NEW ORLEANS – The blitz is called "Cable" and Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees didn't hesitate to call it on the play that decided the Super Bowl.
In fact, he already knew he was going to call it. That was when the San Francisco 49ers stood on Baltimore's 7-yard line, trailing by five with 2:39 and four downs to win the game. Pees loves Cable, calls it "a darn good blitz," the kind of thing that can rattle a quarterback, making him panic and then throw the ball to a place he doesn't want.
Five years ago, as the defensive coordinator of the New England Patriots, Pees called the same blitz in the waning seconds of the Super Bowl. Back then, the Patriots held a four-point lead on the New York Giants. Only that night Giants receiver Plaxico Burress beat Ellis Hobbs, the cornerback covering him, for a touchdown. Burress made a double move then jumped high in the air to grab the pass.
Oh, how they killed Pees in New England for calling that blitz.
Now in the Superdome, with the roar of 71,024 thundering down, first down had become second, then third and now fourth. There was 1:50 left. Just like that fateful night against the Giants he called Cable.
"It's a darn good blitz," he said following the Ravens' 34-31 victory over the 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII.
And on Sunday the Ravens ran it to perfection. Defensive tackle Arthur Jones slapped the center on the side and slipped past him toward Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe raced through on the other side. Both had clean shots at the passer before them. If Pees was watching the surge, he would have seen that Kaepernick had no chance against Cable. He would have determined the pass was too long and too far. He would have realized his vindication even before Kaepernick heaved the ball.
But Pees would not have this joy. Not yet. He was watching his defensive backs cover San Francisco's receivers one-on-one just like the Patriots did on that last play in the Super Bowl four years before.
"If we went down, we were going to go down fighting," he said.
It is fitting that defense would win this Super Bowl for the Ravens. Defense won them their first Super Bowl in the 2000 season and then won them dozens of games over the 12 years since. Even as the seasons have passed and the old defensive stars drifted away to retirement or other teams, Baltimore has been about defense. Much of this mentality came from Ray Lewis, who might be the only defensive player in the NFL who is his team's unequivocal leader. How could he not be? Lewis has stormed through meetings and huddles, delivering outlandish pregame speeches that have made men cry. As long as Ray Lewis was around, the Ravens were going to be about defense.
And so on a night that quarterback Joe Flacco would throw for 287 yards and three touchdowns and Jacoby Jones would catch a 56-yard touchdown pass and run a kickoff back 108 yards for another score, Baltimore needed its defense one final time. Four downs. Seven yards. Hold and win the Super Bowl. Break and have a lifetime of what ifs. One last stand in Lewis' last game.
He stood in those few yards of green before the end zone yelling at his teammates. His face was streaked with black paint. His eyes pleaded. He leaned in toward them and waved his hands.
"First down gets to second down, second down gets to third down, third down gets to fourth down and fourth down, then after fourth down we get off the field!" he screamed.
The players nodded. As the leader – "the lieutenant, the general," as nose tackle Ma'ake Kemoeatu likes to say – Lewis is the one who talks in all the defensive huddles. What Lewis says, the Ravens do. So it has been for a decade and a half. So it was going to be for one more night.
In the biggest goal-line stand of their lives, the Ravens held on first down. San Francisco running back LaMichael James got only two yards. On second down, Kaepernick threw an incomplete pass toward receiver Michael Crabtree. On third down, Kaepernick threw for Crabtree again. Incomplete once more. Then there was one last play.
The Ravens have been an imperfect contender over the years. They have always seemed too heavy on defense and light on offense. And even after transitioning from being a defensive team to an offensive one, the shift has been awkward, with Lewis' dominating presence inside the locker room keeping the offense from growing on its own.
These last weeks of Lewis' Hall of Fame career have been awkward, too. His pending retirement has opened old wounds, notably the double murder after the 2000 Super Bowl for which he stood trial. His Biblical rants have been juxtaposed with unanswered details from the case, despite that the charges were dropped. Nothing has been easy.
Later, several defensive players said they always knew Sunday's game would be the most difficult they had ever played. They wanted it like this. They wanted a scuffle. It wouldn't be right for the Ray Lewis era to end without a fight to the end. "This is for all the marbles!" Lewis shouted in the huddle.
Then he added: "One more play."
Pees called for Cable, just as he knew he would. Later he would say he didn't think about the Giants' Super Bowl and Plaxico Burress. Ellis Hobbs didn't jump in his mind. The only thing in his mind was that he had called "a darn good blitz." And in the Superdome, against the 49ers, he was just as sure as he was that night five years past that it would work.
Then it did. Jones got through. Ellerbe got through. Kaepernick threw in desperation. Unlike Burress, Crabtree would not get to the throw. Nobody was going to hate Dean Pees this time. Jones broke into an awkward dance. Lewis threw himself face first on the field. Pees smiled.
"I'd be lying if I said I didn't have a little fear at the end," safety Bernard Pollard said. "But I knew we could get it done."
Which the Ravens defense did one last time on Sunday night. Soon the Ravens will turn from defense to offense. The great defensive stars will disappear. Baltimore's defensive dynasty will come to an end.
But Sunday night there was one last stand. One last call. One last blitz. Never could they have imagined how well it was going to work.
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