Super Bowl XLVII

Super Bowl XLVII

Master_Kaina
Master_Kaina
Feb 4, 2013, 3:15 AM |
57

                          

NEW ORLEANS -- Losing the Super Bowl was a pain the 49ers never dealt with in their previous five trips.

But Sunday night, they came away with a new, crushing feeling that left them grasping for explanations after dropping a 34-31 heartbreaker to the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII.



Why didn't the referee call a penalty on Colin Kaepernick's final pass? How did the 49ers fall behind 28-6? How could they work so hard all year only to be stopped 5 yards from a game-winning touchdown?

Through all the twists, turns and virtual twilight thanks to a power outage that stopped the game for 34 minutes, this game went far beyond the storyline of two brothers coaching against each other for the first time in San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) is alone with his thoughts Super Bowl XLVII was delayed for 35 minutes by a power outage, Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013, at the Superdome in New Orleans. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group) (NHAT V. MEYER)
Super Bowl history.

Jim Harbaugh, who commended Ravens coach John Harbaugh during a postgame handshake, said he wanted to handle the loss "with class and grace." But it proved too much in the end.



The 49ers had reached the Ravens' 5-yard line with 2:00 remaining when their final three snaps resulted in incomplete passes to Michael Crabtree. Harbaugh argued that penalties should have been called on two of those plays.

"No question in my mind there was a pass-interference (penalty), and a hold on Crabtree on the last one," said Harbaugh, who took off his black cap and unsuccessfully begged for those calls during the game.

The oddest mystery of all, however, was why the Superdome suffered the power outage. Coincidentally or not, that delay sparked the 49ers' remarkable second-half comeback.

"I don't think it had anything to do with it," linebacker Ahmad Brooks countered. "We had to go through the same thing they did. ... It just took a little longer for us to lose."

Said John Harbaugh: "I just knew with Jim Harbaugh being on the (49ers) sideline and all those years we have been together, that game was going to be a dogfight right to the end."

Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith is the one who not only broke up a second-down pass to Crabtree but also blanketed -- or, in Harbaugh's words "grabbed and held" -- the 49ers' leading receiver on the fateful fourth-down fade pass.

"It was a lot of contact," Crabtree said. "Had the ball been a little lower and given me a chance to make a play, I'm sure it would have been called. ... It's frustrating. It was a game-winning touchdown. It makes you sad. It's the Super Bowl."

Colin Kaepernick, making only his 10th career start, said he audibled on that final play to counter a Ravens' all-out blitz and give Crabtree "a chance."

Frank Gore didn't get a chance to ever touch the ball again after his 33-yard run put the 49ers at the 7-yard line. LaMichael James had a 2-yard carry on the San Francisco 49ers starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) is taken down on a keeper by Baltimore Ravens' Ray Lewis (52) and Baltimore Ravens' Haloti Ngata (92) in the first quarter of Super Bowl XLVII on Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013, at the Superdome in New Orleans. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group) (NHAT MEYER)
next snap, and then Kaepernick followed with his incompletion trifecta toward Crabtree.

Left tackle Joe Staley said he would have liked more running plays at the end, and when Harbaugh was asked why he didn't call on Gore, the coach paused before stating they had "other plays called."

"We were very relaxed and confident we were going to get it in (to the end zone)," Staley said. "Five yards short. After all that work we do in the offseason, and it came down to five yards."

Retiring Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis relished that series: "That was one of the most amazing goal-line stands I've ever been a part of in my career. What better way to do it than on the Super Bowl stage."

Had the 49ers completed that rally from a 22-point deficit, it would have been the largest comeback in Super Bowl history, surpassing the 10-point comebacks by the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XXII and the New Orleans Saints in Super Bowl XLIV.

A comeback was nothing new to these 49ers. Two weeks ago, they rallied from 17-0 to topple the Atlanta Falcons 28-24 for the NFC championship, and they also overcame a 7-0 deficit in a playoff-opening win over the Green Bay Packers.



Trailing 21-6 at halftime, the 49ers' comeback bid suddenly became a bigger task after the second half's opening kickoff. That's because Jacoby Jones made the score 28-6 on his 108-yard return.

