As the ball fell from the grasps of Kyle Williams' hands, so too did my heart. This was the greatest season of 49ers football that I have ever been so lucky enough to witness. Albeit I'm still in my late teens and this was the first true taste of 49er glory that I experienced. Since watching the 49ers, all I ever knew was losing. Growing up as a young San Francisco 49ers fan in the "early Alex Smith era" was rough. With each season the coaching carousel continued to revolve, uncertainty occupied the minds of 49er supporters, and there looked to be no imminent end to the perpetual losing. Yet something about this great franchise resonated within me, even through the years of bottom-feeding, I felt a deep burning love for the red and gold.
Reflecting back upon the circumstances, the 2011 San Francisco 49ers accomplished something incredible. The team was an afterthought entering the season. Coming off a six win campaign, with a rookie head coach and Alex Smith returning, nobody gave the 49ers a realistic chance of making it to the playoffs, let alone NFC Championship game. Yet this squad defied all logical analysis, and came up one game short of the biggest stage in pro football. Had it not been for a series of mental lapses, the 49ers may have made the Super Bowl. The visions of what could have become, had such mistakes not taken place, will torment the minds of 49ers fans for years to come.
The 2011 NFC Championship game was the epitome of a tight game, one which carried the potential to sway in either direction. In such game, the team who reigns victorious is typically the one who commits fewer mistakes. That theory held true. Uncharacteristically, the 49ers turned the ball over more than their counterparts. The Giants had immaculate ball control all throughout the game, not turning the ball over once, while the 49ers fumbled in two of the most inopportune times. Kyle Williams, God bless his heart, fumbled two times on punt returns. Once near the midway point of the fourth quarter and one more time in the overtime period. There are two ways of interpreting the cause of Williams' first fumble, one incriminates him, and the other lays the blame elsewhere. It can be argued that Kyle Williams was the victim of a bad bounce on his first fumble, and that is was not fault of his that the football skipped up and nicked his knee. The other, is that he made a mental error by being inexplicably close to a ball that he had no honest intention of fielding. However you may view it, Williams' first fumble cost the 49ers seven points, and at that moment, the lead in the football game.
The second Williams' fumble will appear in the nightmares of San Francisco football fans for years to come. Visions of how the 49ers may have done pending Williams had held that punt, will be swiftly extinguished at the sight of the football slowly drifting toward the Candelstick Park turf. That fumble was a kick to the stomach, a season-ender. The New York football Giants recovered the ball deep within San Francisco territory, the end was forthcoming. Lawrence Tynes put to bed all remaining hope held out by the eternally optimistic 49ers fans, with a field goal that punched the Giants' ticket to Indianapolis.
Blaming Kyle Williams exclusively for the loss in the NFC title game would be an injustice. Doing so would be an insult to the 2011 San Francisco 49ers. "Team first", is a concept that was preached throughout the year and was one which was embraced by the players. "The team, the team, the team", were some of the first words to leave the mouth of Jim Harbaugh after his hiring in January of 2011. Personal accolades took a back seat when Jim Harbaugh took over, and that approach proved dividends, as the 49ers flourished and came up one game short of the Super Bowl. The team first concept was adopted and embraced by the players, and was undoubtedly a large contributor to the 49ers' new found success. Comradery and the burning desire to do all things necessary to ensure victory, not only for you, but for the entire group of men on the squad, helped the 49ers dig themselves out of their near-decade long rut. To abandon such mores, which have successfully contributed to the turnaround of the franchise would be ludicrous. Team first is what got the 49ers to this point, and against the Giants they lost as a team.
Opportunities on offense were not taken advantage of, as were multiple chances for interceptions on defense. The team had the ability to perform better throughout regulation time, which would have barred Kyle Williams from ever having to field a punt in such a pressure-cooker of a situation.
The 2011 season marked the return of something long foreign to 49ers fans, winning. As deeply painful as the loss at the hands of the Giants may be, 49ers fans need to appreciate how truly remarkable this season was. Step back from the ledge 49ers fans, winning culture has found its way back to San Francisco. The future appears bright under Jim Harbaugh. Again next season we as fans will ride the emotional roller coaster that is NFL season and who knows, maybe next year is ours.
Date: January 25, 2012 at 11:53 PM
Comment: Why Williams lost the game and nobody else. First, despite 1-13 third down conversions, the offense scored 17 points. Second, the Giants did not cross the 50 yard line in the second half until the punt fumble by Williams. If he had left the ball alone in his first punt fumble, the score would have remained 14-10 because the Giants were not going to score on the defense in the second half. This is not just a game; they get paid lots of money to win games.
By: Jose Rivera
Date: January 25, 2012 at 9:52 AM
Comment: Agree, blaming Kyle Williams exclusively is an injustice. When your offense is 1-10 on 3rd down conversions, your WR's dissapear the entire game (1 catch), and your offense runs 57 plays compared to NY's 92 and mistakes by official's must share the blame.
Date: January 25, 2012 at 7:37 AM
Comment: Excellent article!!
Date: January 24, 2012 at 9:42 PM
Comment: For those who say we shoudnt blame williams for our loss you guys are NUTTS!!!!!! Our defense n offense played their asses off n deserved to win, if it wasnt for those mistakes made by williams it would be us in the superbowl and not the giants. So blame WILLIAMS!!! I hope I.never see him EEEEEVVVEEERRRR!!!!!!!
By: Dallas Niner Fan
Date: January 24, 2012 at 7:25 AM
Comment: Lucky Phil,
I could not of said it better than that myself.
