Kragthorpe: Quarterbacks give Super Bowl fresh look
Punt, punt, fumble, fourth-down stop, interception, interception.
New England's offense went stale in the second half of Sunday's AFC championship, and the effect is a fresh Super Bowl.
For the first time in 10 years, there's no quarterback named Manning, Brady or Roethlisberger in the Super Bowl. With the help of some resilient defenses, quarterbacks Joe Flacco of Baltimore and Colin Kaepernick of San Francisco have advanced.
The most remarkable developments in Sunday's games were New England and Atlanta failing to score in the second half.
Tom Brady's team lost a halftime lead at home for the first time in 68 games. So even after making his seventh appearance in the AFC title game in 12 seasons, he remains stuck on three championships. After winning his first nine playoff games, he's 8-7 in the postseason.
Is that all his fault? Of course not. The Patriots could not sustain much of a running game, Wes Welker dropped a critical pass and Baltimore's offense awakened in the second half. The Ravens finally took advantage of New England cornerback Aqib Talib's injury absence as Flacco threw two touchdown passes to Anquan Boldin, after hitting former BYU tight end Dennis Pitta for the go-ahead score.
Yet there's no doubt that this season presented as good of a chance as Brady ever will have to enhance his legacy, and he could not do it Sunday. He passed for 320 yards, but the Patriots could not finish drives.
Same story in Atlanta, where Matt Ryan's 396 passing yards ultimately translated to only 24 points after a phenomenal start. In the second half, the Falcons went interception, fumble, punt and fourth-down stop on their only four possessions. The 49ers' secondary was vulnerable, but Atlanta could not keep its lead even with the good breaks of a San Francisco field-goal attempt that struck the upright and a fumble recovery at Falcons' 1-yard line.
The sequence of events created a very interesting Super Bowl matchup, even beyond having the Harbaugh brothers coach against one another.
Kaepernick is playing the role of a young Brady, only with radically different skills. Just as Brady once replaced an injured Drew Bledsoe and won his first Super Bowl, Kaepernick has taken over for Alex Smith in San Francisco and taken the 49ers to another level. If not for linebacker NaVorro Bowman's fourth-down pass deflection on a play that started at the San Francisco 10-yard line, the 49ers may have absorbed another bitter defeat in the NFC championship game.
Instead, Kaepernick gets credit for taking them further than Smith could. That's how this stuff works.
Now that he's in the Super Bowl, Kaepernick becomes a fascinating story. Joe Montana and Steve Young, the quarterbacks who have delivered the 49ers' five championships, are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The sixth title could come from a player who's making only his 10th professional start.
If that seems unlikely, consider the Ravens' tale. John Harbaugh fired his offensive coordinator in early December, and here they are in the Super Bowl. In an era of high-percentage, efficient passing offenses, Flacco and the Ravens rely heavily on downfield throws, and they'll be taking their shots against the 49ers.
There would have been some intrigue in Brady's trying to win another championship, but these quarterbacks will be fun to watch in New Orleans. Nothing about Smith's performance of the past two seasons makes him undeserving of playing in a Super Bowl, except that would have deprived everyone of seeing Kaepernick on that stage.
Two seasons ago, his Nevada team was beating BYU and Utah State. And now he's playing for a pro football championship.
Super Bowl XLVII
P 49ers vs. Ravens at New Orleans, Feb. 3, 4 p.m., TV • Ch. 2