Ravens Outlast Panthers to Repeat as Super Bowl Champs *IMAGE TO COME* East Rutherford, NJ-- The Baltimore Ravens (10-6) of the AFC played host to the NFC Carolina Panthers (11-5) at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey for Super Bowl XLVIII. This was the first outdoor Super Bowl in a cold weather environment, and if the QSF is smart it will be the last. The temperature measured at nine degrees with a wind chill of negative five. Snow and sleet covered the field and feel continuously throughout the course of the game. The QSF, as well as the other parties who were influential in bringing the Super Bowl to New Jersey have to be extremely disappointed in the turnout. Over half of the stadium was empty for the opening kickoff and remained that way for the remainder of the game. The great debate about having future Super Bowls in cold weather climates will continue to rage on for many years to come, but even with the chilling conditions the game had to go on. The Panthers won the coin toss and elected to defer to the second half. After a decent return on the opening kickoff, the Ravens started the opening drive of the big game on their own 25. Baltimore QB Joe Flacco hit WR Torrey Smith for a gain of 16 yards on their first play from scrimmage. Following the big play by Smith, HB Ray Rice became the vocal point for the Ravens. Rice ran for five yards on the ensuing play, and then for four more setting up an early 3rd and 1. Sticking with their bread and butter, Flacco handed off to Rice on third down for a gain of three yards. Following the third down conversion, Rice caught a pass coming out of the backfield for a gain of 4. After another run by Rice on second down, the Ravens again faced another 3rd and short situation. With the ball on the Panthers 37 on 3rd and 3 Rice broke a HB dive up the middle bursting past the linebackers and into the secondary. If not for a shoestring tackle from behind, Rice would have taken it the distance. This proved to be a big time tackle for the Panthers. On 1st and 10 from the Panthers 16, Flacco took the snap out of the gun and hit WR Deonte Thompson for a gain of 16; however, Thompson would fumble the ball that the five yard line. With nothing but Panthers defenders around, linebacker Luke Kuechly was able to recover the loose football ending the Ravens drive. Fresh off the Ravens turnover, QB Cam Newton and the Panthers offense marched onto the field. With the ball on their own five, the Panthers would drive a draw to Williams, but lost three yards on the play. The Panthers next play was certainly a risky one, but it paid off in the end. Newton would hit HB Deangelo Williams on a screen pass for 23 yards. The Ravens defensive line was close to making the sack for the safety, and MLB Daryl Smith read the screen but was unable to squeeze past the Carolina linemen. The Panthers would go on to gain first downs on back-to-back plays. After a nice 15 yard run by Williams, Newton faked play action and tried hitting TE Greg Olson on a corner route. Second year linebacker Courtney Upshaw was in perfect position to make the interception, but saw the ball bounce off his hands instead. Although the interception would have made for great field position, the Ravens defense forced the Panthers to punt two plays later. After a Ray Rice four-yard run ended the scoreless quarter, Joe Flacco looked to hit WR Smith breaking over the middle off of play action, but a poor throw resulted in an incomplete pass. “That is a throw that I have to make there,” said Flacco. “Torrey did a great job gaining a step on the corner, but I over threw him. That cannot happen, especially not in a game of this magnitude.” TE Ed Dickson and WR Jacoby Jones would seal the edge on a stretch play on 2nd and 10 resulting in a 22 yard run by Rice. After a short run and completion, Rice would convert yet another 3rd and short for the Ravens. On the following play Flacco was sacked for a loss of nine setting up a second and long situation. On 2nd and 19, Flacco hit an open Pitta who was tackled just short of the first down. As they had down several times previously, the Ravens would turn to Rice on the 3rd and 1 play, but the Panthers were ready for it this time. Rice was stopped just inches from the first down marker leaving Baltimore head coach with a tough decision. “There really wasn’t any hesitation on our end,” Harbaugh said. “Given the weather conditions, we did not feel comfortable trying the 50 yard FG at that time. It is tough to make those kinds of kicks in that type of weather. That is why we opted to go for it instead.” The decision to go for it would set up the first controversial call of the game. Coming out in a goal line formation, Flacco went with a hard count trying to draw the defense off sides. Carolina DE Greg Hardy immediately sprang forward out of his stance causing the flag to be thrown. Baltimore began to celebrate knowing the flag was surely thrown on the defense; however, Ravens LG Kelechi Osemele was called for a false start. “I don’t understand how they had the audacity to make that call there,” exclaimed Harbaugh. “The defense clearly jumped into the neutral zone prior to the movement. We were completely baffled when they called the flag on us.” After the penalty the Ravens were forced to punt resulting in a touch back. The Panthers would not have the ball for long though. Newton was able to connect with WR Steve Smith on a curl for a gain of 12. Following the first down, Newton tried hitting Olson on a corner route, but was nearly picked off by Ravens CB Lardarius Webb. The Baltimore defense was clearly frustrated by their lag of taking advantage of the easy interception opportunities, which was evident on the next play. Newton connected with TE Olson, but Olson was immediately laid out by CB Jimmy Smith knocking the ball loose. Linebacker Courtney Upshaw would emerge from the pile with the ball setting up a 1st and 20 for the Ravens at the Panthers 37 with two minutes left in the half. After a couple of runs by Ray Rice, Flacco completed a pass to Thompson who was tackled at the Panthers five-yard line with 40 seconds left. The Ravens would hand the ball off to Rice for a gain of three setting up 2nd and goal from the 3. Immediately following the run, Baltimore called a timeout with 17 seconds left. Looking to put the first points of the game on the board coming out of the time out, Flacco was able to connect with Pitta for six leaving 13 seconds on