 

                                           


The 49ers' pass defense faltered early against red-hot Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, whose three touchdown passes in the first half raised his total to 11 for the postseason, matching a record shared by Joe Montana (49ers) and Kurt Warner (St. Louis Rams). Flacco (22 of 33, 287 yards) won Super Bowl MVP honors and had no interceptions this postseason.

While Flacco was hot, the 49ers offense started cold thanks to two second-quarter turnovers, including the first interception in 171 passes by a 49ers quarterback in Super Bowl history. That came when Kaepernick overthrew Randy Moss and Ed Reed snagged it for his record-tying ninth career interception. James lost a fumble on the 49ers' previous drive, which had reached the Ravens' 24-yard line.

The 49ers ripped off 17 unanswered points in a third-quarter stretch once lights were restored. That four-minute scoring spree pulled them within 28-23, and they got even closer when Kaepernick dashed for a 15-yard touchdown run to make it 31-29 with 9:57 left in the game.

Although Kaepernick's two-point conversion pass toward Moss sailed incomplete, the 49ers had very much emerged from the shadows of defeat.

Their third-quarter resuscitation featured a slew of big plays: Crabtree's 31-yard touchdown catch, Ahmad Brooks' third-down sack, Ted Ginn Jr.'s 32-yard punt return, Gore's 6-yard touchdown run, Tarell Brown's forced fumble and David Akers' 34-yard field goal.



"That's when it started to look like a football game," Brooks said.

Linebacker Patrick Willis contemplated for a few seconds when asked what lasting image he'll take from the first Super Bowl appearance of his star-studded six-year career.

"The clock striking zero," Willis said, "and us with fewer points on the scoreboard."

It took a sixth Super Bowl, but a 49ers quarterback finally had a pass intercepted after 171 overall attempts in the NFL title game. Colin Kaepernick overthrew Randy Moss, and Baltimore Ravens free safety Ed Reed made the interception on the 49ers' first snap after falling behind 14-3 Sunday.


That second-quarter interception didn't lead to any points, but it was one of many 49ers mistakes in their 34-31 loss in Super Bowl XLVII.
"I feel I made too many mistakes for us to win," said Kaepernick, who was 16 of 28 for 302 yards with one touchdown pass and three sacks. He also ran seven times for 62 yards and a touchdown.


The 49ers' other mistakes included a fumble by LaMichael James, a first-snap penalty that nullified Vernon Davis' 20-yard reception and an offside penalty on Ahmad Brooks that immediately preceded the Ravens' first touchdown.
"There were some big penalties, and the 5-yard variety really hurt us," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said.
James' second-quarter fumble was his first of the postseason, contrary to CBS's game broadcast that said it was his second. James ran wide right to elude a couple defenders before Courtney Upshaw popped the ball free for Arthur Jones to recover at the Ravens' 25-yard line. James lost no fumbles this season.
As for the interception, Moss didn't attempt to reach for the high pass from Kaepernick, and Reed snared it for a record-tying ninth postseason interception. The Ravens
failed to convert that turnover into points, however, when a fake field goal halted them at the 49ers' 6-yard line.
The interception was Kaepernick's fifth in 10 career starts. Unlike his previous four, he failed to lead the 49ers on an ensuing touchdown drive, and they didn't even garner a first down on their next series.
Joe Montana had none of his 122 passes in four Super Bowl victories, and Steve Young also was clean on his 39 Super Bowl attempts.
Coach Jim Harbaugh expressed his dismay that the Ravens weren't called for holding while punter Sam Koch killed eight seconds off the clock before running out of the end zone for a safety. The final four seconds expired when Ted Ginn Jr. returned Koch's ensuing punt 31 yards to midfield.
"It's a good scheme on their part to hold as many people as they can, and you teach them just to tackle when you're taking a safety like that," Harbaugh said. "But not one holding penalty was called. I haven't gotten an explanation."


Ravens cornerback Cary Williams didn't come away impressed with the 49ers. "The 49ers are pretenders," Williams told Aaron Wilson of Scout.com. "They're fake tough guys. They're a push you in the back type of team."
Kicker David Akers, who struggled mightily this season, made all three of his official field-goal attempts and two point-after kicks. He did miss wide left on a crucial 39-yard attempt late in the third quarter when the 49ers were storming back into the game. Luckily for Akers, and the 49ers, the Ravens' Chykie Brown was flagged for running into the kicker.


