From the very beginning, this was the story.
Sure, last year's team had its issues too. But it had this aura about it, this feeling of destiny. There was just this feeling that nothing could stop it. There was just this sense, it would find a way.
Right until the very end, there was just this magic.
Going into this season, the story was this. On paper, this year's team would be better. But that wouldn't guarantee a better year. We'd had to replace some players, of course, but that would be the easy part. Much harder would be replacing the magic.
But here's the thing about magic. It can't be manufactured. It just has to happen.
And predictably, throughout this season, it hadn't.
This WWL stuff makes for a good story, but the bigger point is the magic was gone. Sometimes we looked like a Super Bowl champ; sometimes we looked like anything but. And going into these playoffs, the simple result was you just didn't know. Sure, getting the bye was an unexpected break, which gave us a needed injection of hope. But it wasn't enough to quell the doubt.
Last year, even going against Drew Brees, you felt that we would find a way. This
year, going against Aaron Rodgers, you just didn't know.
Never mind the inconsistency we'd shown, in all three phases. The questions about our weapons on O, our health on D, and our kicker's head. Beyond all that were those damnable Packers, who've crushed so many playoff dreams. Throw in Rodgers' promise that he'd make us pay for not drafting him—more on that later—and your confidence just wasn't the same.
What a perfect time, for a little magic.
Understand, this was not about vindication. According to the mainstream press, only now would we start to learn whether Jim Harbaugh had done the right thing. Yet that wasn't true. Sure, to the shortsighted, Harbaugh's decision might've seemed bold, risky, or even reckless, but in fact he was actually playing the odds. He saw two paths: one would be safe and smooth and would almost certainly come up short; while the other, though certainly rougher, might well end up at the promised land. If you're thinking big, the decision is easy, and it's validated immediately. To judge it by whether it ultimately produces the desired result is nothing but hindsight, and that's no way to judge a decision.
I get it, though; the playoffs are where the story gets written. And when you throw a pick-six with your second pass, the play-it-safers will start screaming for blood.
But after what transpired next, the play-it-safers were silenced forever.
When you're talking about playoff history—and especially the Niners'
history—you've gotta be careful when you're throwing around superlatives. It's smarter to just stick to the facts. In his first playoff start, Harbaugh's choice produced 444 total yards—a postseason record for a Niner QB—and 4 touchdowns. He gained 15 yards with every completion, and he rushed for more yards—181—than any
QB, postseason or no. In the second half, he led three consecutive touchdown drives of at least 80 yards, turning what looked like a shootout into a blowout.
The Packers were a popular choice, not only to win but to win the whole thing. And with one of the most dominating all-around performances in the history of the league—one of the greatest dual-threat games of all time—Harbaugh's choice completely destroyed them.
Okay, so I used some superlatives there.
As amazing as his performance was, what was most amazing was how amazing it wasn't
. This game was perhaps an extreme example, but this is simply what he does. He fires deep strikes—playoffs included, his deep-throw percentage is now #1—or else he runs, with equal explosion. He might already be the most athletically gifted quarterback ever, and assuming that Harbaugh sticks around, he might eventually be the best.
But what's most important, at least right now, is that he's brought the magic back.
Once he settled in, everything seemed right with the world. The O seemed to have weapons to spare, especially now that a former diva has taken his place among the elite. (And when do you think that
started to happen?) The D seemed to be rested and healthy, with its all-important swagger back. And even the kicker was among the living.
I know, I know, we've been here before. And sure, this might've been just one more second-W, on the way to one more L. But something just seems different now. Given both the opponent and the stakes, this was our most impressive win. And though now we're going out on the road, our opponent will spend the week drying off flopsweat. And as for the AFC, the most imposing team is already gone.
Issues? Sure. This team's still got some. But now, it's got this aura about it, this feeling of destiny....
Which brings us back to Rodgers' promise. You heard it all week. On that defining night eight years ago, he was disappointed that the 49ers didn't draft him; but, he vowed, "not as disappointed as the 49ers will be."
It's interesting, isn't it? First off, if Rodgers wants to punish those who slighted him, he should probably start with his own head-coach. But nevertheless, for a while there, his promise held true; a lot of us were disappointed indeed. And without a doubt, he's still one of the best. But on Saturday night, the disappointment melted away, along with any remaining yearning for any man we haven't got.
