Matt & Mindi: The final four plays cost 49ers the game
The Baltimore Ravens kept the 49ers out of the end zone in the final minutes to hold on for a 34-31 victory to send the 49ers to their first loss in six Super Bowl appearances. (USA TODAY IMAGES)
NEW ORLEANS -- The 49ers produced the kind of offensive explosion that their teams of the 1980s would have envied.
With 468 yards of total offense, the 49ers had a 300-yard passer, two 100-yard receivers and a 100-yard rusher. No team in Super Bowl history had ever done that before. And no team has ever rallied from more than a 10-point deficit to win the Super Bowl, either.
But in the end, the 49ers came up a mere five yards short from pulling off a 22-point comeback in Super Bowl XLVII.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Ravens 34, 49ers 31]
The Baltimore Ravens kept the 49ers out of the end zone in the final minutes to hold on for a 34-31 victory to send the 49ers to their first loss in six Super Bowl appearances.
And coach Jim Harbaugh believed the Ravens benefitted from a couple of penalties on the 49ers' final drive that were not called.
"There was no question in my mind there was a pass interference and a hold on (Michael) Crabtree on the last one," Harbaugh said of the 49ers' final sequence of plays after picking up a first-and-goal at the Baltimore 7-yard line with two minutes, 39 seconds remaining.
Running back Frank Gore, who gained 110 yards and a touchdown on 19 rushing attempts, had a 33-yard carry to the 7-yard line. That was the last time Gore would touch the ball.
Rookie running back LaMichael James carried for two yards on first down. On second down, Colin Kaepernick's pass for Crabtree near the right front pylon was broken up by Corey Graham, prompting complaints from Crabtree and Harbaugh for pass interference.
After another incomplete pass toward Crabtree, Kaepernick tried on fourth down to get the ball to Crabtree once again. Cornerback Jimmy Smith appeared to grab Crabtree near the line of scrimmage. The two were tangled up, and Crabtree could not get to Kaepernick's pass.
"It is what it is, man," Crabtree said. "It was the last play, and I'm not going to blame the refs. It is what it is. It came down to the last play and it didn't happen.
"(If) somebody grabs me, you always expect the call, but you can't whine to the referee."
Said Kaepernick about the final play, "It was cover zero (all-out blitz), and I was just trying to give him (Crabtree) a chance."
Those weren't the only no-calls in the final sequence that figured prominently in the 49ers' disappointment.
After a second-and-goal from the five, and with Gore back in the game, neither Harbaugh nor offensive coordinator Greg Roman called another run play for Gore or Kaepernick, who had 62 yards and a touchdown on seven carries.
"That's why we've got coaches," Gore said. "Every player wanted the ball at that time, but coach made the decision and we tried our best to make it happen."
The Ravens figured the 49ers would use some kind of designed quarterback run to keep the ball in the Kaepernick's hands. So that influenced what defensive coordinator Dean Pees decided to do.
"We really thought it was going to be some kind of a quarterback run down in there, so basically we pressured almost every down in there," Pees said. "We changed up the pressures but we brought it every down."
When left tackle Joe Staley was asked if he would've liked to have seen at least another run play on one of the downs from the 5-yard line, he answered, "Yeah."
Even veteran safety Donte Whitner said he figured there would be a run call for Kaepernick.
"I'm a little surprised," Whitner said. "But it's coach's call. Like anything, if it works, you're a genius. If it doesn't, you messed up."
When Harbaugh was asked why Gore did not get any touches among the final three plays, he answered tersely, "We had other plays called."
Crabtree was a logical target. He caught five passes for 109 yards and a touchdown. And tight end Vernon Davis could've been targeted, too. He had six receptions for 104 yards. Kaepernick completed 16 of 28 passes for 302 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
Linebacker Patrick Willis said there would be no second-guessing or pointing fingers about the way the final offensive sequence fizzled -- so close to a Super Bowl championship.
Said Staley, "All the work we did in the offseason comes down to five yards, and we weren't able to get it done."