Given a chance to redeem himself, Akers then connected on a 34-yarder to pull the 49ers within 28-23.


Other than game MVP Joe Flacco, no other Raven hurt the 49ers more than New Orleans native Jacoby Jones. Jones' 108-yard kickoff return to start the second half, which put the 49ers in a 22-point hole, was the longest play of any kind in Super Bowl history. "You have to be a real fast person to catch him -- he is a special man," teammate Ray Lewis said of Jones.


Jones had already caught Flacco's third and final touchdown pass, a 56-yard effort, to put Baltimore up 21-3 late in the first half. On the play, Flacco pump faked, helping spring Jones past Chris Culliver. Jones went down but wasn't touched. He hopped up and craftily outraced Culliver into the end zone in a move Jones likened to playing "freeze tag."
"To make that catch, go down and outrun someone to the corner of the end zone ... it should go down in Super Bowl history."
The 49ers' Darcel McBath and Patrick Willis showed admirable pursuit to stop Ravens kicker Justin Tucker on the second-quarter fake field goal. Tucker raced toward the first-down marker on the left sideline before he got stopped at the 6-yard line, a yard short of a first down. "I just saw it and realized I had to go. To get that stop was big," Willis said.


Michael Crabtree's 31-yard touchdown reception was his third this postseason and gave him 12 on the season. Midway through the third quarter, Crabtree lined up in the left slot, caught the ball at the 15, bounced off two defenders and raced across the goal line to pull the 49ers within 28-13.


Frank Gore produced a touchdown run for the fourth straight game. His 6-yard effort in the third quarter pulled the 49ers within 28-20. It was his fourth rushing touchdown this postseason, and it came only 2:21 after Crabtree's touchdown catch.


The first Super Bowl featuring brothers as head coaches offered a sentimental moment even before Sunday's kickoff. Harbaugh met briefly on the field during pregame warm-ups with his brother John Harbaugh, the Ravens' coach. Jim offered a handshake as they finished their chat, which wasn't enough for John, who shook his younger brother's hand and promptly pulled him in for a hug.
Shortly after that brotherly hug, Jim Harbaugh retreated to a corner of the 49ers-painted end zone and posed for pictures with his wife, Sarah, and their three young children. He also took a picture with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
Among the other Super Bowl records set: longest touchdown run by a quarterback (Kaepernick, 15 yards), most combined kickoff return yards (312, of which the Ravens had 206), longest game (4 hours, 14 minutes). Davis tied a record among tight ends with his 104 receiving yards (on six catches).
Super Bowl XLVII was only the second league championship game in NFL history (including the pre-Super Bowl era) in which each team scored 30 or more points. Pittsburgh defeated Dallas 35-31 in Super Bowl XIII in January 1979.
The 49ers captains were: Gore, Willis, Alex Smith, Justin Smith and C.J. Spillman.


Talent can take you far, but the details still count.



On the world’s biggest stage, the 49ers showed, once again, that with Colin Kaepernick at quarterback, the team’s offense is as explosive as any unit that’s ever taken the field in an NFL game. Kaepernick threw for 302 yards and picked up another 62 with his legs; Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis each collected more than 100 yards receiving and Frank Gore rushed for another 110 on the ground.



Despite 468 yards of total offense, the 49ers couldn’t overcome a series of early mistakes that led to a 34-31 loss at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII.

If you followed the 49ers last year, but spent this season on the moon, you wouldn’t have recognized the squad that took the field in New Orleans on Sunday. Last season, the 49ers ranked 26th in total offense and finished 30th in red-zone efficiency; but they put together a 13-3 record and advanced to the NFC Championship Game by limiting the mistakes and winning the so-called turnover battle.

Coach Jim Harbaugh showed that detail-oriented football could be winning football, even when you aren’t blowing up the scoreboard.

But the little mistakes added up in the first 30:15 of the Super Bowl and Greg Roman’s dynamic offense couldn’t climb out of the 22-point hole.

The first offensive snap of the game turned out to be a sign of things to come. Kaepernick found Davis for big gain, but the play was wiped out by an illegal formation penalty. Of all the Super Bowl predictions being thrown around, no one expected Harbaugh’s well-prepared squad to commit a gaffe on the opening play.

