NEW ORLEANS – A power outage put the nation’s biggest sporting event on hold for more than a half-hour Sunday.
What followed was an otherwise electric, back-and-forth second half that ended with Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens as NFL champions thanks to a 34-31 victory over the San Francisco 49ers.
Flacco, voted the MVP, threw three first-half touchdown passes to cap an 11-TD, zero-interception postseason. Jacoby Jones returned the second-half kickoff 108 yards, a Super Bowl record, to give Baltimore a 28-6 lead.
Moments later, lights lining the indoor arena faded, making it difficult to see. When action resumed, Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers scored 17 consecutive points, getting as close as 31-29.
But Baltimore stopped San Francisco on fourth-and-goal from the 5 with under 2 minutes left when Kaepernick’s pass sailed beyond Michael Crabtree in the end zone.
“I was sitting there thinking, ‘There’s no way. There’s no way we stop them here,’” Flacco said. “But we did.”
The 49ers (13-5-1) struggled early in the first Super Bowl coaching matchup between brothers: Baltimore’s John Harbaugh is 15 months older than San Francisco’s Jim Harbaugh.
Baltimore (14-6) led 28-6 after Jones opened the second half with the longest kickoff return in a Super Bowl, his eyes glancing up at the videoboard, presumably to watch himself sprint to the end zone.
The 49ers showed they were capable of a comeback in their previous game: They trailed by 17 against the Atlanta Falcons before winning the NFC championship game.
Shortly following Jones’ return, the sudden, odd power outage arrived. Escalators weren’t working. Officials stopped play about 1½ minutes into the third quarter, and the bizarre delay lasted 34 minutes in real time before action resumed. Some players sat. Others stretched. Some fans chanted, “Let’s go, Ravens!” Others passed time by doing the wave.
When play resumed, NFC champion San Francisco (13-5-1) began making things more interesting, scoring 17 points in less than 4½ minutes.
Kaepernick threw a 31-yard touchdown pass to Crabtree, pulling them within 15 points midway through the third quarter. Then, with 5 minutes left in the third quarter, Frank Gore swept around right end for a 6-yard TD run, making it 28-20, before Ravens running back Ray Rice’s fumble gave the ball right back to the 49ers.
San Francisco tacked on David Akers’ 34-yard field goal to get within 28-23 after he missed from a longer distance but the Ravens were whistled for running into the kicker. It was his third successful kick of the game after hitting from 36 and 27 yards in the first half.
How close was it heading into the fourth quarter? Each team had exactly 17 first downs. Total yardage was nearly the same, with the 49ers slightly ahead, 317-315. Time of possession was nearly split down the middle, too.
“I tell you what: We don’t make it easy,” Flacco said. “But that’s the way the city of Baltimore is. That’s the way we are.”
About 2 minutes into the fourth quarter, rookie kicker Justin Tucker made a 19-yard field goal to stretch the Ravens’ lead to 31-23. Not long later, Kaepernick’s 15-yard run around the left side – the longest TD run by a quarterback in Super Bowl history – made it 31-29. His 2-point conversion pass intended for Randy Moss was incomplete.
A 38-yarder by Tucker made it 34-29 with 4:19 left in regulation. Baltimore purposely gave up a safety in the closing seconds to run time off the clock, setting the final score.
The first half was all about Flacco. He went 13 for 20 for 192 yards and the three scores over the opening two quarters, becoming only the sixth QB in 47 Super Bowls to throw for that many TDs by halftime.
Flacco finished 22 of 33 for 287 yards.
San Francisco turned over the ball twice in about a 5-minute span of the second quarter: Rookie running back LaMichael James fumbled – leading to a Ravens TD – and safety Ed Reed tied an NFL record with his ninth career postseason interception by picking off Kaepernick.
It was the first interception thrown by a 49 quarterback in the Super Bowl.