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
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.
Paul Gackle is a regular contributor to The San Francisco Examiner and also writes at www.gacklereport.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @GackleReport.