Having made it their mission since 2010 to study how to beat the Steelers, a team that has for so long stood in their way, the Ravens not only replace the Steelers as the alpha male of the division, but their convincing conference championship game against the Steelers’ long time bane, the New England Patriots, shows that the Ravens have improved on their model of success.
Much in the way of sour grapes could be written about the officiating and the lack of calls against the Ravens, especially during the Niners' last few attempts to reach the end zone; dispersions could be cast upon the victors in Steeler Nation's moment of angst.
But the fact of the matter is the Ravens are the 2012 Super Bowl champions, and there's nothing Steeler Nation can do about it but accept the fact and let the Ravens' fans have their moment in the sun. To do any less, no matter the obnoxious trolls or "that guy" down the hall, would be to cheapen the memories we all share of the six times the Steelers have been victorious.
Sure, we could delude ourselves with talk of "...if Ben hadn't gotten hurt...", or "...typical Flacco, heave and pray...", but again, the facts, the statistical facts, prove that Joe Flacco can now stand tall in the ranks of elite quarterbacks. He had a passer rating of 135.8 in the first half, completing 13 of 20 for 192 yards and three touchdowns. For the entire game he did not throw an interception on his way to a performance befitting a Super Bowl MVP quarterback, and ended the night victorious with a passer rating of 124.2.
To put that into context Steeler Nation, Flacco's performance ranks fifth amongst all Super Bowl quarterbacks with his passer rating, easily surpassing Steelers icon Terry Bradshaw's 119.2 in Super Bowl XIII. Ben Roethlisberger's best Super Bowl rating was 93.2 against the Arizona Cardinals, and ranks down in the mid-to-high 30's. Roethlisberger may have a higher career passer rating, and may play brilliantly in the playoffs, but Flacco rose up to the challenge of the Super Bowl after an erratic regular season, calling audibles and making pin-point accurate throws throughout the game.
What the Steelers decide to do now this off season in terms of player personnel, drafting philosophy and most especially recapturing the mental toughness and attitude that was so profoundly lacking this past season will dictate whether the Steelers will be competitive next year or whether the AFC North and the chance to play in the first cold weather Super Bowl in New York in 2014 will be all but ceded to the Ravens.
Make no mistake, the Baltimore Ravens are here to stay. Yes, now they'll have to pay Flacco "elite QB" money, but don't you think Ravens' GM Ozzie Newsome has already planned for that? Yes, Ray Lewis will be gone next year, but as the Ravens have proven, their defense works just fine without Lewis. They've already signed their other "elite" player, RB Ray Rice to a nice long contract, and their two WR play makers Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones are still in the midst of their rookie contracts. While WR Anquan Boldin's $6 million contract will force a hard decision on the Ravens, his performance in this past Super Bowl would seem to indicate he may well be on the team again next year. Many other players on this Ravens team have contracts coming up (Dannell Ellerbe, Ed Dickson, Arthur Jones, Ma'ake Kemoeatu, Paul Kruger, Bryant McKinnie, Dennis Pitta, Ed Reed, Cary Williams), but given the proof that the Ravens have studied the Steelers, is there any doubt they won't do what has worked for their arch nemesis and avoid what hasn't in terms of keeping a victorious core of players together?
Whether you believe the Steelers' throne has been usurped, or whether the baton has been passed to a new reigning sovereign in the AFC North, you have to admire the Ravens for winning it all by playing a style of football that has long been the hallmark of the Pittsburgh Steelers. A pocket passer who makes plays deep down field has shown once again that the old style of quarterbacking is still viable; a defense that plays relentlessly, aggressively and with heart showed that it can withstand the complexity of a quarterback who is as much a threat to run as he is to pass.
It's ok to hate the Ravens, bitter rivals who threaten the Steelers' monopoly on who represents the essence of true football. It's ok to be angry, but if Steeler Nation truly deems itself the ward of what makes football the sport we love, we have to respect and admire what the Ravens have done and the manner in which they achieved it; after all, they had to learn how to beat the Steelers to do it. But most of all, we have to give Flacco the credit he deserves for what he accomplished in his first time on the biggest stage of all, including acknowledging that he has done something our quarterback has yet to do.