Postseason perfection and Super Bowl perfection slipped away as the 49ers had one last attempt to win the biggest game of the season on a Ted Ginn punt return with four seconds left to play. Unfortunately for San Francisco, its continuous uphill battle ended on that play.
The exhaustive game of catch-up started after Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco hit Anquan Boldin from 13 yards out on a touchdown strike during the Ravens first offensive possession. With Baltimore striking first, the Niners found themselves in a hole for the third consecutive week.
Unlike the Green Bay game, the 7-0 deficit proved to be too steep against one of the league's most experienced and well-versed defenses. John Harbaugh's defense forced two first-half turnovers and stood its ground on third down.
Colin Kaepernick and company were an awful 2-of-9 in terms of third-down efficiency. One of the two conversions came in the first half, and the other one came in the second half. Embarrassing, considering the 49ers had a 43 percent third-down conversion rate heading into Super Bowl XLVII.
Not to mention the Ravens defense allowed 25 of 60 third-down conversion attempts during the postseason.
Moreover, San Francisco's red-zone woes were dooming more than anything. Greg Roman's offense made a total of six offensive trips into the red zone Sunday night and only came away with touchdowns on two of those six attempts.
The four other failed touchdown opportunities resulted in three David Akers field goals and a turnover on downs. If you couple all of the underlying offensive failures with the team's defensive failures, it's easy to see why Baltimore hoisted the Lombardi Trophy when the clock struck zero.
Vic Fangio's defense did a nice job of limiting Baltimore to 5.2 yards per play on 70 offensive plays and getting after Flacco in a couple of key situations. Outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks had a huge third-quarter sack that helped lead the 49ers offense to good starting field position on their ensuing drive.
In all, the Niners defense dropped No. 5 three times and hit him seven other times. Not a bad night for a pass rush that had absolutely no help from the "sack brothers," Justin and Aldon Smith. Yet at times, the powerful pass rush was negated by an inability to stop the Ravens offense on third down.
Jim Caldwell's unit picked up a new set of downs on third down 56 percent of the time. That topped their postseason conversion rate by 10 percentage points. Seemingly, everything San Francisco's defense surrendered was everything the 49ers offense tried to do.
However, no loss was complete without a poor special teams effort to cap off the trifecta. Since coming to the Bay Area, Jim Harbaugh's club hadn't allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown until Sunday night's game. I realize I'm stating the obvious, but they couldn't have picked a worse time to have a special teams meltdown.
Sunday night's 108-yard return from Jacoby Jones gave the Ravens their final touchdown of the game and broke the hearts of Niners fans everywhere. As Kaepernick said (via Tim Kawakami of the Mercury News), "[W]e'll be back." Let's just hope for the sake of the 49ers, their offense, defense and special teams don't fail them when they do indeed make the return trip.
If Kap made a Super Bowl appearance in only his 10th start, without question this team is in good hands for years to come despite him losing on the biggest stage at age 25.
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