When the Baltimore Ravens' 2011 season ended with a loss to the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game, coach John Harbaugh talked about the difference between winning and losing.

"If we had played a little better, made another play or two, we would have won the football game," he told reporters.

Moments like those -- the reality of a missed opportunity because of a play or two -- can drive a team or destroy a team. It can be the building block to something better or the beginning of a fall from grace for an organization.

The Ravens, to their credit, built on the devastating loss last season and let it drive them to an NFL championship with a 34-31 win over the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday night at Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans.

Baltimore got off to a 28-6 lead after Jacoby Jones returned the second half kickoff for a touchdown, but moments later the lights went out in the Superdome. When they came on 35 minutes later, the 49ers put together 23 points and appeared to be on the verge of the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history. But the Ravens stopped the 49ers on four downs deep in Baltimore territory with two minutes remaining to hold on for the win.

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco officially took over this team with the victory, completing 22 of 33 passes for 287 yards and three touchdowns, and was named the game's MVP. And Ray Lewis will step away from the field with a Super Bowl title in his last game.

It's the second Super Bowl title for this organization -- formerly the Cleveland Browns -- since it moved to Baltimore in 1996. It has been a worthy successor to the team that put pro football on the map in Baltimore -- the Colts, who won four NFL championships but just one Super Bowl in Baltimore before they moved to Indianapolis in 1984.

You almost could make the case that this championship was won on that January afternoon last year in Foxborough, where the Ravens saw their title hopes disappear with a missed field goal by Billy Cundiff that would have tied the game with 11 seconds remaining.

"Our immediate response was that we're going to work hard to get right back to this point," Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "But that was easier said than done, especially with the injuries we've sustained this year. We took the hard way back, but we got it done."

The Ravens had their share of adversity with injuries to Suggs and Lewis and the change in offensive coordinators in midseason from Cam Cameron to Jim Caldwell.

"So many times the adversity and criticism and the white-hot spotlight of the NFL, when you lose one game everybody can think it is the end of the world," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "Inside your team, it can either push it apart or pull it together."

But so did all NFL teams. No one skates through an NFL season without adversity. The true test of a champion, though, is to get within one game of the pinnacle of the NFL only to lose like the Ravens did last year and then return this season to overcome that loss.

It's hardly a triumph of the human spirit -- the presence of Lewis and the questions about a double murder in Atlanta 13 years ago always will cloud the legacy of this organization, at least around the country.

But within the confines of the field of football, the Baltimore Ravens did what champions do -- they got off the canvas and fought their way back to another shot at the title.

Examiner columnist Thom Loverro is the co-host of "The Sports Fix" from noon to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on ESPN980 and espn980.com. Contact him at tloverro@washingtonexaminer.com.