safety Ed Reed to come in clean on a blitz? Whose fault was that?
Jim Harbaugh looked like he was coaching the Bears on Sunday night. Two weeks to prepare for the biggest game of your life and you have an illegal formation penalty on YOUR FIRST PLAY FROM SCRIMMAGE? Whose fault is that?
(That actually happened to the Bears — in 1998 after their bye week in a loss to a bad Rams team that all but eliminated them from the playoffs and sealed coach Dave Wannstedt’s fate. Wannstedt rued two pass interference penalties that went against the Bears in that game, but he also accepted the blame for his team’s opening-play gaffe after having two weeks to prepare.)
I am among many who thought Jim was the better Harbaugh going into the Super Bowl. I was wrong. As it turned out, Super Bowl XLVII not only celebrated the Harbaugh brothers, it clearly showed us the biggest difference between them. John was ready for the big moment. Jim was not.
And now, nine other observations from Super Bowl XLVII:
2. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco deserves all the credit he is getting for leading his team to a championship. And he deserves the big contract he’s about to get as a free agent this offseason. After three consecutive postseasons of growth, he’s reached a new level.
But it doesn’t quite make a mockery of the criticism and skepticism about Flacco. It’s doesn’t erase the fact that Flacco was a chronically inconsistent quarterback the past two regular seasons. He’s taken a lot of criticism over his career, for whatever reason,’‘ Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta said. Well, here’s one reason, Dennis — in the last two regular seaons, Flacco has had 12 games with a passer rating above 100 and 10 games with passer ratings below 70. In fact, in the game following each of his 100-plus games, his average passer rating was 67.7. Flacco and his backers have reason to gloat. But Flacco has a Super Bowl ring today because he’s a better quarterback than the one who took all that criticism in the past.
3. Joe Flacco’s postseason performance provided hope for Bears fans that Jay Cutler can do the same thing. But that might be more of a leap than it seems. It’s true that Cutler’s career passer rating (84.0) is not far behind Flacco’s 86.3.
But it remains to be seen if Cutler can match the gumption that Flacco showed in the second half of the Super Bowl, stemming the tide of 49ers momentum with some key throws on drives that produced field goals after the 49ers had closed to 28-23 with 3:10 left in the third quarter and 31-29 with 9:57 left in the fourth quarter.
4. Cutler could flourish under new coach Marc Trestman in 2013. But Trestman’s biggest job could be improving his focus, accuracy and overall performance in tight games. Cutler had a 111.2 passer rating in 2012 when the Bears were either up or down by 14 points or more (eight touchdowns, one interception); and a 71.4 rating when they were leading or trailing by 13 points or fewer (11 touchdowns, 13 interceptions.
Flacco, by comparison, had an 85.3 rating when the Ravens were up or down by 14 or more points (five touchdowns, one interception); and an 88.3 rating when the Ravens were leading or trailing by 13 points or fewer (17 touchdowns, nine interceptions).
5. File this one under Famous Last Words: ‘‘I’m a Raven for life,’’ Flacco said in the aftermath of the Ravens’ Super Bowl victory when asked about is future. We’ll see about that. Flacco bet on himself when he turned down extension opportunities, so it figures he’ll want to maximize the chance of a lifetime after a well-timed magnificent postseason. Flacco is now 9-4 in the postseason in his five-year career, with a Super Bowl ring to show for it.
6. With the Ravens’ victory, underdogs have covered the pointspread in seven of the past 10 Super Bowls, with four of them winning out right. The Giants in 2011 (+3 vs. the Patriots), the Saints in 2009 (+4 1/2 vs. the Colts) and the Giants in 2007 (+12 1/2 vs. the Patriots) won the game. the Cardinals in 2008 (+6 1/2 vs. the Steelers), the Eagles in 2004 (+7 vs. the Patriots) and the Panthers in 2003 (+7 vs. the Patritots) lost the game but covered the spread.
7. The safety the Ravens took when punter Sam Koch ran out of the end zone with four seconds left had a late impact on three prop bets: the safety itself paid off at +650 ($650 for every $100 wagered). It also made a winner out of those who bet on the game being decided by exactly three points (+350).
And the two points made the difference for those who wagered that LeBron James would score more points against the Raptors than the 49ers would score against the Ravens. James had 30 points in a 100-85 victory over the Raptors. Koch’s safety gave the 49ers 31 points against the Ravens.
8. Koch’s safety left open the possibility for an NFL oddity on the final play of the game — a rare ‘‘free kick from placement” for a field goal after a fair catch. Had Koch shanked the free kick after the safety, the 49ers’ Ted Ginn could have called for a fair catch and given David Akers a free kick from placement from the spot of the ball — with the Ravens defenders 10 yards off the line of scrimmage and not allowed to rush the kick.
That rule goes back to the origins of the NFL, but it was used as recently as 1968 by the Bears to beat the Packers at Lambeau Field. After a 28-yard punt late in a 10-10 tie, Cecil Turner called for a fair catch at the Packers 43-yard line, which allowed Mac Percival to kick a 43-yard field goal with 23 seconds left to win the game (the goal posts were at the goal line in those days).
9. Congratulations to former Bears cornerback Corey Graham, who played a key role throughout the second half of the season and the playoffs as a starter for the Ravens. Graham had six tackles and two pass-breakups in the Super Bowl.
The 27-year-old Graham, a fifth-round draft pick by the Bears in 2007, made the Pro Bowl as a special-teams player for the Bears in 2012, but signed with the Ravens because he wanted a better chance to play cornerback. He got that chance at midseason and made the most of it.
10. The NFL has some explaining to do with regard to Ravens cornerback Cary Williams not being ejected after shoving an official — however lightly — during a shoving match after Ed Reed’s interception in the second quarter. Williams’ explanation that he ‘‘could barely see’’ and ‘‘I didn’t see who I pushed’’ is rarely if ever a mitigating factor in these situations — on a level of ‘‘the dog ate my homework’’ among lame excuses. Incensed players have been ejected for less. Vikings rookie safety Harrison Smith was ejected from a game this season against the Tennessee Titans on Oct. 7 for a similar infraction that was not nearly as egregious as what Williams did in the Super Bowl.
The altercation and apparent mishandled discipline of the matter was a fitting conclusion to a difficult season for both the NFL and the officials.