1. Ready, Set, Flag
We may never know what happened on that first play of the Super Bowl, but one thing is for certain: that 20-yard completion from Kaepernick to Vernon Davis could have done as much good for the 49er’s offense as the flag for illegal formation did to stunt them. Jumping into a cold body of water, the best advice one can receive is to just dive in without allowing your brain to process anything, or risk spending the day on the shoreline clutching onto your towel.
For a sophomore quarterback starting his 13th game of the season, Super Bowl XXLVII was the biggest, coldest lake Colin Kaepernick could have possibly found. Given time to consider the weight of the situation, the argument can easily be made that that 20-yard gain could have eased his nerves and allowed him to fall into a better sync with his playmakers.
Instead the play, in all its perfection, was nullified by a penalty that’s next to unheard of at the beginning of any game, let alone the season’s final game. The coaches and players knew what the first play of the game would be for days. Maybe longer. For all of their missed opportunities later in the contest, you can bet that Jim Harbough lost sleep thinking about that bullet his offense put in his foot before ten seconds had ran off the game clock. It took his offense two full quarters to finally get into the swing of things.
2. Kaepernick and the Dead Zone
For all of the praise that the sports world gave Kaepernick’s fastball like throws, there has been a postseason long trend that should have had San Francisco fans and 49er’s supporter’s very concerned last night: Kaepernick’s inability to throw touchdown passes in the red zone. That trend reared its head again Sunday night.
All game long, San Francisco used a balanced attack to march down, only to constantly falter when it came to picking up those last twenty yards. The 49ers made it into the red zone three times in each half. Two of those times, Kaepernick got sacked on third down and the team settled for field goals instead of touchdowns.
In the second half, Kaepernick’s lone touchdown pass was to Crabtree from 31 yards out. In San Francisco’s next possession, Kaepernick finally broke through with a 14-yard pass to Vernon Davis, which set up Frank Gore’s easy six-yard touchdown. At that point the score was 28-20 Baltimore, and most people with no allegiances to either team would be lying to you if they said they weren’t convinced that they were watching the largest comeback in Super Bowl history unfold before them. However, that was all Kaepernick’s arm was going to give San Fran in the red zone, and that fact single handedly sunk his team.
After Gore’s run, the ball was back with Baltimore. With 4:17 to go in the third, Tarell Brown made one of the textbook hero plays when he got consummate fumble kid Ray Rice to put the ball on the ground (again) on Baltimore’s second play of the drive. He then recovered his own strip at Baltimore’s 24-yard line. Not the red zone, but damn close to it. Two incomplete passes and a 3-yard run by Frank Gore later, and Akers was running out for another field goal attempt.
In the fourth quarter, Baltimore hit a field goal, and then Kaepernick’s legs did what they do, and the boy wonder scrambled into the end zone from 15-yards out. However, his pass attempt to Moss on the ensuing two-point conversion was miserable. At that point it was clear that Kaepernick was only going to beat the Ravens with his legs that close to the end zone, and so the Raven’s defensive game plan became as predictable as it was effective. After that San Fran touchdown, Baltimore added another three pointer to make the score 34-29, and the final scenario became crystal clear. Score a touchdown, and the 49ers would win the Super Bowl.
Once again, though, Kaepernick was unable to fit the ball through the short red-zone windows. The result was a turnover on downs, and a Ravens Super Bowl victory.
3. The Refs and their Calls and Non-Calls
Over the course of a football game, there are always going to be missed and less than stellar calls. Such is the nature of the sport. Only one team ever cites those calls, and that’s the team that loses. And so it was on Super Bowl Sunday, the elder Harbough basked in a Super Bowl hard fought and well won, while the younger insisted he wanted to handle defeat with grace, but followed that statement up with one about how he’d been robbed by the ref’s. Stay classy San Francisco.
Did Smith hold Crabtree during that 4th down play? In all honesty, yes. The officials, however, did call a pretty consistent game. They allowed the Super Bowl to be decided by the players, not flags. There should be no issues with that, but excuses will always be easier to acknowledge than failure. Kaepernick’s throw wasn’t the best. Crabtree’s route left a little to be desired. That ball was the Super Bowl. It was the ring, the confetti, the parade, and the whole thing. It fell to the ground. That’s not the ref’s fault. It’s not Baltimore’s fault. A higher level of execution during that play, and the ball may be caught despite any defenders underhanded efforts.
4. Casino Blitz
Dean Pees. Anybody know who that is? That’s fair. He is the Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator. This was his second Super Bowl in five years. Back then, he dialed up the defensive plays for the almost undefeated New England Patriots. That magical play that exists in the memories and hearts of all Giants fans when Plaxico Burress caught Eli’s final pass in the back left corner of the end zone to win the game? That pass flew over Pee’s trademark casino blitz.
In plain English, casino blitz means everybody go kill the quarterback. One cannot run into it, one cannot escape it for more than a few seconds. If they somehow mange to, there’s no one else to keep you from the end zone. But in reality, what it does is take away the run and force a quick pass from the QB.
Dean Pees lost that Super Bowl five years ago because Eli Manning is a quarterback capable of pairing a quick decision and an accurate throw. Dean Pees won the Super Bowl last night because Colin Kaepernick proved time and time again that his legs are more dangerous than his arm in the red zone, something that Pees took advantage of by calling these sorts of plays.
5. Almost Blackout-Gate
Why not save the most obvious for last. With 13:22 to go in the game, fresh off true MVP Jacoby Jones’ 109-yard kickoff return touchdown, the 49ers looked dead in the water. The score was 28-6. The body language on both sides was terrible; Baltimore looked like they wanted to fast forward their way to the podium with a little less than half the game to be played, and San Francisco players were wearing the faces that they had put on Atlanta two weeks prior.
Then Arthur Jones sacked Kaepernick. He sacked him hard. So hard he knocked out the lights in the Superdome. What, do you have a better theory? Whatever caused that half hour delay, the 49ers came out looking like they’d just lived the half time scene from “Space Jam”. Out of nowhere, San Francisco was out classing Baltimore the way so many atheist NFL experts had expected them to do so.
Defensive stand. Touchdown 49ers. Another defensive stand, another 49ers touchdown. Then, the fumble that could have proven the back breaker happened; if only Kaepernick wasn’t so awful in the red zone and had moved the ball any of the 24 yards between him and the end zone on that drive. A touchdown there would have made it a one-point game, possibly even a tie, at which point all types of bedlam would, could, not quite should have ensued.
All in all, someone was probably fired over your existence, but thank you Super Dome blackout. You saved the Super Bowl.
Ryan Wallerson is an editorial intern for Slam Magazine and TDdaily. Follow him on Twitter @RCwallerson.