In case you missed it, the Ravens beat the 49ers 34-31 yesterday in Super Bowl XLVII. The Ravens looked strong from the very beginning. The Niners looked pretty awful in the entire first half, and they didn’t look like the Niners we’ve seen all season until the third quarter. It almost looked like they came into the game knowing they were favored, so they were overly cocky and knew that they would win. When the Ravens came on the field at the beginning of the game and their offense looked great, the Niners got a reality check and played tense the rest of the first half. Once the Niners got over their cockiness and the realization sunk in that they might actually lose, they started playing Niner football. It was too little, too late though.
At the end of the game, there was an awful no-call when Michael Crabtree was held by Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith. However, I think fans need to get over the no-call. That was not the sole reason why the Niners lost the game. Yes, a defensive holding call would’ve dramatically improved their chances at getting a touchdown, and, therefore, winning the game, but the Niners had already dug themselves into a deep trench by halftime. They were down 21-6 at halftime, and they were down by as many as 22 points at the beginning of the third quarter, after giving up a 108-yard kickoff return to Jacoby Jones, the longest kickoff return in the history of the NFL. They looked like they were on the verge of yet another miraculous comeback after scoring 17 points in four minutes and ten seconds in the third quarter. Yes, the Niners were close to digging themselves out of a hole and, yes, they have been the “Comeback Kids” this postseason, winning against both the Packers and the Falcons after being down after the first quarter or at halftime. However, the Niners’ poor play in the first half was too much to overcome and was the main reason why they lost.
What were some specific aspects that the Niners could have improved upon, mostly in the first half?
1. Play-calling: This was an issue for a lot of the game. The Niners were seven yards away from the end zone and had the possibility of sealing a victory with a touchdown towards the end of the game. They had four chances, seven yards out, and they couldn’t advance the ball at all. There were some serious issues with play-calling in all four of those plays, and in the first half, it seemed like the offense had no idea what to do. Colin Kaepernick had thrown an interception so his confidence was thrown off, Frank Gore wasn’t effective in the first half, and LaMichael James had a huge fumble at the beginning of the second quarter that helped the Ravens take a 14-3 lead. The offensive execution was halted in the first half because of poor play-calling by Greg Roman, the offensive coordinator, and Jim Harbaugh.
2. Poor use of timeouts: The Niners had to use one of their three timeouts in the second half with 7:53 left in the third quarter because of confusion or miscommunication between Harbaugh/Roman and Kaepernick. This is simply unacceptable when a team is already down, in need of some momentum, and playing in the Super Bowl. This has become a pattern for Kaepernick over his 10 starts. He lets the play clock wind down and, many times, is forced to call a timeout to prevent a delay of game call. The Niners screwed themselves over later in the game by having to blow a timeout so early because of confusion or miscommunication.
3. Special Teams: David Akers made three field goals, which was good to see, but he also showed no attempt on kickoffs to kick it away from Jacoby Jones or at least make him work for a good return. The Niners allowed the longest kickoff return in NFL History at the worst possible moment. Enough said.
4. The Secondary: In the first half, Joe Flacco completed 13 of 20 passes for 192 yards and three touchdowns. The Ravens also went 9-of-16 on third downs. Again, this is unacceptable. Chris Culliver simply got out-played, and even though Carlos Rogers covered Anquan Boldin pretty well, Boldin was a huge reason the Ravens’ offense was so successful.
5. LaMichael James and Randy Moss: LaMichael James’ fumble in the beginning of the third quarter, mentioned earlier, was huge and occurred, again, at the worst possible moment. The Niners were finally starting to gain a little momentum after a few good offensive plays, and then all that momentum was quickly taken away with that one play. Fumbles are unacceptable during the Super Bowl. In addition, Randy Moss had no impact on this game, and it really hurt the Niners. In addition to his limited production, it seemed like he made no effort whatsoever to catch, or at least deflect, that pass that Ed Reed intercepted with 7:06 left in the second quarter. That pass was probably uncatchable, but Moss has to at least show a little effort and help out his quarterback as much as he can.
**Note: Although Kaepernick threw the first interception in Niners’ Super Bowl history and looked shaky in the first half, he had a stellar second half and almost pulled off one of the most amazing comebacks in Super Bowl history. It also should be noted that Alex Smith would 1) not have gotten the Niners to the Super Bowl in the first place and 2) would not have won that game for the Niners. Kaepernick might be young, but he is already a greater quarterback than Alex Smith. He is more willing to take risks and he is better at improvising when a play breaks down. That’s how the Niners got to the Super Bowl. His interception wasn’t the reason why the Niners lost that game. Alex Smith couldn’t have recovered from a poor first half from the whole team, and he certainly wouldn’t have led that type of comeback. Enough of that rant. Carry on.
Even though this Super Bowl loss was quite disappointing to fans, the Niners had an incredible season. Fans have a lot to be proud of. The Niners had nine players be named to the Pro Bowl this season, and seven of those players would have been starters. They were: FS Dashon Goldson, LG Mike Iupati, LB Aldon Smith, DT Justin Smith, LT Joe Staley, SS Donte Whitner and LB Patrick Willis (LB NaVorro Bowman and RB Frank Gore would have come off the bench). In addition to those nine players, seven other players were named as alternates at the Pro Bowl. Those players were: RG Alex Boone, LB Ahmad Brooks, OT Anthony Davis, TE Vernon Davis, C Jonathan Goodwin, P Andy Lee, CB Carlos Rogers and C.J. Spillman. Also, we all were witnesses to the emergence of Colin Kaepernick as a starter and potential star quarterback in the NFL. It’ll be great to see a full season of him starting to see what he’s really capable of. With a full season of Kaepernick and perhaps a change in offensive coordinator (or at least some more effective, sensible play-calling), the Niners can get back to the Super Bowl again next year with much more confidence (instead of cockiness) and intelligence. The “Quest For Six” continues.