“We didn’t come here to play it safe and hope to win,” Flacco said.
Rather, they came here to aggressively avenge the loss in last year’s AFC title game, and in doing so alter perceptions about their quarterback. Flacco’s marvelous second half – he connected on 15 of 24 passes for 159 yards, two scores to wide receiver Anquan Boldin and another to tight end Dennis Pitta – ensured that the nation will hear more than a bit about the Harbaugh family for the next two weeks, because Baltimore Coach John joins San Francisco Coach Jim, his brother, in the Super Bowl.
“Let’s just cut that right now,” John Harbaugh joked afterward. “Let’s forget about that.”
But pick your story line here. The run of Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, who has played in each of the Ravens’ 17 seasons, has been extended one more game, and he will conclude his career in the Super Bowl, where he has already been the MVP. The Ravens, too, spoke afterward about all they have overcome — injuries to Lewis and safety Ed Reed, to linebacker Terrell Suggs and others, not to mention a three-game losing streak in December that caused much anxiety in Baltimore.
“This team has never wavered,” Boldin said afterward.
That was the case Sunday night, when the Ravens appeared ready to be steamrolled by Brady and the Patriots early in the game, yet trailed only 13-7 at halftime, then emphatically shut out New England in the second half.
They got a jarring hit from safety Bernard Pollard on Patriots running back Stevan Ridley, causing a fumble that was, in Harbaugh’s estimation, “the turning point in the game.” They then got a tip of a Brady pass by defensive end Pernell McPhee that turned into an interception for linebacker Dannell Ellerbe that all but sealed it, and started the Ravens’ celebration.
“Tell them to have fun at the Pro Bowl,” Suggs yelled as he came off the field, delirious. “Arrogant [expletive].”
As well as the entire evening reflected on the Ravens, who haven’t been back to the Super Bowl since they won following the 2000 season, it was jarring for the crowd at Gillette Stadium, so used to winning at this stage. Brady was looking to become the first quarterback to start six Super Bowls, which would have broken a tie with John Elway. Bill Belichick would have joined Don Shula as the only coaches with six appearances.