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Even though the fourth quarter had been an unmitigated disaster, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick had a chance to win the game and send his team to the Super Bowl. But in a bit of irony sure to make 49ers fans sick all offseason long, the NFC Championship Game ended just as Super Bowl XLVII did: with a would-be touchdown pass to receiver Michael Crabtree failing to be converted.
This time, the pass was intercepted, but the result remained the same. The 49ers lost, and the turnover was Kaepernick's third of the fourth quarter. Despite his 130 rushing yards and a few dazzling throws, he didn't play well enough to get San Francisco over the hump and into its second consecutive Super Bowl.
There's no denying Kaepernick's immense talents, but he clearly has improving to do. Earlier in the final stanza, he tossed an interception that would have made Andy Dalton blush, a hideous throw that Seattle safety Kam Chancellor easily picked off. He failed to feel the pass rush on a number of occasions and relied too much on his natural ability.
In the team's playoff victories in Green Bay and Carolina, Kaepernick got away with a number of questionable throws, none greater than the dropped interception by Packers safety Micah Hyde on what turned out to be the game-winning drive. On Sunday in Seattle, his luck ran out.
To Kaepernick's credit, he took responsibility for his awful fourth quarter after the game, telling the news media (via Dan Hanzus of NFL.com), "I didn't play good enough to win. I turned the ball over three times. I cost us this game."
Kaepernick and the 49ers will be back. For all of his success, it's important to remember that this was his first full year as the team's starting quarterback. He'll continue to get better, which is a scary prospect for the rest of the league.
But on Sunday, he lost the game for his team. If he had taken better care of the football, there's little doubt that the 49ers would have won the NFC title.