NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The Baltimore Ravens carried off the Lombardi Trophy. Their beaten opponent has a better chance of doing it next season.
San Francisco running back Frank Gore insisted the 49ers were the more talented team even after losing 34-31 to the Ravens in Sunday’s Super Bowl. The scoreboard said otherwise, but when the conference champions meet at the Meadowlands next February _ yes, outdoors in the dead of winter for the NFL crown _ the Niners easily could represent the NFC.
“I’d say we’ve got a great group of guys in the locker room, great warriors,” Gore said, “and I’m not going to promise anything next year, but we’re going to fight to get back here.”
The toughest fight might be in their own division with Seattle and rapidly improving St. Louis. The Seahawks were the only team to allow fewer points than the 49ers, and their rivalry _ including the semi-feud between coaches Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll _ adds spice to the NFC West.
But the 49ers have to be the NFC favorite after losing in overtime to the Giants for the conference title last year, then barely falling to the Ravens on Sunday night.
“This is kind of tough, to get this far and let everything slip away through your hands,” said Ahmad Brooks, part of the best linebacking corps in the league, along with All-Pros Patrick Willis, Aldon Smith and NaVorro Bowman. “The funny thing about it is, within the next few months, we’re going to start trying to get back to the same place that we’re at right now.”
As will the Ravens, but their challenge is more imposing.
Unlike the 49ers, who figure to lose virtually no important parts _ receiver Randy Moss, perhaps, but he was a marginal player in 2012 _ the Ravens have bid adieu to their greatest player, linebacker Ray Lewis. Not only will they miss his performances on the field and his presence in the locker room, but he was the emotional engine in Baltimore.
Flacco almost certainly will get the franchise tag at more than $14 million if he can’t agree to a long-term deal. But in the current NFL, winning without a top-level QB is impossible, and there can be no arguing now about Flacco belonging in that class.
“I always said when I came into the league and got drafted that I didn’t want to be one of those guys jumping from team to team,” Reed said during Super Bowl week.
Regardless, the Ravens will be a force _ odds makers have placed them behind New England and Denver in the AFC next season _ and one of the NFL’s most prolific offensive teams.
Flacco throwing to the superb trio of wide receivers Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith and tight end Dennis Pitta, plus the versatility of running back Ray Rice and a stud backup in Bernard Pierce says so. Flacco’s protection from the line and All-Pro fullback Vonta Leach was impeccable in the postseason, helping Flacco throw for a record-tying 11 TDs with no interceptions.