KAEP Nhat V Meyer – MCT The Super Bowl was only Colin Kaepernick’s 10th career NFL start after replacing Alex Smith in midseason.
The Baltimore Ravens are Super Bowl champions, and Joe Flacco is going to Disney World, but it will certainly be difficult for them to be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy again a year from now at the Meadowlands.
Flacco just completed one of the best postseasons ever for a quarterback. He had 11 touchdowns and no interceptions while averaging 285 yards per game. He beat Peyton Manning and Tom Brady — back-to-back. But can he do it again?
Flacco will be back in Baltimore next season; that much is certain. His contract is expiring, but the Ravens have already said they have every intention of bringing him back. This Super Bowl victory will end up earning Flacco tens of millions of dollars.
The only other certainty for Baltimore is that Ray Lewis’s days in a Ravens uniform are over. Lewis’s announcement before his team’s first playoff game that he would retire after the season served as a rallying point for the Ravens. At 37 years old, Lewis’s days as a defensive force are well behind him, and his time as an effective player was starting to come to an end. Replacing him should not be terribly difficult.
Over the past decade or so, the Ravens have been synonymous with defense, with Lewis and safety Ed Reed as the faces of all those fearsome Baltimore defensive units. Lewis is gone now, and Reed might follow him. Reed toyed with the idea of retirement after last season, but at 34, it seems a bit early for him to call it quits. His contract is expiring, however, making it quite possible Reed might be playing elsewhere in 2013.
Even with Lewis and Reed, Baltimore’s defense was thoroughly pedestrian this season. The Ravens were 17th in the league in yards allowed per game, the first time since 2002 that they ranked outside the top 10. It will be interesting to see whether Baltimore is able to improve its defense next year via the draft and free agency, or if the decline will continue.
Baltimore’s offense, on the other hand, is rapidly improving. Ray Rice is one of the game’s best running backs, a dual threat who serves as a great pass-catcher out of the backfield. Bernard Pierce, his backup, had a great rookie season, averaging nearly five yards per carry. Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones are two of the best deep threats in the league, and Dennis Pitta is an emerging young tight end. If Flacco plays next season the way he did in the playoffs, the Ravens might have one of the league’s best offenses. An offensive renaissance, coupled with a defensive decline, would mark a stark change in Baltimore’s identity.
Of the two teams from this year’s Super Bowl, the 49ers have to be more likely to make a return trip. Only a handful of defensive players and a few offensive role-players will be free agents; losing two or three would not be catastrophic.
More importantly, with the Niners expected to part ways with Alex Smith, Colin Kaepernick will get a chance to prove himself in a full season. The prospect of 16 games of Kaepernick and the read-option surely has defensive coordinators around the league losing sleep already. Of course, the possibility exists that all those sleepless nights will be spent coming up with ways to stop Kaepernick and that he may struggle as opposing defenses smarten up and learn how to stop him.
San Francisco’s offense has the potential to be one of the league’s best next season. Frank Gore is coming off one of the best seasons of his career, though he will turn 30 (that magical age at which running backs start to decline) in May. Should the Niners want to limit his carries, Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James provide great alternatives. During his days at Oregon, James showed that he is a truly explosive player, capable of breaking a big play at any moment.
While the Niners offense still has much to prove, the defense has already cemented itself as a real force. San Francisco allowed the third-fewest yards against in the NFL this season. Patrick Willis is probably the best linebacker in football, Aldon Smith is as fearsome a pass rusher as you will see and Dashon Goldson is one of the league’s most underrated safeties.
Sometimes it’s better to lose a Super Bowl than to win it. Winning can bring complacency; losing brings the hunger to get another shot.
“It’s tough getting shoved off the field, watching another team celebrate, walking away with your goal,” 49ers safety Donte Whitner told the San Fransisco Chronicle. “We’ll get better from this, and we will be back.”