As the lights at Candlestick Park dimmed Sunday on San Francisco’s hopes for a sixth Super Bowl appearance, one man’s name was thrust understandably, yet perhaps unjustly, into the scorching media spotlight.
Kyle Williams, the 23-year-old out of Arizona State, is that man.
“It’s one of those feelings that you don’t ever want to feel on the football field,” Williams said, who twice on separate punt returns turned over the ball, the last of which led to the New York Giants’ overtime game-winning field goal. “To give it up in a situation like that, it’s painful.”
Fellow teammate David Akers, however, knows that pain.
“I was that guy last year,” Akers said, recalling last year’s NFC wild-card game when as a kicker for the Philadelphia Eagles, he missed two field goals in the team’s 21-16 loss to the eventual-champion Green Bay Packers. “But I say this and I say it in the truest way — we win as a team, we lose as a team.”
After a 6-10 season last year, winning as a team is what the Niners unexpectedly did all season, wrapping up the NFC West with a 13-3 regular-season record before knocking out the favored New Orleans Saints in the divisional round of the playoffs.
But despite the two late turnovers in Sunday night’s 20-17 defeat at the hands of the Giants, the 49ers lost, also, as a team. And Williams’ teammates acknowledge that.
“It’s tough,” cornerback Carlos Rogers said. “I always look at myself. He didn’t lose that game.”
Running back Frank Gore concurred.
“I told him to keep his head up. Things happen like that, when you try to make a play,” Gore said.
The camaraderie displayed in the 49ers locker room hardly surprised rookie coach Jim Harbaugh.
“To a man that I’ve talked to, everybody looks at themselves in the mirror first,” Harbaugh said.
But in praising his players for their outstanding play this season, Harbaugh said he looks to keep it rolling with the same coaching staff next year.
“It’s a well-coached team. And a team that plays their hearts out,” he said. “So, very pleased on both of those foundations of our team and want to keep the band together. Want to keep this together going forward.”
Moving forward is what Akers did last year and it’s what Williams will soon attempt. And quarterback Alex Smith, too, will get his chance to again earn his spot as the leader of the offense.
“Everything is earned,” said Harbaugh, who has previously stated his desire for the team to re-sign Smith. “Everything is competed for.”
7 More victories the Niners earned in 2011 regular season than 2010
1 More playoff wins by the Niners this season compared to last
4.7 More points per game the Niners averaged this season compared to last