Kragthorpe: 49ers will prevail, as I've been saying all along
Never mind that the name of Colin Kaepernick failed to appear in my forecast, or that newly acquired running back Brandon Jacobs and an improved receiving corps led by Mario Manningham provided some of the basis of my analysis.
All that matters, officially, is that in early September, I declared the San Francisco 49ers the NFC champions. They've validated my selection.
So maybe quarterback Alex Smith's continued growth won't be in evidence Sunday in Super Bowl XLVII, and Jacobs (suspended, then released) and Manningham (injured) won't even dress for the 49ers. The part about the 49ers' defense remaining formidable proved true, with a second-half shutout enabling them to beat Atlanta in the NFC championship game and give me yet another successful forecast of the NFC's Super Bowl contestant.
Just don't make me report the last time it happened. OK, it was eight years ago, with Philadelphia. Unlike the Eagles, who fell to New England 24-21 to fulfill my nearly perfect Super Bowl prediction, the 49ers are still my choice Sunday.
There are concrete reasons why San Francisco is the better team in this matchup. Baltimore is statistically average, giving up all kinds of yards defensively in the playoffs, while hoping opponents self-destruct on their way to the end zone.
The Ravens never should have advanced though the AFC divisional round, but they received some kind of cosmic reward after what happened in the AFC title game last January, when New England's Sterling Moore stripped away a would-be touchdown pass to Lee Evans.
This time, Denver's Rahim Moore misplayed a pass that Jacoby Jones turned into a tying 70-yard touchdown in the final minute of regulation.
In any case, the Ravens now have to deal with the versatile Kaepernick, after Robert Griffin III beat them in December.
The 49ers also have a couple of historical trends in their favor. For the last 11 years, the Super Bowl winner's roster has included at least one former LSU player. This bit of history was driven home to me this week during my Greyhound commutes from New Orleans to Baton Rouge, where I visited Mike the Tiger himself in his palatial lair, confirming the wisdom of the ex-Tiger factor.
There's also the theory that Utahns always finish second in major competition. It's true that a former Utah high school football player is guaranteed to win a championship this year. But considering the Baltimore Ravens have Highland's Haloti Ngata and Timpanogos' Paul Kruger and the 49ers claim only East's Will Tukuafu, you have to cite the Utah preps' collective 4-19 record in Super Bowls and go with San Francisco.
And the only other time a Super Bowl contestant featured three former University of Utah players, as the Ravens do, the Carolina Panthers lost to New England on a last-second field goal.
That game nine years ago marked the second Super Bowl title for Tom Brady. Two years earlier, Brady, then a second-year quarterback, replaced an injured Drew Bledsoe early in the season and led the Patriots to the Super Bowl.
That's it, then. Having taken over for Smith in November and permanently seized the job, Kaepernick will deliver for the 49ers.
This may not be exactly how any of us pictured it, but I'll take the ending. Last February, the New York Giants' Ahmad Bradshaw was trying to stop himself in the interest of eating up more time, but he stumbled backward across the goal line. All anybody will remember years from now is that he scored the winning touchdown. And after Sunday, I'll claim to have seen Kaepernick coming all along. San Francisco 24, Baltimore 21.
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