The NFL's Championship weekend delivered once again on its annual promise of high drama and great games. In the AFC, Baltimore, riding the wave of the Ray Lewis farewell tour, shut down the high-octane New England offense for 13 points, zero of which came after halftime. Joe Flacco -- yes, that Joe Flacco -- became the all-time winningest road playoff quarterback in league history, with six victories. In the NFC, it was another elite offense: the Falcons, who were also held scoreless in the second half, also at home. Matt Ryan was superb, but once again, Colin Kaepernick proved why he is the starting quarterback. Despite making just his ninth career start, the second-year pro now has more career playoff wins than Ryan.
Now, less than two weeks away from Super Bowl Sunday, let's take a look at what we learned Sunday and what we can expect from the big game.
1). No more Flacco bashing!
The Delaware product has now thrown eight touchdowns and zero interceptions with a passer rating nearing 115 in the postseason. Better yet, his deep ball ability and willingness to check down to crossers like tight end Dennis Pitta and wideout Anquan Boldin have extended Ravens drives and allowed for third-and-short and third-and-medium. Very few quarterbacks in this league have endured more criticism despite such great success than Flacco, who, as mentioned earlier, is officially the NFL's winningest road playoff quarterback, ever. The San Francisco defense surely presents a slew of issues, namely the superb front four, premier linebacking core and a very solid secondary that thrives in its Cover 2 shell. At this point though, Flacco, set to be an unrestricted free agent in March, has earned his due.
2). But we can bash Bill Belichick
We already knew the Pats coach was a sore loser, and he proved it once again after not wanting to talk to media and then providing a miserable postgame press conference. Aside from that though, Belichick was brutally out-coached by John Harbaugh, who primarily used just three wideouts and Pitta -- an extremely versatile tight end -- to force the Patriots into nickel coverage, after intermission. As a result, the Pats' pass-rush was nonexistent and Flacco had wide open throwing lanes. Clearly, the Aqib Talib injury hurt, but Belichick had no answer defensively, and it wasn't even close. During the second half, the Ravens threw the ball 24 times, which was double the 12 times the team threw in the first half. While Tom Brady and the Pats' offense sputtered, Baltimore's up-tempo offense was deftly efficient.
3). Kaepernick can sling it too
181 rushing yards later after lighting up Green Bay for 45 points, Kaepernick had his best game through the air, yet. In fact, in totaling just 21 yards on the ground in Atlanta, he proved that he not only can throw effectively, but can also do so when the defense is expecting it. Kaepernick, who finished with a passer rating of 127.7, was brilliant in both his pre-snap and post-snap reads, slicing up a Falcons defense that was spotted with a 17-0 lead.
Baltimore will make a game plan for the read-option, but its Kaepernick's ability to throw the intermediate and deep ball that could prove the difference. He's so athletic and so fast, but it's his remarkable accuracy, especially when buying time in and around the pocket, that's so impressive.
4). Michael Oher and the Ravens are better off when he's not protecting the blindside
The Ravens offensive line has been brilliant throughout the playoffs, and a vital reason why is Oher's move from left tackle to right tackle. Oddly enough, despite the Michael Lewis book and Sandra Bullock film, Oher is much more effective as a run blocker than a pass protector. As a result, the Ravens have concocted a wonderfully balanced offense, with Flacco throwing and the duo of Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce running outside, mostly to the right. On the flip side, the 49ers and its terrific front four have been eerily quiet of late. All-Pro Aldon Smith (19.5 sacks this season) has failed to record one in the past four games, while Justin Smith is clearly not 100 percent after his bicep injury. If Oher and the rest of the Baltimore line can mostly hold off the 49ers front four, Flacco and this offensive attack should be in great shape.
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