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January 20, 2013
Harbaugh Bowl All Set For New Orleans
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net

FOXBOROUGH -- They battled each other last Thanksgiving. The world shook. John beat Jim.

Now, how will the world handle two brothers coaching against each other in the Super Bowl?

Jim, the former Michigan quarterback who took his San Francisco 49ers team to within one game of the big show last year, saw his team overcome a 17-0 deficit on the road to defeat the top seeded Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome, 28-24. The 49ers are clearly the best team in the NFL right now, and the Falcon defense could do nothing to stop Colin Kaepernick and the powerful 49ers offensive juggernaut. The defense did just enough to hold Matt Ryan and the Falcons at bay, and the 49ers advance to their first Super Bowl in 18 years.

John, meanwhile, shot his brother a televised note of congratulations, then went out and watched his Baltimore Ravens take out the second-seeded New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium, 28-13. Despite the Patriots having history on their side and being favored by 8-9 points, the Ravens were able to barge into Foxborough and avenge their razor-thin loss in last season's AFC title game.

Not to diminish the Ravens conquest, but the game basically turned on three plays which proved fatal to the Patriots, two of them involving key injuries which knocked out players for the rest of the game.

Midway through the first quarter, facing third down and 13 at the Baltimore 24, Joe Flacco tried to hit Anquan Boldin on a crossing pattern. Aqib Talib stayed right with him and knocked down the pass, forcing a Baltimore punt. But Talib pulled a hamstring and did not return to the game, and from that moment on the Patriot defense would morph into what it had been in the early part of the season. Once offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell woke up and realized what he really needed to do, the Ravens went on a second half 21-0 run, easily moving through the now-flawed Patriot defense.

The Patriots still led, 13-7 to begin the second half, as the Ravens took the opening kickoff and ran a six-and-out. On first down at the Baltimore 36, Tom Brady rolled right and tried to hit Aaron Hernandez in the end zone, but overthrew him. The second and ten should have killed the drive, but on third and seven, Brady hit a wide open Welker in the left flat for a first down. Except the normally reliable wideout, who may have played his last game in a Patriot uniform, dropped what should have been an easy catch. The Patriots punted, and the Ravens scored touchdowns on each of the next three possessions to take full command of the game.

While it was only 21-13 Ravens early in the fourth quarter, the Patriots suffered the dagger of death on a controversial play. Facing first and ten on their own 39, Brady handed off to Stevan Ridley. He ran off right tackle for eight yards before Bernard Pollard (shocker?) clobbered Ridley and stopped him dead in his tracks. He fell down, and just as his leg hit the ground, the ball came out. Arthur Jones, Chandler's brother, gobbled up the loose ball. Referee Bill Leavy looked at it on replay, but to the dismay of the home crowd, confirmed the ruling of a fumble despite clear video evidence that Ridley was down before the ball popped out.

Ridley left the game to be examined for a concussion, standard procedure for this sort of injury. Chalk up another notch on Pollard's belt. He got another Patriot. Somewhere in the afterlife, Jack Tatum must be pleased with this guy.

Once Caldwell decided to open up the Ravens' offense, yards and points were easy pickings. Kyle Arrington, thrust into Talib's role, was no match for Boldin. Torrey Smith didn't catch any long bombs like last week, but did haul in three passes for 51 yards during the three-touchdown burst by the Ravens. One play after getting clobbered by Jerod Mayo, Dennis Pitta caught a five-yard touchdown pass wide open in the right corner of the end zone to make it 14-13 Patriots. Flacco then threw two touchdown passes to Boldin without Talib there to cover him, a leaping grab over Devin McCourty on the first play of the fourth quarter to make it 21-13 Ravens, then later Boldin beat a pitifully overmatched Marquice Cole to complete the scoring.

So now the NFL can spend the next two weeks salivating at an all-Harbaugh Super Bowl. This will provide perhaps the most compelling Super Bowl sidebar in the history of the championship game. Jack and Jackie Harbaugh will have it much worse than Archie and Olivia Manning did when Peyton and Eli first played against each other some years back. But outside the Harbaugh house hold, this will be one whale of a media circus and buildup to Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans in two weeks.

Meanwhile, the Patriots will have to put their place in NFL immortality on hold. They will not get to tie Pittsburgh and Dallas for the most Super Bowl appearances, but then they also don't yet have to become the first team in Super Bowl history to lose 5 of them. Brady won't get to face his favorite childhood football team. Bob Kraft won't get to face off against the franchise he modeled his team after. The Patriots won't have to worry about a rematch with a San Francisco team that spanked them 31-3 at Gillette before the defense basically let them back into the game.

What the Patriots will have to do is deal with a defense that was too reliant on Talib and still not strong enough to hold up against an inspired Ravens squad at home. They also will have to deal with a Patriot offense that needed Rob Gronkowski more than they realize, and that Welker may have played his last game as a Patriot. And Brady will be 36 years old heading into next year, and soon talk will begin about some proverbial "window", and whether or not it is closing on the Patriots.

But right now it's about Harbaugh. Jim and John. And hopefully not about Ray. Sorry, but Lewis is anything but a feel good story outside of Baltimore. This Super Bowl should focus on brother versus brother. It will be a great story.

Patriot Nation won't think so. The Patriot book now closes for this year. The Patriots did well to get this far and did get two home playoff games for their trouble. But in the end, the Ravens were the tougher team and the better team, who overcame a paper deficit to play in their first Super Bowl in 12 years.

And the Patriots need to get ready for the draft. Cover corners, anyone?


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