The 49ers lived dangerously all postseason, and it came back to haunt them on football's biggest stage. After recovering from deficits of 7-0 against the Packers and 17-0 against the Falcons, the 49ers finally dug themselves a hole too deep to climb out of. A largely forgettable first half gave way to the Super Bowl's first blackout...and almost the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history. Almost.
To wrap the 2012 season, we'll be looking back at the Super Bowl to discern what went wrong, the 49ers worst performer, the 49ers best performer what the future holds for the team, and as usual, our two minute drill.
What The Hell Went Wrong?
AJ: As the game started, it was painfully apparent that the 49ers had come out flat. The flag for illegal formation...ON THE GAME'S FIRST PLAY...was a bad omen. Forget the fact that the penalty eliminated a 20 yard gain...it signified that the team was unfocused at the start of the biggest game the 49ers have played in 18 years. That, my friends, is a bad sign.
LaMichael James' fumble was a worse sign. Much worse. When he fumbled, the 49ers were trailing 7-3 and driving down the field with a good chance of taking the lead...but after that, any semblance of momentum seemed lost. Kap's interception made sure that it would stay lost for the balance of the first half. As it turned out, the 49ers wouldn't find it again until five minutes into the 3rd Quarter.
While the first half was the worst possible way the 49ers could have started the game...nothing that transpired in the game's first two quarters was as bad as the 49ers' final error. The most critical error in the game...the mistake that truly killed any shot the 49ers had at winning the game...occurred just after the 49ers drove the ball to the Ravens' 5 yardline with 2 minutes left to play. With the game in the balance, Frank Gore was on the sideline.
The Ravens had no answer for Gore out of the Pistol. He averaged 5.8 yards per carry for the game...and with Haloti Ngata on the sidelines, Gore would have been the perfect player to attack the Ravens defensive front. instead, the Niners opted to throw, and they almost won. But as my Senior Drill Instructor used to say, "Almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades."
Diego: The 49ers weren't prepared, to put it mildly. Never mind that my pal and I disagree on what the most critical error of the game was (more on that later), what really went wrong in this game was that San Francisco players started out this game making all kinds of mistakes, leading to a 22-point deficit that proved just too much to overcome.
It all started with Michael Crabtree lining up incorrectly on what should had been the very first play of the game, a 20-yard pass to Vernon Davis. Instead the 49ers initial drive was nothing but a three-and-out. San Francisco' second drive of the game displayed a very concerning issue: the inability to get Frank Gore going. Gore had 5 rushes on the drive for 13 yards, including two rushes for no gain and one for a loss of one yard. The 49ers however were able to overcome this to get in scoring position, but then again a critical mistake was made on 3rd&goal when Anthony Davis was quickly beaten by Paul Kruger to sack Colin Kaepernick for a 10-yard loss. The 49ers third drive of the game looked promising after they moved up 56 yard in the first four plays, but the very next play saw LaMichael James fumble on a play that looked bad from the get-go, and just like that a promising drive was gone. Are you depressed yet? If not, let me remind you the very next drive was very short, only one play in fact, where Colin Kaepernick threw his only interception of the game. Did Randy Moss have a chance at the high throw? Did he not have a chance? We'll never know, I guess. Personally I was kind of glad to see Kap throw that interception, as he usually bounces back so well from his mistakes, but the next drive was another three-and-out, and the one after looked promising, but once again the 49ers had to settle for just a field goal.
By the time the 49ers offense was done putting together a forgettable first half in the biggest game of the season, they were down 21-6 thanks in part to some mistakes on the defensive side as well (cough ** Chris Culliver ** cough). If that wasn't enough, they started the second half by giving up a 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown that went right down the middle of their "coverage". The 49ers were not prepared.
Goat of the Game
AJ: Every game has a hero...and every game has a goat. The 49ers stunk it up pretty badly in the first half...bad enough that any number of players could have earned the title. But by the end of the game, the 49ers goat was obvious...Chris Culliver.
Cully had a rough week. After allowing himself to be baited by professional douchebag, Artie Lange, he created a public relations nightmare for the team...and undoubtedly a HUGE distraction...by offering up a profoundly disturbing anti-gay rant that became national news.
His performance on the field proved to be almost as gut wrenching as his complete lack of tact off of the field. He was scorched by Jacoby Jones on a 56 yard TD at the end of the first half. On the play, he looked absolutely lost. So lost, that he forgot to tackle the receiver after the catch. The play was easily the worst I've seen on the defensive side of the ball in the Harbaugh era.
Diego: Am I allowed to pick a coach here? Because if so, I'm picking Jim Harbaugh. Look, lets make this clear so there is no confusion: I love the guy, every now and then I think of where the 49ers may be if Jim had indeed accepted to coach the Miami Dolphins (scary, isn't it?), but that being said he needs to be made accountable at times, and this was undoubtedly one of those times.
