Ravens-49ers matchup shows it’s difficult to stay on top in the modern NFL
On the evening of Feb. 3, 2013, the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers met to decide NFL supremacy. Sunday, the two teams play again, hoping to stave off 2015 irrelevance.
Staying on the NFL mountaintop has proved difficult for both organizations since Super Bowl XLVII. Retirements, free agent departures and injuries have whittled away talented and deep rosters. There have been off-field problems and on-field deficiencies. After engaging in a classic shootout on the sport’s biggest stage, the respective franchise quarterbacks have buckled while having to carry the weight of an entire organization.
“It feels so long ago,” Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said when asked about his team’s 34-31 victory over the 49ers in the Super Bowl, the last time the teams met in a game of significance. “It’s disrespectful to even talk about it, because you have so many guys on this team that weren’t a part of it. They’re trying to be a part of something great in the moment, and I am, too.”
It has been a little more than 32 months since Flacco, the game’s most valuable player, lifted the Lombardi Trophy skyward at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and the 49ers trudged through a sea of confetti and into a despondent locker room. Both teams, ignoring the volatility of an NFL season, vowed to get back. Nowadays, they feel further away than ever before.
Since that Super Bowl, the Ravens have a 19-18 regular season record and one playoff victory.
The 49ers are 21-16 in that same span with two playoff wins and an NFC conference championship berth in 2013. When they meet Sunday at Levi’s Stadium, both will be buried at the bottom of their divisions, carrying 1-4 records and facing questions about where the two teams will go from here.
“I feel like one franchise, the Ravens, is hitting a hump, and I think the 49ers are in a valley right now,” said former Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik, now an analyst for ESPN. “San Francisco has had a lot of transition. That’s reflected, I think, where they are as an organization. When I look at the Ravens, I still remind myself that they’ve lost three games by a total of 11 points. I don’t see the Ravens in the same situation as I see San Francisco in right now.”
Still, the Ravens and 49ers are a testament to how hard it is to win consistently in the NFL and keep championship-caliber teams together. Of the 106 total players on the active rosters for Super Bowl XLVII, only 22 are still with the team they represented that Sunday. That list includes only 10 total starters.
“The NFL in itself, every week is crazy. Every week is hard,” said 49ers first-year Coach Jim Tomsula, the defensive line coach on former coach Jim Harbaugh’s staff before being elevated to the top job. “You talk about three years ago, that’s an eternity in the NFL with free agency and the way everything goes.”
For the Ravens, significant change after the Super Bowl was expected. Ravens Coach John Harbaugh said that it was “obvious . . . why we have turned over so many people,” alluding to the team’s tight salary-cap situation and the veteran-laden 2012 roster.
The 2012 Ravens were the oldest Super Bowl team in a decade. Ray Lewis had already announced his retirement and Matt Birk would soon. Ed Reed headed a large group of free agents.
“That last Super Bowl was sort of the last stand for the Ray Lewis and Ed Reed group,” said Phil Savage, a former Ravens executive and a former general manager of the Cleveland Browns. “They knew that there was going to be a shift culturally from the Ray Lewis-led Ravens to the Joe Flacco-led Ravens. That was happening even in that last Super Bowl year.”