Date: January 24, 2012 at 7:14 AM
Comment: I think we should all reflect on mistakes we have made that we are glad did not occur before the nation. We have all made mistakes we wish we could take back; we were just fortunate not to have them in a public forum where what we did disappointed others beside ourselves.
Date: January 24, 2012 at 12:12 AM
Comment: Very good article. I have been a 49er faithful for 61 years since I was ten years old and this is one of the best all around teams we have ever fielded. Really a great group of players with excellent character. They are what the meaning of team is all about. They gave their all and in the end it wasn't quite good enough, Sometimes the ball just doesn't bounce the right way!
By: Lucky Phil
Date: January 23, 2012 at 4:41 PM
Date: January 23, 2012 at 1:28 PM
Comment: No matter how you slice it, Kyle Williams is the goat for this loss. It's true that our O was atrocious on 3rd down. We had opportunities to put this game away far before it ever got to overtime even with the first gaffe on special teams, but there is no escaping the glaring errors Williams made. I appreciate the way the team rallied behind him, because of the philosophy they have of team team team. I feel bad for Williams and hope he is able to put this behind him as I think he has a bright future in the league.
A season that far surpassed my wildest expectations at the beginning of training camp after the lockout, but right now I just wanna cry. A few weeks from now I will be better able to appreciate how good a season this was.
On a side note, Roger Craig is one of my favorite niners of all time and should be in the hall imo. But the loss in the 1991 NFC title game preventing a chance for a repeat was on him and that fumble. It is the nature of the sport.
Date: January 23, 2012 at 12:43 PM
Comment: it was a great year! We finally got some coaching after the team was destroyed by the foolish ownership. It wasnt all Williams fault, though most who watched the game think the D would have won the game without his 2 turnovers. Imagine this team with a decent offense!
( Real Wr's, OL together one more year, a 50% 3rd down rating) We are the team to beat next year , watch and see!
Date: January 23, 2012 at 11:18 AM
Comment: Great article with some very good points. One of the reasons it's so hard to take the muffed punt returns by Williams is the ball discipline the team has demonstrated all year. It is a heartbreaker, but in the end the team just couldn't pull it out.
I agree we need to look at the WR corps, we are clearly lacking. It is a testament to the team and staff however, as to how well we did without a full compliment of receivers throughout the year.
What I am amazed by is how quickly some of the responders here and elsewhere call for the head of Alex Smith. Can't throw and accurate deep ball? What game were you watching? The only QBs that hit the deep ball every time are on Madden with cheat codes. Alex did a great job this year, and while he had a few missed opportunities yesterday, so did Manning. Had either one hit those, the game never would have went into OT.
The Niners are back, and we have a new era of FortyNiner gold to look forward to... I can see another couple Lombardi Trophies in our future.
Date: January 23, 2012 at 11:09 AM
Comment: Nah. I've been through too many of these. I blame Kyle Williams. I also blamed Jerry Rice in 86 and Roger Craig in 1991. Sure there were other plays. But none were as glaring as Williams. I hope he bounces back. I do. But those turnovers were the game and there was NOBODY to blame but himself. Other than that I agree with your sentiment. Here is to going all the way next year.
Date: January 23, 2012 at 9:04 AM
Comment: Let's give Kyle Willams a break.He's a 2nd year player that got thrown into a job due to injury.He's a good player that has speed and can catch.We win as a team ,we lose as a team.
Date: January 23, 2012 at 7:15 AM
Comment: Fantastic Article. Keep the faith, the Niners are back!
Date: January 23, 2012 at 7:05 AM
Comment: At some point they will have to address poor WR play and a QB that cant throw an accurate long ball.
Date: January 22, 2012 at 11:21 PM
Comment: I Don't Care Wat Nobody Say Kyle Williams Should Be Cut!!! Not Cor Fumbling The 1st Punt But For Trying To Trick The Referee Into Believing The Ball Never Touched Him!! Don't Get Me Wrong Da Game Was There To To Be Taken By Alex Smith & He Didn't Step Up But He Didn't Put Us In a Compromising Position!! Kyle Williams Two Fumbles Directly Attributed To 10 Giant Points & In Closing Da Reason Dis Hurt So Bad Is Because We Didnt Lose Cause We Got Flat Out Outplayed Or We Lost Dis Game Ultimately Because Klye Williams!!! & To Be Honest I'm Happy For Our Future & Im Proud Ouf Our Season In It's Entirety But All I Can Sit Here & Think To Myself Is He Really Fumbled Da Ball.....TWICE!!! Ughhh I Can't Sleep!!
Date: January 22, 2012 at 10:38 PM
Comment: We, the Niner fans are disappointed that our beloved Niners didn't advance to the SuperBowl, but please don't go bashing Williams. Everyone makes mistakes, we learn from them. With a coach like Jim Harbaugh coaching the Niners, as a fan, our time will come! Remember, they critics (who can kiss you know what) said the Niners wouldn't make it to the playoffs. They had the Rams to win the west. Niners showed us that they are contenders. We need to keep the faith, because our season starts soon again. If you are a true Niner fan like I've been since the 89', you'd embrace each and every player because they played their hearts out for us! We're already talking about our Niners getting back to that stage next year and with the help of hopefully Fitzgerald (from the Cards), that dream will be a reality.
To Kyle Williams, thank you for playing your heart out for us. We love you man! We know you'll bounce back next year..in a Niners uniform!!
True Niner fans...let's embrace our players, win or lose!
Date: January 22, 2012 at 10:04 PM
Comment: Great Article