Lets leave what I have previously mentioned aside, you can argue whether the 49ers journey to a 22-point deficit is on the players or on the coaching staff, to me the biggest mistake of the game was made by San Francisco's head coach, and it came towards the end of the third quarter. This game was the equivalent of an epic, 12-round boxing match, one in which the Ravens came out on point throwing all kinds of jabs on point and jumping on the 49ers if the made a mistake, and for about the first 6 or 7 rounds they undoubtedly were leading the scoring cards, even sneaking in a partial knockout (the TD on the kickoff return). Yet the 49ers slowly but surely started to fight their way back into the matchup, and during rounds 8 and 9 they suddenly seemed to have the Ravens on the ropes: a touchdown, forcing a three-and-out, a bad punt with a great return, quickly another touchdown, a fumble forced and recovered, Baltimore couldn't be much further from just falling down, but they fought with everything they had and kept San Francisco from converting Ray Rice's turnover into another touchdown, not allowing Jim Harbaugh's team to even get a first down and forcing David Akers to attempt a 39-yard field goal on a 4th&7 ... which he missed; but suddenly a second chance, Chykie Brown ran into Akers and it was now 4th&2 from the Ravens' 16-yard line. It was as if a round clearly won by San Francisco had mistakenly been ended by the referee, and before Baltimore could sit down to regroup he ordered that the round kept going, just how much more could the Ravens take at the time? It was a chance to run Colin Kaepernick and the offense back on the field and use the momentum (such an underrated part of sports, by the way) to go for another touchdown on that same drive, which accompanied by a two-point conversion would had tied the game, a 22-point comeback completed in less than a quarter of play. Instead, the 49ers were content with just letting the round end at that point and not take any more shots at the time. They ran their unreliable kicker out on the field again, and to Akers' credit he made the ensuing 34-yard field goal, but the 49ers lost something valuable regardless of getting the 3 points - they lost the momentum, and they would never get it back.
San Francisco was able to make the judges' scoring cards come to a more even score with 17 unanswered points, but that wouldn't be enough, and Jim Harbaugh should had recognized it when he had a chance to keep throwing punches at a Ravens' defense that had taken about everything it could on a rampage. The scoring cards came out pretty even from that point on, and in a very close decision Baltimore came out on top. I know it's easy to focus on that 4th down play towards the end of game and wonder whether holding should had been called against Jimmy smith, but I really thought the missed chance came with just over 3 minutes left in the 3rd quarter, and I can't help but think Jim should had gone for it then.
Okay...so who was the 49ers best player?
AJ: Though the 49ers lost, they set a Super Bowl yardage record, had a 300 yard passer, two 100 yard receivers and a 100 yard rusher. So who was the 49ers best player in the Super Bowl? Frank Gore. Without question.
After the blackout, Greg Roman suddenly remembered what got the 49ers to the big dance...what makes the read option work...who gains the yards that no one else can...and he decided it was time to feed Frank.
As is usually the case when Roman suddenly remembers that he has one of the best tailbacks in the league at his disposal, Frank began to do what he's done for his entire career: he kicked ass. Not just a little. Not in fits and starts. Gore romped. In the second half, he was unstoppable.
For the sake of the team going forward, I hope that Coach Roman remembers who the 49ers best player was in Super Bowl 47...and at least considers putting him on the field when the outcome of future games is in the balance.
Diego: It's just not fair to say that Colin Kaepernick wasn't the best player for the 49ers in the Super Bowl, the kid overall had an amazing game. When you take a closer look at the game his first half wasn't really too bad (8/13, 139 yards, 2 rushes, 16 yards, 1 interception, 2 sacks), and his second half was outstanding as he led San Francisco back into the game, as close as within 2 points from tying the game, and most importantly got teammates and fans alike to believe the comeback was possible with his performance.
Kaepernick's outstanding performance (16/28, 302 yards, 2 TD (1 rushing), 3 sacks, 1 interception, 7 rushes for 62 yards), although short of keeping the 49ers record perfect in Super Bowls, put the finishing touches on an amazing season that has put him in the conversation for best up-and-coming quarterback in the league. He consistently demonstrated throughout this season that he is capable to accurately place the throws that come out of his cannon-like arm on top of being able to utilize his smarts and freakish speed to beat defenses whether on a scramble or designed QB run play. As feared when he was initially named the permanent starter, his lack of experience showed at times, including in the Super Bowl, but a full offseason as the starter coupled with a strong work ethic (reportedly working on his game as early as this week) should help erase some of his shortcomings, making one of the most feared quarterbacks in the NFL next season.
Now that 2012 is wrapped, what does the future hold for the 49ers?
AJ: The first order of business for the 49ers is to determine which of their pending free agents will be re-signed. We'll be looking at this in a bit more depth later in the offseason...but for now, I think the 49ers should focus on re-signing Dashon Goldson, Delanie Walker, Ricky Jean-Francois and Tavares Gooden. Whether or not they can is another matter altogether.
