falling to the Baltimore Ravens 34-31.
I don't know, for the non-football audience, if there's an equivalent Mets loss that can compare to this. Maybe Game 6 in Atlanta in 1999 is close, but it's impossible to compare Baseball and Football, and I'm too much of a carcass to attempt to do so. It's taken me this long to be able to form coherent enough thoughts to write out here. To call my feelings about this somber would be an understatement. After spending most of last offseason randomly thinking about their loss to the Giants in the Championship game and what might have been, I've now got to look forward to another offseason, thinking about a close game that came down to a few plays, a few missed opportunities, and a loss that will rankle me for the next several months. Yes, I'll cheer up in a day or two and everything will get back to normal. Yes, I'll also spend a lot of time reflecting on what a great season this was, and the wild ride that took the Niners all the way down to the Super Bowl, but they couldn't bring home that 6th title. The legacy of the 49ers, to have made it to the Super Bowl so many times and always managed to emerge victorious, is now tainted. And that sucks. Many people seem to have the prevailing thought that in many ways, it's better to not make it to the Super Bowl altogether than it is to go there and lose it. A loss in the Super Bowl, constantly the most-watched sporting event of the year, can brand you with a negative label, whether it's earned or not, that you'll constantly have to overcome. I've been through slews of shitty playoff losses, I've seen the Niners hang in and lose by a hair, and I've seen them get smoked. But I've never seen them lose quite like they did last night.
the bewildering power outage that did little more than give me time to stew over this mess, the 49ers regrouped, got their asses in gear, and began to fight back. And they fought back fast. Within mere minutes, 28-6 had become 28-23 and all of a sudden everyone was back into this thing. And it was all generated by Colin Kaepernick.
It wasn't so much that Kaepernick played particularly badly in the first half. He may have had moments where he didn't relax, which had been his undoing in certain instances, but I can't recall more than 2 or 3 bad throws out of him all day. He wasn't helped by a number of drops from his receivers. But there's just something about Kaepernick. When he gets the offense going, it appears to energize the entire team. You can see it happening. He hit Crabtree for the 49ers first touchdown and immediately, the 49ers Defense came to life and stopped the Ravens cold, even forcing a fumble from Ray Rice. The touch was back on his passes and the 49ers began ripping through the Baltimore Defense. You can say whatever you want about Kaepernick now, and I suppose people already have. Bill Cowher even went on CBS during the power outage and called for Alex Smith. That wasn't ever going to happen. If there was any Quarterback who could have led the 49ers back into the game, it sure as hell wasn't Alex Smith. Kaepernick had gotten them this far and he damn near brought them all the way back once again. As far as I'm concerned, Colin Kaepernick's performance bordered on Heroic. This team respects and loves him so much that when he kicks it into gear, it feels like the entire team kicks in with him. And that's exactly what happened in the 3rd Quarter Sunday night.
Baltimore kicked another Field Goal on their final drive, aided by a Pass Interference penalty on Chris Culliver and an offsides call. Little things that hurt. So with the score 34-29, and about 4 minutes to go, the 49ers had one final chance to get the ball into the End Zone, erase the deficit, erase the Ravens and bring home a Title. Colin Kaepernick had done it all to this point, and now here was his Joe Montana moment. As he had all second half, Kaepernick threaded passes with precision. Frank Gore, suddenly energized in the second half, came up with a pair of key runs. The Ravens defense was gassed. It was all coming together, just as I saw Joe Montana do it so many years before. Colin Kaepernick was going to pull off the greatest comeback in Super Bowl History and put his name alongside the NFL's elite...
...They came up five yards short.
The 49ers defense was abysmal through the first half, and when they really needed a stop in the 4th Quarter, they couldn't get it. The problem isn't the players, it's the depth. The 49ers have made it through the season rarely substituting on defense. The guys were just gassed. And without experienced backups, that becomes a liability.
The play calling, both early and late, was terrible. The final series for the 49ers will probably be scrutinized for weeks to try to figure out what they could have done differently to make up those 5 yards that they couldn't get. The final 3 plays were all passing plays. That probably shouldn't have happened. Where was Frank Gore? Gore had run up 110 yards for the game, most of them in the 4th Quarter. The 49ers had particular success running Gore on misdirection plays away from the action, and besides the point, Gore's strength is his ability to weave his way through tacklers. Where was a designed roll out for Kaepernick? Where was Vernon Davis (Bill Barnwell on Grantland noted that this would have been a perfect spot for the same Vernon Post play that won them the Saints game last year), who had been similarly unstoppable? Three consecutive pass plays directed at the same receiver, Michael Crabtree, though perhaps high-percentage, didn't play to Kaepernick's particular strength and also really wasn't the kind of play calling that got the 49ers to that point.
Whether or not Crabtree was the victim of a helmet-to-helmet hit on 3rd down, or held on 4th down is immaterial. Bad officiating and non-calls are a regular occurrence in the NFL. The 49ers were also done in by some penalties that they richly deserved. The referees did a bad job, but the play on 4th down—Crabtree was held by Jimmy Smith—is almost always never called. It wasn't called on NaVorro Bowman in the Championship game, either. My feeling is that the 49ers are less sore losers than simply frustrated from how close they came to winning this game. Or maybe that's just what I'd like to believe. Either way, them's the breaks. I can't get too bent out of shape about it because it shouldn't have come down to that. There's plenty of other things to be bent out of shape about.
youth and talent doesn't guarantee continued success. That's the nature of the NFL. That's why I said every Championship season is special and precious and the opportunity to be in the Super Bowl shouldn't ever be taken for granted. The 49ers were perilously close to not even winning the NFC West this season, or being stuck without a 1st round bye. Who's to say that the Seahawks, who were up the Niners' asses all season, don't continue to ascend and prove an even tougher opponent than last year? The St. Louis Rams also improved by leaps and bounds. Outside the division, there's plenty of other teams that can cause plenty of headaches. That doesn't even account for injuries and other teams adjusting to the 49ers style of play. Sometimes, making the Super Bowl is the worst thing that can happen to a
team, win or lose. It leads to the assumption that you're probably good
enough. The hope is that the 49ers realize that they're only good
enough to compete for a Championship. There's still pieces that can be
added, particularly for depth, something that's often overlooked.
nothing to be ashamed about. They just fell behind too far too early and ran out of time. Their defense couldn't account for the buzzsaw that Joe Flacco had become and their play calling lacked variety at a key moment. They were behind 22 points and damn near made it up. The point is, it's a bitch and a half to have come all this way for two
years in a row, battle hard through two seasons, overcome a really
bitter playoff defeat, stay mostly healthy and make it all the way back,
get to the Super Bowl and lose. Last year, the 49ers used their defeat in the Championship Game to rally them all the way back and into the Super Bowl. But 5 yards away from bringing home the ultimate prize, they fell short. And for the second year in a row, I'll have to spend the offseason thinking about what might have been.