It's the first day of the rest of our lives. Thirty-one weeks and two days until opening night at M&T Bank Stadium and the world champion Ravens host the opener of the 2013 season. Time to breathe a little bit. And by the way, if you haven't seen visuals from the Ravens' parade and stadium event today, it's phenomenal. The love, the crowds ... so good to see in a great city. Did anyone go to school in Maryland today?
Before we put 2012 in the rear-view mirror, let's examine the three things about the Ravens' 34-31 victory that filled my email box and Twitter timeline in the hours after the game -- and still did this morning. I have enlisted former NFL officiating czar Mike Pereira, now the rulesmeister for FOX, to help on a couple of them.
1. Cary Williams of the Ravens should have been ejected for the two-hand shove of head linesman Steve Stelljes. We all saw the scrum, with Williams flying out of it after he somehow lost his helmet in the mini-melee and putting both hands on Stelljes, forcibly pushing him back. Still stunning this morning to see the play, and then to see Stelljes do nothing about it. Williams wasn't even penalized for it. "Zero tolerance,'' Pereira said. "It should have merited an ejection. I don't know what went through the head linesman's mind, but the fact is you've got to eject for contact." So what was the result? Williams started the game and played all 62 defensive snaps for Baltimore. The scrum occurred on the 20th play, so the Ravens would have had to play nickel back Jimmy Smith or sub Chykie Brown (who did not play a single snap from scrimmage in the game) in Williams' place.
Who knows what factor it would have had on the game, but to play the final two-thirds of the Super Bowl with only three corners could have made an impact. Williams did have two passes defensed the rest of the game. Maybe his presence in coverage on Randy Moss on the game's last three plays -- all three of them throws to Michael Crabtree -- influenced the Niners not throwing a fade to one of the best fade catchers ever, Moss. We'll never know.
2. But let's not send Stelljes to the Arena League just yet. He was the one who made the no-interference call on the game's decisive play. Stelljes was on the side of the end zone the 49ers">49ers threw to on 4th-and-goal from the Baltimore 5-yard line. There is some hand-fighting, by both guys. We've seen lesser contact called pass interference. We've seen more contact not called pass interference. I firmly believe this did not merit a flag, and Stelljes, staring at the play, didn't throw one. Looked like he never reached for it.
As Smith told me after the game, the officials had been letting corners and receivers joust during the game. "They were letting us keep our hands on each other,'' Smith said. "No calls." In fact, in the first 50 minutes of the game, the officials called no interference or illegal-contact fouls. There was only one PI, on Chris Culliver of the Niners 53 minutes into the game. Said Pereira: "When you read the rules, contact in the air has to significantly hinder the receiver's opportunity to make the catch. I thought it did not. When I look at it, I saw no restriction. Could it be? Might it be? You don't want to throw that flag. Absolutely not.''
3. Anquan Boldin is a great football player. During the week, I was the pool reporter covering the Ravens practice in New Orleans, and on Thursday, Boldin jogged by where I was standing with assistant GM Eric DeCosta. "Tough, tough football player. So great for our team,'' DeCosta said. So many of you have sent similar sentiments about Boldin, and Jacoby Jones as well. And I have no brilliant observations to make about either. But coming away from this game, one memory I'll always have is the 3rd-and-six-inches throw from Joe Flacco to Boldin that 90 percent of receivers in the NFL would not have caught, because Carlos Rogers was blanketing Boldin in perfect coverage. That play led to the field goal that made the lead five points with 4:19 to play. Without that play, and that field goal, San Francisco would have needed a field goal inside of two minutes to tie the game, instead of the three fruitless throws to try to win it. So do not forget the significance of Boldin in this game. He was terrific.
Now for your email:
SCOTT DOES NOT AGREE. "Allow me to be the 10 millionth person to email you and say that was clearly pass interference. Truly shameful that such an exciting game hinged on a refs cowardly choice to ignore what was a blatant mugging. Jimmy Smith had both arms wrapped around Crabtree and both hands full of jersey as soon as Crabtree made his move and Smith never let go until he fell.''
-- From Scott, Medford, Ore.
I don't agree, but thanks for writing.
DEFINE ELITE. "Elite in the NFL means, at its most lenient, the top 10 percent of players at the position. Of 32 starting quarterbacks, "elite" would refer to just three. No sane person would take Joe Flacco over Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Drew Brees right now. (For the future, sure, but not for next season). Joe Flacco is not elite. Only three QBs are ever elite in a given season. It's just simple logic.''
-- From Jon Miller, Currituck, N.C.
I am so sick of that word. Flacco is one of the best six or eight best quarterbacks in football right now. He just proved it in the biggest month on the NFL calendar. That should be enough.
IT'S A CROWDED CLASS. "I'm struggling to figure out what the thinking in the voting room is that keeps Jerome Bettis from election into the Hall of Fame? Of the top 14 rushers all-time, he and Tomlinson are the only one not in the HOF ... and he's sixth! I hear the yards per carry are a knock on him, but it's really only about an inch per carry less than Curtis Martin. Winning a Super Bowl and being a team leader on some very successful Steelers teams has to count for something in comparison to some of the running backs who've not played on good teams. Help?''
-- From David Nicodemus, Columbus, Ohio.
Look, it's a difficult process. I firmly believe Bettis is a Hall of Famer, and I believe he will be in someday. When? I don't know. It's a tough process when the majority of the 15 modern-era candidates each year are worthy of the Hall, and we can put only five in. When you measure the impact of Jerome Bettis versus the impact of Bill Parcells -- which is what we have to do -- it is a difficult proposition.
SMART GUY OF THE WEEK. "Another Factoid you missed: The past three times the NFC North has fielded a Super Bowl team, they have played an NFC West opponent. Their record? 3-0."
-- From Aaron Ganterbein, Tacoma
You should write my column. Thanks, Aaron.
GREAT POINT FROM JERSEY. "The juxtaposition of the Greg Olson and Laurent Robinson items in this week's MMQB highlights the unsolvable puzzle at the center of the NFL's new player safety efforts: how can you hope to make a sport safer when it is inherently violent, when its participants keep getting bigger and faster, and when its popularity is based in large part on its violent nature? Every single play in the NFL involves numerous helmet-to-helmet hits along the line, and the new rules about hits on receivers also don't cover countless other instances of head collisions. Football is inherently dangerous, and no rule changes (short of completely changing the nature of the game) is going to change that. It's an ugly truth that, for billions of reasons, the NFL can't afford to acknowledge.''
-- From Greg, Westfield, N.J.
Good point, Greg, but you can't throw your hands in the air and do nothing about it. The NFL will be enforcing more restrictive rules about the huge hits, and they'll be fighting to get players to use helmets with the most modern technology.
NOT THE FIRST TIME I HAVE HEARD THIS. "The Harbaugh brothers' behavior was embarrassing. During the power outage, John bullied the suit-wearing staffer who apparently was just providing an update on the situation. The poor guy had to stand there and take a barrage of F-bombs. Jim one-upped John with his hysterical tirades on the sidelines. Both coaches came across as juvenile.''
-- From Mike Dynon, North Kingston, R.I.
There's some merit to that. I believe there would be moments both would like to have back, and I hope each watches the tape of the game to see them.