Charlie Riedel, Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS — Baltimore's Joe Flacco threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin, before San Francisco's David Akers kicked a 36-yard field goal, and the Ravens took a 7-3 lead over the 49ers after the first quarter of the Super Bowl on Sunday.
The 49ers began the game with an illegal formation penalty on the very first play, then needed to punt.
A good return by Jacoby Jones set up the Ravens near midfield, and they promptly drove 51 yards in six plays. Another 49ers penalty on third down at the 18 came right before Flacco's nice scoring pass over the middle to Boldin with less than 4½ minutes gone in the game. Flacco was 3 of 4 for 41 yards on his team's opening possession and finished the quarter 6 of 9 for 77 yards.
San Francisco replied with a 12-play, 62-yard drive that ended with 3:58 left in the first quarter on the kick by Akers, who tied an NFL record with a 63-yarder this season but also had a league-high 13 misses. The big gain was a 24-yard pass from Colin Kaepernick to Vernon Davis. Ravens safety Ed Reed, in coverage on that play, left to have his knee examined, but then returned.
As the second quarter began, the Ravens punted the ball back to the 49ers.
The NFC champion 49ers (13-4-1) were seeking their record-tying sixth Super Bowl title — but first since 1995 — and brought in a 5-0 record from their previous appearances. Only the Pittsburgh Steelers have won six Super Bowls.
The AFC champion Ravens (13-6), a franchise that moved from Cleveland to Baltimore 17 years ago, also came in unbeaten in Super Bowls, albeit only 1-0, thanks to their championship in 2001, when linebacker Ray Lewis was voted the game's MVP.
All eyes were going to be on Lewis this time again, as he played his final game before retirement after a 17-year career that is expected to land him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Lewis missed 10 games this season with a torn right triceps muscle — and spent two days in the past week dismissing a report that he had used, of all things, deer-antler spray to enhance his performance.
About 45 minutes before the opening kickoff, Lewis gathered his teammates in the end zone painted the Ravens' purple team color. As they encircled him, Lewis — large triangles of eye black covering his entire cheeks — delivered his usual rousing pregame speech, and other players whooped it up, too.
Not long after, 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis — who, like Lewis, wears No. 52 — delivered his own fiery words, surrounded by the rest of his team near the red, white and blue NFL shield logo at midfield.
It was the first Super Bowl coaching matchup between brothers: Baltimore's John Harbaugh is 15 months older than San Francisco's Jim Harbaugh.
Both starting quarterbacks were making their debut in the NFL championship game.
Indeed, Kaepernick was making only his 10th start the NFL, having taken over the job after Alex Smith got a concussion during a game. Flacco, who led the Ravens past Denver's Peyton Manning and New England's Tom Brady for two of his league-record six career postseason road victories by a quarterback, was getting one last chance to impress before heading into an offseason that could land him a $20 million-per-year contract in free agency.
Before the game began, with 100 million or so Americans expected to tune in on TV, a chorus of 26 children from Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. — where 20 students and six adults were killed in a shooting rampage in December — sang "America the Beautiful," accompanied by "American Idol" alum Jennifer Hudson. Grammy winner Alicia Keys performed the national anthem.
This was the 10th time New Orleans hosted the big game — tying Miami for most in a city — and first since Hurricane Katrina devastated the Big Easy in August 2005.
Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich
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