Considering how quarterback-driven the NFL is today, the road the Baltimore Ravens took to become champions is extremely impressive. The Ravens beat a unique yet potent blend of veterans and young phenoms alike en route to hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.
First up was potential rookie of the year Andrew Luck. The first overall draft pick turned the Indianapolis Colts from a three-win team to an 11-win team and had a knack for pulling out close games. The Colts had a top 10 offense in both yards and points scored, but the Ravens stymied Luck and the Colts as they could only muster nine points. Luck had no touchdowns, two turnovers and was hit 10 times as he was battered in his first career playoff game.
Next up was traveling to the Mile High City to tangle with a resurgent Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. The Broncos were fourth in the NFL in both yards and points scored as Manning had a monster season. Denver appeared to have the best offensive balance, but the Ravens defense only allowed 21 points to Manning in just over five quarters of play during the double overtime victory for Baltimore.
Manning had three touchdowns but also had three turnovers, including the fateful interception he threw towards the end of the first overtime to Corey Graham. Manning had won nine straight games against the Ravens, but the Ravens’ defense finally exorcised their demons and Manning got worse as the game went on.
The Ravens then had to take care of some more unfinished business against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. The Ravens beat the Patriots in Week 3, but it still didn’t avenge their heartbreaking loss in the AFC Championship game in the previous season.
The Ravens were able to get revenge this time as the defense shut out Brady and the Patriots in the second half. The Patriots were 67-0 at home when leading at halftime and they held a 13-7 halftime lead, but the Ravens’ defense stifled Brady and the Pats’ offense the final 30 minutes. Brady finished with more turnovers than touchdowns and was hit seven times as the Ravens scored 21 unanswered points en route to their 28-13 victory.
Finally, the Ravens had to stop the read-option supernova known as Colin Kaepernick. Despite starting just nine games prior to the Super Bowl, Kaepernick’s immense talent was clearly evident with his rocket-like arm and ability to run for huge chunks of yards.
Kaepernick’s 181 rushing yards in his first career playoff game set the NFL record for most rushing yards in a game by a quarterback and his dual-threat ability posed a real threat to the Ravens’ defense. However, he was shadowed all game and the dangerous read-option was not nearly as potent as it had been in previous games for the San Francisco 49ers. Kaepernick led an admirable comeback attempt and did have 364 total yards and two total touchdowns, but threw a costly interception and his true potential wasn’t reached.
Kaepernick had some very impressive games in his brief career, but the Ravens defense showed they could shutdown both running quarterbacks the same as pocket passers like Manning and Brady.
It didn’t hurt that while the Ravens’ defense slowed down opposing quarterbacks, their own signal caller had quite a postseason of his own. Joe Flacco had arguably the best postseason in the Super Bowl era with 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions, which had only been done by one Joe Montana.
It makes sense that in Ray Lewis’ “last ride” the defense would be key as the Ravens beat two legendary quarterbacks and two other quarterbacks with blindingly bright futures.
In a league obsessed with passing where third-and-one has become a passing down, the list of the quarterbacks the Ravens slayed on the way to the Lombardi Trophy is nothing short of spectacular and may never be duplicated again.