The 49ers went three and out and then gave the Ravens an extra play in the red zone by jumping offside on a third and nine from the 18-yard line on the ensuing possession. Joe Flacco capitalized, connecting with Anquan Boldin for a 13-yard touchdown on the next play. Just like that it was 7-0.

Harbaugh’s squad committed the game’s first turnover, too. After forcing the Ravens to punt on their second possession, LaMichael James fumbled inside the Baltimore 30, killing a drive in which the 49ers’ offense looked unstoppable, gaining 56 yards on four plays.



Once again, the Ravens converted the faux pas into points, jumping ahead 14-3.

In the Harbaugh era, the 49ers are an NFL-best 20-2-1 when committing fewer turnovers than their opponent. With that in mind, the 49ers’ chances of winning Super Bowl plummeted when Kaepernick sailed a pass into Ed Reed’s hands on the first play of the 49ers’ fourth possession.



The Ravens stretched the lead to 21-3 roughly five minutes later and then Kaepernick passed up the opportunity to hit Crabtree for a crucial first down in the dying seconds of the half. The team wound up settling for a field goal that made the score 21-6 at halftime.

The second half opened with more rain when Jacoby Jones returned David Akers’ kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown. But the momentum turned when the power went out in the Superdome for 34 minutes.

After play resumed, the offense caught fire and came within five-yards of completing the greatest comeback in Super Bowl
history.

With Kaepernick, the 49ers are talented enough to win it all next year. They just need to clean up the mistakes and they’ll be fine.


The 49ers vs. Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII matched brothers Jim and John Harbaugh as head coaches of their respective teams. The 49ers were on a quest to win their 6th world championship, which would tie them with the Pittsburgh Steelers for the most Super Bowl victories in the history of the NFL.

Heading into the game, there were several great stories to follow.

How would Colin Kaepernick perform on the biggest stage in only the tenth start of his career?

Ray Lewis announced his retirement late in the season and has since returned from a severe arm injury to lead the Ravens' defense.

There are the rags to riches stories of perseverance and personal triumph of Patrick Willis, Frank Gore and Michael Oher.

There was Randy Moss proclaiming that he was the greatest wide receiver ever.

Would Joe Flacco elevate his status from being a very good quarterback to an elite-level quarterback?

During media day, 49er nickelback Chris Culliver made disparaging homophobic remarks. Would this be a distraction to him or the 49ers in the final days before the game?

In Super Bowl XLVII, the Ravens jumped out to a 21-6 halftime lead, then Jacoby Jones took the second-half kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown.

 

There was a blatant hold on 49er coverage man Bruce Miller which paved the way for the Jones return.



The 49ers trailed 28-6 when a power outage caused a 34-minute delay. This gave the 49ers some time to regroup and they roared back behind Colin Kaepernick and some solid defense.


With the Ravens leading 34-29, the 49ers drove the ball to the Baltimore five-yard line. They could get no farther, as the Ravens' defense held and after a self-imposed safety, the Ravens came away with a 34-31 victory.

In any Super Bowl, there are truly no losers. The accomplishment of getting to this point makes both teams and their players winners. However, if we take a closer look at the game, let's look at those 49ers who made the most positive or negative impacts in this contest.

It is these players who will be classified as the 49ers' winners and losers from Super Bowl XLVII.

Tarell Brown, along with Dashon Goldson, played the best game in the 49ers' defensive backfield. Brown was rarely targeted, as Joe Flacco chose to challenge Chris Culliver, Carlos Rogers and Donte Whitner in the 49ers' secondary.

Anquan Boldin #81 of the Baltimore Ravens makes a reception in the fourth quarter against Carlos Rogers #22 of the San Francisco 49ers.

Brown was responsible for the 49ers' only take-away. On a short pass to Ray Rice in the third quarter, Brown stripped Rice of the ball and recovered the fumble at the Baltimore 24-yard line.



Donte Whitner was just a step late on three key plays. In the first quarter, Whitner and linebacker NaVorro Bowman were momentarily frozen by Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco.

On a play-action fake, Flacco held Bowman and looked off Whitner. Anquan Boldin slid behind Bowman and away from Whitner. Flacco found Boldin for a 13-yard touchdown reception. This play gave the Ravens an early 7-0 lead.