The next order of business will be to figure out what to do with Alex Smith. Some have anticipated that he'll be released. Others have suggested that the 49ers should keep him. But my money is on the 49ers trying to deal him. Current landing spots that make sense are Kansas City (if they re-sign Bowe), Cleveland (reunion with Norv Turner), the Raiders (at this point, either of my kid sisters would be a better option under center than Carson Palmer) or Arizona (talented...but their QB carousel features a giant treasure chest of terrible). Given that the 49ers will probably decline to move Smith to a team that they could meet regularly, expect them to try moving him to the AFC.
The final order of business for the offseason will be the draft (yet again, we'll be looking at the draft very closely in future installments)...and with an expected 14 picks, the 49ers are in a position to add depth or move up to grab an impact player early. Whichever way they decide to go, look for the team to add a DB or two, a 2-gap NT, at least one 3-4 DE, an edge rushing linebacker, a big bodied WR with the ability to stretch the field, and depth on the OL, especially at C.
Right now, this team is poised to begin a run of success that could make them the envy of the league...but in an improving division, they'll need to carefully manage available talent, draft wisely and more fully exploit the talent of their more versatile players.
One thing is for sure...it's gonna be a lot of fun to watch.
Diego: If San Francisco can brag about something regardless of losing the Super Bowl, is that they are in position to return to the big game as soon as next season, and could be a factor in the playoffs for the next several seasons due to their gifted core of key players.
Colin Kaepernick, Michael Crabtree, Vernon Davis, Patrick Willis, Navorro Bowman, and Aldon Smith (to name a few) are all still very much in their prime, while San Francisco will return the league's best offensive line next season.
Undoubtedly many key decisions will need to be made during the offseason: trading/releasing Alex Smith, re-signing key players such as Dashon Goldson, trading for big-name players such as Darrelle Revis or Percy Harvin, possibly making a splashy free agent signing, and effectively making use of as many as 14 draft picks pending future transactions. Trent Baalke and company have demonstrated over the last couple of seasons that they know how to control the cap room while improving the roster, although the results of this year's draft MUST dramatically improve from the 2012 draft which basically produce only ONE player to contribute to the team.
Two Minute Drill
- Ravens' starting CB Cary Williams stated that the 49ers were "pretend tough guys" after the Super Bowl. I find it ironic that a guy whose biggest hit of the game was on an official after the whistle is touting the fact that he's a tough guy.
- Two fistfuls of a receiver's jersey = penalty, no matter the situation, amount of time left on the clock or the spot of the football.
- Anyone else wondering when the NFL is going to try explaining why Cary Williams wasn't ejected for shoving an official?
- Though the 49ers lost their first Super Bowl, take heart: this team is young in all the right spots, pretty well off as it pertains to cap space, and in a position to be competitive for years to come.
- Though Kap lost his first Super Bowl appearance, he's not taking the loss sitting down: Rumor has it that he'll begin training (along with some of his receivers) next week.
- In the Ravens' victory parade, Ed Reed shouted to the crowd, "Who's got it better than who? We do!" Way to keep it classy, Ed.
- NFL Network reported that Joe Flacco was prepared to run onto the field and tackle Ted Ginn if he should break through the Ravens' kick coverage on the punt that ended the game. He enlisted Dennis Pitta to spread the word along the Ravens' sideline. What a putz.
- Penalties, blown calls, non-ejections and absolute douchebaggery aside, the 49ers lost this game because they didn't make the plays when they had to. There is a cliche in the NFL that states, "great teams aren't great all the time, they're just great when they have to be." There's another cliche that my Dad used to offer up whenever I was upset about a bad call as a kid, "A great team should never allow the game to come down a referee's decision." Like it or not, the 49ers could have kept this game out of the officials' hands...but they didn't.
- The scenario that makes the most sense in the Alex Smith story this offseason is for Smith to end up in Kansas City, preferably via trade. Even if the Chiefs hardball by not offering anything better than their 4th round pick, the 49ers would still basically be getting a later 3rd rounder. There is a lot of talent to be had at that point.
- A.J. Jenkins will reportedly get to work out with Colin Kaepernick right away this offseason, looking to come back severely improved for next season. Unfortunately for all parties involved, his disappointing rookie season will force the team to address the WR position once again this spring, and his role with the team going forward is an underrated enigma at this point.
- I cannot see Delanie Walker returning to the team next seasons due to what I predict to be a high demand for his services from Free Agency. High number of drops aside, he is an outstanding TE who can contribute both as a pass/run blocker as well as a receiver and I just see him going with the top money offer.
- One of us called for Vernon Davis to have a big game on the game's biggest stage, now can he go back to performing at the level throughout a full season? If he is able to produce again the way he did during the 2009/2010 seasons, then the need for a legitimate #2 WR lessens.
That's it for the 2012 season kids...but just because the season has ended doesn't mean that UFR is going anywhere! Over the course of the offseason, we'll be providing insight into the NFL Combine, The 2013 NFL draft and Free Agency. If you've got questions, or would like to see specific topics in UFR, drop us an e-mail, comment, or tweet and let us know!
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