the clock. Carolina would have the ball on their 30-yard line following the kickoff with 8 seconds left. Instead of calling a max coverage play, the Ravens decided to try and dial up a blitz to force a quick throw from Newton to prevent any type of Hail Mary, which almost proved to be a costly mistake. The Panthers would pick up the Ravens blitz and Newton would launch a deep ball to WR Ted Ginn Jr. who had a step on the defender. Ginn caught the ball, but was immediately brought down at the Ravens 9 ending the half. The Panthers received the opening kickoff of the second half and immediately went for the big play. On 1st and 10 from the 20, Newton faked the read option and took the ball off the edge for a gain of 20 yards. Following the big run, Newton hit Smith for a pickup of 12. After getting stopped on third down, the Panthers were faced with a critical decision much like the Ravens were in the first half. They had the ball at the Ravens 33 facing a 4th and 1. They could either attempt a long FG in the wintry conditions or go for it. They chose the latter. Coming out in shotgun, Newton handed off to Williams on a draw that turned into a gain of 14. The Panthers looked to capitalize on the big conversion with Newton keeping the ball on the read option, but rookie safety Matt Elam had other plans when he smacked the QB behind the line of scrimmage. Two plays later, the Panther converted yet another 3rd down when the Ravens had broken coverage in the secondary. With 1st and goal from the six, the Panthers could taste the end zone. Finally being able to muster up a drive deep into Raven territory, the offense looked to capitalize. Pressure from the defense forced and incompletion on 1st and goal and a great play by Upshaw to knock the ball free from Steve Smith on 2nd and goal put the Panthers in a tough 3rd and goal situation. Knowing Newton wanted to get the ball to his big target TE as he had done much of the game in similar situations, the Ravens keyed in on Olson. As the Ravens had expected, Newton indeed went to his TE, but was picked off by veteran safety Brian Pollard. As they had done much of the post season, the Ravens looked to go for the big play following the turnover. Unlink previous times, the Ravens decision to go for the throat back fired as Flacco was picked off deep down field. This proved to be a costly mistake, as Newton would hit Smith underneath a few plays later with the WR out running the defense for a touchdown knotting the game at 7 with 2:20 left in the 3rd. Flacco would throw another pick on the Ravens ensuing possession. Just as though it looked like the Panthers would claim the momentum and take control of the game, Baltimore’s defense rose to the occasion forcing a punt. Fielding the punt at his own 16-yard line, Ravens return man Thompson got around the edge, made several guys miss, and looked to be off to the races. With only one man to beat, it was clear Thompson was out of gas. He was brought down at the Panthers 17 yard line as he attempted to shake the lone defender. After a 13 yard pass to Pitta ended the third quarter, Ray Rice would punch the ball in from the three to start the fourth giving the Ravens a seven point lead. Baltimore forced Ginn to fumble on the ensuing kickoff, but the Panthers were able to recover. Newton would hit Olson for a gain of 27 on first down. Newton would go back to Olson on first down for six more yards. Running the read option on the following play, DE Arthur Jones drilled Williams knocking the ball to the ground with Suggs recovering the fumble with 5:50 left in the game. The Ravens would throw an incompletion on first down. Facing a 2nd and 10 on their own 32 with about 5:40 left in the game, connection would be lost. The Ravens were playing during with tornado warnings and watches all around and lost connect. After discussing things with management it was decided the game would be restarted with the 1st quarter representing the 4th. The Panthers received the kickoff, ran the ball twice and then punted on 3rd down. Thompson caught the ball at the 20 and ran out of bounds at the 31 with 5:44 left in the 1st (4th). In order to represent the appropriate down and distance, the Ravens spiked the ball on first down to duplicate the 2nd and 10 they faced in the original game. After a three yard run on second down, Flacco would connect with Torrey Smith for 14 yards moving the chains for a first down. After consecutive runs, the Ravens again faced another third down. On 3rd and 6 from the Panthers 49, Smith would drop a wide-open pass forcing the Ravens to punt with 3:36 left in the quarter. Had Smith made the reception, he would have cruised to an easy six. Starting at their own 20, Cam Newton with connect with WR Brandon Lafell on first down for 14. Newton would be brought down at the line on the ensuing play for no gain. Michael Huff would pick Newton off on the next play setting up the Ravens with excellent field position and a change to close out the game. With 2:42 left in the game, the Ravens took over at the Panthers 29 leading by 7. After stuffing Rice for a loss of two on first down, the Panthers would elect to call their first timeout. The Panthers defense would step up again on 2nd down, stopping Rice for no gain and immediately calling their second timeout. With the lead and just over two minutes left, the Ravens would make a gutsy call on third down. Instead of running the ball and forcing the Panthers to use their final timeout, Baltimore elected to go to the air. Joe Flacco dropped back to pass on third and long and connected with newly signed WR Michael Jenkins for a monster gain of 28 yards. Jenkins looked as though he would make his way into the end zone, but was finally brought down at the 4-yard line. In order to have something similar to the two-minute warning, the Ravens would call time out with two minutes left in the quarter. Immediately following the “two minute warning,” Ray Rice would pound his way into the end zone to extend Baltimore’s lead to 21-7. In a last ditch effort to bring his team back, Newton threw deep down the field for Ginn, but the pass was tipped by safety Brian Pollard and then intercepted by CB Jimmy Smith sealing the Super Bowl Victory for the Ravens. The Ravens offense came onto the field after the pick, kneeling the ball three consecutive plays, wrapping up the victory 21-7. This is Baltimore’s second Super Bowl victory in as many years, and third in the franchise’ history.