Heartbreaker In Seattle- The 49ers Quest for a Sixth title will have to wait one more season. Three fourth quarter turnovers at the most inopportune times proved costly as the 49ers would fall to the Seattle Seahawks 23-17 in the NFC Championship game at Century Link Field. The 49ers unlike the previous two trips to Seattle were in the game the entire way and had an opportunity for the win late. QB Colin Kaepernick’s pass intended for Michael Crabtree was tipped by Seattle’s Richard Sherman before being intercepted by Malcolm Smith in the end zone as the 49ers tried to pull the game out late. The 49ers on offense had their share of troubles running the ball outside of Kaepernick's own efforts through a tough Seattle defensive effort. The 49ers defense meanwhile kept them in the game and came up with a huge goal line stand in the fourth quarter. However two late interceptions in the end defused 49ers comeback attempts. There will be lots of questions asked over the next few days and a lot of rehashing and a lot of “What if’s”. In the end it’s a tough loss for the 49ers and a tough way to end the season.
Game Recap First Half- The 49ers had a huge break on the game’s first play from scrimmage when Aldon Smith recovered a rare fumble from Seattle QB Russell Wilson. The 49ers had the ball on the Seattle 13 with a great opportunity but would only manage a 25-yard field goal from Phil Dawson. Seattle as the quarter went on started to move the ball more effectively but the 49ers defense made life difficult for the Seahawks. The 49ers would stretch their lead in the second quarter on a nine play 86 yard drive that was aided by a holding penalty on Sherman on a third and long early in the drive. The big play of the drive was Kaepernick breaking away on a 58-yard run taking the football all the way to the Seahawks 10-yard line. Anthony Dixon on two tries from the one yard line crossed the goal line on the second effort on 4th down to give the 49ers a 10-0 lead. Unfortunately on the same play the 49ers lost offensive lineman Mike Iupati to a broken ankle. In the next Seahawks series Russell Wilson made his first big play of the day when he hit Doug Baldwin with a 51-yard pass play which set up Seattle on the 49ers 11-yard line. The 49ers defense then rose to the occasion and were able to keep the Seahawks out of the end zone on three plays forcing a Steven Hauschka field goal from 32-yards out to cut the 49ers lead to seven. In the first half the 49ers defense held Seattle to just three points on four series just as they did in the second half of their meeting back on December 8th at Candlestick.
Second Half/Third Quarter- The 49ers would get the ball to start the second half but would go fail their first possession after picking up one first down. Seattle would take possession of the ball on their own 40-yard line after a Mike Lee punt. The Seahawks then decided to give the 49ers a steady diet of Marshawn Lynch who ran the ball on the first two plays of the series for 16 yards. On the fourth play of the drive Lynch bolted through the 49ers defense alluding Aldon Smith’s tackle attempt and sprinted 40 yards for a touchdown to tie the game at 10-10. The 49ers responded on their next position with a six play drive for 83 yards. The drive was capped with Kaepernick finding Anquan Boldin in the back of the end zone for a 26-yard touchdown giving the 49ers the lead back at 17-10. However a big blunder on special teams allowed Seattle to return the following kickoff deep. Doug Baldwin ran the issuing kickoff back to the 49ers 32-yard line giving the Seahawks prime field position. Once again the 49ers defense was able to rise to the occasion and keep the Seattle offense out of the end zone. At the end of the Seahawks five play possession Hauschka kicked his second field goal of the day to get Seattle back to within four points.
Fourth Quarter- After the 49ers last series in the third quarter ended in a three and out, Seattle began a series that carried into the fourth quarter. On a fourth down and seven from the 49ers 35-yard line it appeared as if the Seahawks were going to try a long field goal. After a timeout Seattle sent their offense back out onto the field. Calling a play in which the Seahawks had four receivers go deep, Wilson went for the end zone and was able to get the ball to Jermaine Kearse who beat Carlos Rogers for a touchdown that put Seattle in front 20-17. Things would turn ugly for the 49ers on their next series as a delay of game call on a third and one would turn out to be very costly. On the third and six play Kaepernick was hit by Cliff Avril who forced a fumble. The lose ball was recovered by the Seahawks Michael Bennett who took the ball back to the 49ers six yard line. The 49ers defense had to find a way to keep Seattle out of the end zone and managed to do so, but not without a cost. On the Seahawks third and goal from the 49ers 10-yard line Wilson hit Kearse with a short pass. As Kearse tried to get in the end zone he was met by Eric Reid who knocked the ball lose. NaVorro Bowman recovered the football, but in the process a Kearse fell on top of Bowman’s leg. Bowman immediately fell to the ground then let go of the football. The officials on the field somehow completely missed Bowman’s recovery of the football and ruled Seattle still had possession of the ball and a fourth and goal. On the next play Wilson and Lynch botched the exchange on the hand off and the football bounced all the way back to the 49ers 15 yard line. Seattle recovered the ball but lost possession on downs.
