Two fumbles. That's all that stood between the San Francisco 49ers and a trip to the Superbowl as their season came to a grinding halt in the NFC Championship game.
Fueled by first-year head coach Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers went from preseason dud to Super Bowl contender in a matter of three months, finishing with a 13-3 record and nearly earning themselves a shot at the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI.
And all of that was with Alex Smith. Before uniting with Harbaugh just five weeks before opening week, Smith had earned the ignominious distinction of first-round bust. But the former Stanford head coach seemed to revitalize Smith's career. In the 49ers' win over the Saints in the divisional round, Smith threw for 299 yards and three touchdowns, one of which provided the deciding points with just nine seconds remaining.
If Harbaugh took an Alex Smith-led team to a 13-3 record and the brink of a Super Bowl birth, just imagine the possibilities with Peyton Manning at the helm.
Manning, the 11-time Pro Bowler and five-time MVP, would make San Francisco the clear favorites to represent the NFC in next year's Super Bowl.
The 49ers won with defense last year, but by bringing in Manning, they would become a complete team. Eighteen would change the oft-criticized Michael Crabtree into a top-flight receiver, and as for Pro Bowl tight end Vernon Davis, he would immediately become the best receiving tight end in the league.
San Francisco's recent addition of Randy Moss is even more intriguing. The last time Moss was paired up with a top-flight quarterback—Tom Brady in 2007 with the New England Patriots—he broke the NFL single-season touchdown record. Moss may not replicate that all-time great season with Manning, but he would give Manning something that the former Colt has never had before—a true deep threat.
Where will Peyton Manning end up?
Another luxury that Manning has never had is a defense as good as San Francisco's. When he led the Colts to a Super Bowl championship in 2006, he did it without a defense and without a good running game.
With the 49ers' defense—widely regarded as the best in the league—and a top-flight running back in Frank Gore, Manning could cruise to another Super Bowl title.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh would resent giving up play-calling duties to Manning, but it would be a much-needed sacrifice. With Manning calling plays and running this offense, San Francisco's fiery head coach will win his first Super Bowl title.
Yeah, I think it's worth it.