See, we've got the Magic Man.
And there's just this feeling that nothing can stop us.
By: Lucky Phil
Date: January 21, 2013 at 6:44 PM
Comment: I doubt Delanie put his money on a Forty-Niner win this weekend. But I'm happy the first ball we threw him was the last ball we threw him Sunday. But, I'm serious, I think this dude was shaving points in the second half of this season. I hope I'm wrong because I like D. Walk, but if I was Baalke I would be doing the math on how many catches you made this year compared to how many drops you made in the red zone and on third down. Good luck D. It sure don't look good for you, though.
By: Lucky Phil
Date: January 20, 2013 at 10:26 AM
Comment: Jeff, I wanted to ask your opinion since I know you watch a lot of Niner football. Do you think Delanie Walker is shaving points? These last couple of games Walker has been dropping an incredibly high number of redzone passes compared to the number of passes he makes outside of the redzone. I noticed it again in the first half of the GB game. The one that was almost embarrassingly obvious was the catch he made on the sideline outside the redzone late in the first half that would have put the Niners in field goal position. He caught it but lifted his right leg high in the air, looked almost deliberate, he did not want to put it down in the field of play. When youre watching the game today, just look for it and tell me if I'm crazy. Well, we know I'm crazy, but tell me if you think Walker is shaving points.
Date: January 19, 2013 at 3:35 PM
Comment: I would LOVE to hear from all the experts and non-experts who fanatically insisted that J.H. had made a grave, bad, crazy-assed mistake by allowing Kap to get a legitimate chance to play football. He's so athletic I bet he could play wide receiver among other positions. About that, lets not make him a running back, remember all the potential of RG3. Kap's got the arm of a potential hall of famer, lets not screw this up with some half thought out running schemes. If I know anything about football, and all, yes all my past observations indicate I do, there are some big, ugly mothers out there dying to put a couple of bone-loosening hits on Kap. Remember the questionable hit put on Manningham, it doesn't take much. Kap's most valuable assets to the niners are his ability to read defenses and his arm. Those are top notch. They are the future. If he is injured this year then what? See what I mean? Oh Heckeroo and all that.
By: Lucky Phil
Date: January 17, 2013 at 5:11 PM
Comment: Louie, The choice of "underdog" is the wrong term but I think you understood the point I was trying to make. What upsets me about young QB's like Kap, Rodgers, and Brady is that when the experts get it wrong the player suffers. For Kap he only had one football scholarship offer (Nevada). He probably only had one opportunity to win the starting job at Nevada his first year. And he had to have an outstanding game to keep the job. Louie youre right, Kap had an amazing college resume (over 10,000 passing yards, 4,000 running yards). But that still did not give him the respect he deserves. He had to have an amazing game against Chicago this season to keep the starting job and only after A. Smith was injured did he get the opportunity. My point is Kap was the sixth QB picked two years ago, doesn't matter if he was drafted in the second rd. He has always been underrated. And it pisses me off to see players like Kap and Brady get only one chance if theyre lucky while others like the Manning Bros are god's gift to football from day one. The bottom line is guys like Kap and Brady are two of the best in the league because they had to be every game.
Date: January 17, 2013 at 3:11 PM
Comment: If the 49ers' defense concentrates on taking away the deep pass completions (easier said than done against 3 excellent receivers and an excellent passer) they should win convincingly. They have to make the Falcons earn all their yards and not give away big chunks. The offense should be fine even without miracles from Kap.
And I have to add, Kaepernick is not an "underdog". He had one of the best careers in the history of college football. And one of the best coaches in the NFL, who's a QB expert, traded up to get him at the top of the second round in the draft. Doesn't sound like an "underdog" to me.
