Hollywood couldn’t come up with a better storyline. Two brothers, John and Jim Harbaugh, will match wits in New Orleans for Super Bowl XLVII.
Of course, the back story of how the Ravens earned a Super Bowl berth is even better.
The emotional jolt provided by Ray Lewis’ return to the gridiron lifted the Ravens past a resurgent Colts squad. Then, against all odds (and sportswriter’s predictions) the Ravens dispatched Peyton Manning and the Broncos on their home turf in Denver. Indeed, most NFL talking heads predicted that Ray’s emotional surge had run its course during his offensive debut and final squirrel dance at M&T Bank Stadium; there was no way, they reasoned, that emotion could beat Manning and the Broncos They were right and wrong because it wasn’t pure emotion that beat the Broncos. It was emotion plus Flacco’s success with the deep ball that shot the Ravens past the Broncos in a 38-35 double overtime thriller.
Last night, the Ravens, a team many counted out of post season play a mere month ago, once again found themselves on the backside of the point spread against the perennial Super Bowl contenders – the New England Patriots. Thickening the plot significantly, the teams had met in the exact same location for the exact same stakes almost exactly one year ago. After an exciting game that saw the Ravens come within a last minute drop and missed field goal of victory, the Ravens spent Super Bowl Sunday on the couch watching the Patriots lose to the Giants. The men in purple and black overcame huge pre-season expectations, significant injuries, a major losing streak, and a change at the offensive coordinator position to make it back to Foxborough and another chance at the AFC crown.
The pre-game hype was drama of the highest order. The game was pitched as a traditional David vs. Goliath contest. This was North vs. South. Good vs. Evil. Middle Earth vs. Sauron. And despite all the naysayers, we all know what happened.
The Baltimore Ravens beat the Patriots and earned their first Super Bowl berth since the 2000 season.
Theories abound on how the Ravens accomplished this feat. For some, the answer is spelled Ray Lewis. In this line of reasoning Ray’s return to the field has provided an emotional burst to a traditionally dominant defense that in 2012 seemed to be losing its luster. For others, the Ravens’ post season success is explained by the arm and superior decision making of Joe Flacco. These adherents point to a crazy-impressive group of statistics that are sure to have Flacco’s agent salivating and financial personnel in Owings Mills reaching for some Tylenol.
Both of these theories are partially correct. After watching Ray make his last entry into M&T Bank Stadium it is impossible to conclude that his return has had no impact on the post-season Ravens. Additionally, Joe’s play has been superb, and he is finally starting to get some well-deserved recognition from the sportswriter’s politburo.
I think, however, that there is something even more basic behind the Ravens’ recent success. It’s called the offensive line, and more specifically the recent reshuffling of personnel and the addition of Bryant McKinney. The revamped front five for the Ravens have kept Joe upright and relatively unhurried. They have also opened holes for Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce, and perhaps most importantly, they have allowed the Ravens to sustain drives and keep opposing offenses off the field. The Ravens have still come up short in most time of possession battles, but the defense has had significantly more rest than in early season contests.
Regardless of which theory best explains how the Ravens walked away with the AFC Championship and a trip to New Orleans, the fact remains that the team is peaking at the right time. The Ravens now have a bit less than two weeks to get healthy and prepare for Har-Bowl I. We know they can do it. Now it’s time to watch a story so good that even Hollywood is jealous.