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.