By: Lucky Phil
Date: January 16, 2013 at 6:12 PM
Comment: I gotta admit I was scared going into that GB game. I knew we had the better team but I was still 50/50 whether we would win this game. But seeing how Kap played and how well the offense played Sat. made me believe this is our year. When you take the shackles off a man that has as much talent as Kap there is no D left in the playoffs that can stop this guy. I was really happy to see the Niners play like a heavyweight champion on Sat. They showed no fear. Last year the niners played every game like Smith might lose the game. This year Kap has no fear, and he has taken this team to another level. He knows he is great just like Brady and Rodgers know they are great. And just like Brady and Rodgers there is still a big chip on his shoulder. That all these assholes that scout football players couldn't recognize his talent. People don't realize that when you have been an underdog your whole life, every game is a big game. Kap will not fail in the big game, because underdogs have had to play like superman the first chance they get, they know they will never get a second opportunity. Jeff, Don't worry about the Niners. Kap is the Heavyweight Champion and he knows it!
Date: January 16, 2013 at 8:13 AM
Comment: Jeff, why were you MIA so long, man?
Date: January 15, 2013 at 6:36 PM
Comment: WWL is ridiculous. It has to do with game play and strategy; when you rest players and when you play cautiously and when you do not. Regular season head to heads, etc. make no difference. Now that we are in the post-season we will see IF the niners can KEEP it simple and PLAY HARD LEAVING EVERYTHING ON THE FIELD. If they play like this is the last game of their careers or like many of them did when they played their very last high school game -- without money, without attitude, etc. then they will win and no matter who winds up in the SB they will crush them too... IF THEY CAN PLAY THE GAME and stop letting the game ruin them. GO NINERS!
Date: January 15, 2013 at 4:45 PM
Comment: Loved the article Jeff! You were right on the money when you described Crabtree's emergence. I never really felt he was a diva, but a guy who doesn't get the ball thrown to him the way he's supposed to. With Alex, he usually had to wait for the ball. Kap can fire it to him on the run, and he can get him some yac. A buddy of mine argued that Crabtree was a bust.
I told him he would have over 1000 yards receiving if he was playing with an elite QB. THE MAGIC IS BACK. GO NINERS!!!!!
Date: January 15, 2013 at 2:30 PM
Comment: Hate to rain on your parade there Jeff, but there's this rather annoying habit that even Kaepernick was part of.
Win, Win, LOSS. Win, Win, TIE.
But never a Win, Win, Win.
I fear, Mr. Kaplan. I fear. Despite what happened against Green Bay last week I have seen nothing that stops or snaps this TURRIBLE streak!
Date: January 15, 2013 at 11:54 AM
Comment: Great article. One point of clarification. The paragraph that begins, "Understand...." would have held even more strong, and been just as applicable, if Harbaugh had made the right decision going into the regular season and started Kaepernick as many of us wanted.
While it doesn't matter at all going forward, it is worth noting that none of this would have happened without the lucky concussion to Smith. The odds that Smith was going to go down to injury at that point in the season were about 1 in 5. If Smith had remained the QB they would not have beaten the Patriots or the Saints, would have been a wild card, and likely lost in the first round.
So, kudos to Harbaugh for being part of the Kaepernick draft selection and having the guts to tune out the Smith-backers once Kaepernick was in.
However, kudos also to blind luck/football fate and the Rams' defenseman who laid out Smith in a non-permanent way.........because if that hadn't happened, we wouldn't be seeing Kaepernick until, at best, the start of next year. And we wouldn't have the most capable backup in the NFL for the next 2 games.
Date: January 15, 2013 at 9:29 AM
Comment: Nobody says it better than you, Kap! Thank you. My feelings exactly. The Magic is back and so "potentially" is the return of our Dynasty. It may be premature to say such a thing, but I think this game will be viewed as the turning point for the 49ers and their new domination of the league. How we have all longed for the glory days of Montana and Young and genius coaching. We felt often we got the first part in Harbaugh, but we didn't know we had the second half in Kaep until Saturday night. Man, am I enjoying this ride!
Date: January 15, 2013 at 9:17 AM
Comment: Sorry, you have to come up with a better name for Kaep than the Magic Man. Anyone that has been around long enough can recall that that was the nickname for Green Bay Packers Quarterback Don Majkowski.
By: Paul A.
Date: January 15, 2013 at 8:23 AM
Comment: Just have to love the ride!!!!!
Date: January 15, 2013 at 7:33 AM
Comment: Love it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!