Early in the second quarter, Whitner allowed tight end Ed Dickson to make two big catches, totalling 37 yards. The play which gave Baltimore their second score was a short throw to tight end Dennis Pitta. Again, Whitner was a step late and could not make the play.

In this drive, Whitner was victimized for four receptions and a facemask penalty.

Frank Gore is the ultimate warrior on the football field. For eight seasons, Gore has given his heart and soul to the San Francisco 49ers.

In Super Bowl XLVII, Gore started slowly but kept plugging away and got stronger as the game progressed. He finished the game with 110 yards on 19 carries and a touchdown. Gore also did his typically strong job in pass blocking.

Gore's six-yard touchdown run in the third quarter cut the Baltimore lead to 28-20.

In the fourth quarter, in the 49ers' final drive of the game, Gore had his best run of the day. He initially went left, off-tackle, then cut to the outside and raced down the sideline for a 33-yard run. This put the ball at the Baltimore seven-yard line.

Four plays later, the 49ers were unable to get the ball into the end zone and that was the game.

The 49ers' offense played well for the most part and I give Greg Roman a lot of credit for this. The 49ers generated 468 yards of total offense, 101 yards more than the Ravens.

The first questionable situation occurred after Colin Kaepernick's 15-yard touchdown run.

The 49ers cut the lead to 31-29 and could have tied it with a two-point conversion.

The 49ers seemed a bit disconcerted as they ran the play for the conversion. Kaepernick's throw to Randy Moss fell incomplete. This was a very questionable play-call, because Moss is not the 49ers' best option in this situation.

A play action, run-pass option, utilizing Kaepernick's speed and targeting Michael Crabtree or Vernon Davis would have been a much better call. In a one-on-one situation, few defenders would be able to stop Kaepernick from getting two yards, if he chose to run.

Late in the game, with the 49ers having a first-and-goal at the Baltimore seven, the 49ers tried an inside run, which gained only two yards. Then, three straight pass plays to the right, with really only one or two receiving options available, fell incomplete.

Again, Roman failed to give Kaepernick a run-pass option and the 49ers were unable to score. If Kaepernick had three run-pass option plays, it's very unlikely Baltimore would have been able to stop him.

Oh, what might have been. Colin Kaepernick's long pass to Vernon Davis was about two inches too far and Davis was unable to hang on. Had he made the catch, the 49ers would have had the Ravens on the run.

They ultimately got inside the Ravens' ten-yard line, but the Baltimore defense held. Had Davis been able to hang onto the long pass, the 49ers would have had the chance to score with more time on the clock.

That one play notwithstanding, Davis still had a strong game. He had six catches for 104 yards and consistently got open down the field. He and fellow tight end Delanie Walker created matchup problems for the Ravens' defense.

LaMichael James was struggling for extra yardage when he was hit by Courtney Upshaw. He coughed the ball up and it was recovered by Arthur Jones at the Ravens' 25-yard line. The 49ers were driving and the fumble cost the 49ers a chance to take the lead.

The turnover thwarted the 49ers' drive and ultimately led to a Ravens touchdown and a 14-3 lead.

James was not much of a factor in the 49ers' offense. He carried the ball three times for only 10 yards. James also did not make any catches in the game.

James was contained on his kickoff returns, as he had three returns for 75 yards. He was unable to get the ball out to the 25-yard line on any of his returns.

Colin Kaepernick again showed why Jim Harbaugh installed him as the 49ers' starting quarterback. The Super Bowl was only the tenth start of Kaepernick's career.

Kaepernick made one bad pass when he overthrew Randy Moss, resulting in an Ed Reed interception.

There were two other plays when the 49ers were forced to waste timeouts in the second half. Kaepernick was unable to get the play off and the 49ers called the two timeouts to prevent delay-of-game penalties.

Outside of these mistakes, Kaepernick played a very solid game. He completed 16-28 passes for 302 yards and one touchdown. Kaepernick was also quite effective running the ball with 62 yards on seven rushing attempts.

The 49ers are in great shape with Kaepernick at the helm. He will continue to improve and has a great mentor in Jim Harbaugh.

Aldon Smith had 19.5 sacks during the regular season. However, he had no sacks in his last five and a half games.