Opportunities Missed Late- The 49ers defense in making a huge goal line stand gave the offense another opportunity to get a drive going with 8:18 remaining to play. The 49ers however were bit by the turnover bug once again when Kaepernick was intercepted by Cam Chancellor when he under threw a pass towards Boldin. The Seahawks again had a short field to work with as they took over on the 49ers 40-yard line. The 49ers defense again answered the call needing to defend a short field holding Seattle to a third field goal from Hauschka, this one from 47-yards away. With 3:37 remaining the 49ers had one last chance to win the game needing just one touchdown to do so. The 49ers would get down to the two minute warning needing to make a fourth and two from their own 30 yard line. Kaepernick on the 4th down play tossed a screen pass to Frank Gore to pick up 17-yards and keep the 49ers season alive. On the next third down play Kaepernick found Crabtree for 16 yards getting the ball to the Seattle 29-yard line. On the very next play Kaepernick again threw a strike, this time to Vernon Davis picking up 11-yards to the Seahawks 18-yard line. The 49ers had :35 seconds left, two time outs and the end zone within range. Kaepernick on first down went for it all trying to hit Crabtree in the end zone for the win. However Richard Sherman was there and had other ideas, and Malcolm Smith grabbed the tipped football ending the 49ers season.
49ers Statistics- On the day Kaepernick was 14 of 24 passing for 153 yards. Boldin caught five passes for 53-yards and a touchdown while Crabtree had four catches for 52 yards. Davis only caught two passes on the day for 16 yards. Gore only had 14 yards on the day on 11 rushes. Outside of Kaepernick, the 49ers running game on the day was held to just 30 total yards. A tough day for the 49ers offense on the whole. However considering the 49ers had a shot to win the game in the last minute all and all not a bad effort. On defense Bowman before his injury made six tackles and was assisted on eight others. Patrick Wills made five tackles with two assists. Several other players had at least two tackles and assisted on several more. The 49ers defense considering all the short fields they had to defend had a huge day despite the end result.
Fourth Quarter Mistakes Prove Costly- The 49ers throughout the game despite the poor statistics still had ample opportunities to win the game. The defense deserves a ton of credit for the game they played. However a fumble added to two interception in the fourth quarter will virtually doom any team and the 49ers were no exception. The 49ers hung in and played the Seahawks tough and the game never got away or got out of hand. In the end though the 49ers did not make enough plays on the offensive side of the football however it was not due to the lack of effort. This is one where a good but young QB may have realized there are still many lessons to be learned. In the post game Kaepernick shouldered the responsibility. That does show maturity and wisdom. However the 49ers to go forward need to find a way to give Kaepernick the help he’s going to need this off-season to make him even more versatile and maybe with some better options. Despite the loss in the long run Kaepernick will grow from this experience.
KNBR Radio reported that NaVorro Bownam appeared to have torn an ACL and will have a long rehab ahead of him. That is a huge loss and it will be a question of whether or not he can be back and be effective next season because of this injury. Hopefully Bowman will defy the odds and be able to be back in on the field as soon as he humanly can. He will be needed and if he can't got for any length of time in the 2014 campaign will be missed.
Final Thoughts- The 49ers season was not a failure despite the loss. Few teams who lose the Super Bowl the previous year get this far again. The 49ers will certainly not lack motivation going into next season at the new Levi’s Stadium. The 49ers had a number of successes and need to continue to build off of them. It will take a few days to sort this loss out but the 49ers will do that soon enough. Right now it’s just time to take a breather, get some perspective and then start to prepare for the off-season programs, the draft and ultimately training camp in July. The road back will be long but if the 49ers stay the course the Quest For Six will ultimately be fulfilled.
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