In the Super Bowl, Smith again was not a force. He had only one solo tackle and an assist; he also had opportunities to make plays in the Ravens' backfield but missed tackles.

Whether it was due to injury or just being worn down, Smith faded badly in the last few games and the Super Bowl was no different.

Michael Crabtree has emerged as a true No. 1 receiver. He had his first 1,000 yard season and made several good plays in Super Bowl XLVII.

Crabtree had five catches for 109 yards and one touchdown. His touchdown reception was something special, as he made a catch at about the Baltimore 15-yard line, bounced off two tacklers and sprinted into the end zone. It was a 31-yard catch and run for the 49ers' first touchdown.

What made Crabtree's emergence this season even more impressive is the 49ers' other active receivers are not top-tier players. Mario Manningham was injured, as was Kyle Williams. Both were lost for the season.

The remaining receivers, Randy Moss, Ted Ginn, A.J. Jenkins and Chad Hall did not get the job done. Moss has trouble getting separation and is nowhere near the same threat he was in his prime.

Ginn is best utilized as a return specialist, but is a poor wide receiver. Jenkins, the 49ers' top draft pick, made no catches all season and was a huge disappointment. Chad Hall was a practice squad player, who was promoted over Jenkins, but also had no catches.

The 49ers will need to give Crabtree some help and bolster their receiving corps heading into next season.

Chris Culliver had a terrible Super Bowl experience. During the week, he made a major gaffe by making homophobic comments disparaging gays. Culliver showed his immaturity and paid a heavy price in the media.

Culliver was the weak link in the 49ers' defense. Joe Flacco and the Ravens regularly attacked Culliver and found much success.

In the first half, Culliver allowed a 30-yard completion to Anquan Boldin on a third and seven yard play, when the 49ers had flushed Flacco from the pocket.

What made this play even more irritating was that after the completion, Culliver was trash-talking with Boldin. Trash-talking after you just got beaten makes you look foolish and Culliver fell right into that trap.

Late in the first half, Culliver was burned by Jacoby Jones on a deep pass, when he bit on a hesitation by Jones and Jones ran right by him. Jones caught the ball around the eight-yard line and instead of touching him, Culliver leaped around Jones.

Jones got up, eluded both Dashon Goldson and Culliver and ran into the end zone. Culliver compounded his mistake on the completion by letting Jones get up and score.

In the second half, Culliver allowed another big first-down reception by Boldin. Boldin caught a 15-yard pass from Flacco and stiff-armed Culliver, who could not make the tackle or push him out of bounds for another 15 yards.

The 49ers also had the Ravens stopped in the fourth quarter, but a pass interference penalty against Culliver gave the Ravens 14 yards and a key first down. Baltimore would take over four more minutes off the clock and ultimately get a field goal.

The Ravens saw a player who was over-aggressive and susceptible to allowing big plays. They exploited Culliver and that was a huge reason for the Baltimore victory.

In big games, turnovers, mistakes and big plays often make the difference between winning and losing. The 49ers allowed more big plays, made more mistakes and lost the turnover battle. In the end, although the 49ers outgained the Ravens by over 100 yards, these errors cost the 49ers the game.

Early in the season, I specifically made the point that the 49er special teams, specifically their inconsistent coverage units, would potentially come back to haunt them. It haunted them in the Super Bowl as the Jacoby Jones kickoff return gave the Ravens a 28-6 lead that proved to be too much for the 49ers to overcome.

Looking ahead, the 49ers will make several changes and have many new faces as they try to get back to the Super Bowl and win it next season. The 49ers need to strengthen their wide receiver corps and bolster their depth on the defensive line.

Players like Alex Smith, David Akers, Isaac Sopoaga, Jonathan Goodwin, Randy Moss and Ted Ginn are the most unlikely to return. Salary cap concerns and the age of some of these players make their futures with the 49ers very tenuous.

The 49ers missed an opportunity in this Super Bowl and these chances do not come around all that often. Injuries and luck play a major role in the success of any team and, as we have seen in the 49ers' losses to the Giants in the 2012 NFC title game and again in the Super Bowl, mistakes can derail even an outstanding team.

The 49ers have a strong core and, with good health and adding a few key difference-makers, will challenge for the title again next year. The NFC West will be tough, with the improvement of the Rams and Seahawks, but the 49ers should still be the team to beat.