By Justin Bradford
As many 49ers fans process the shock, pain, and disappointment following the heart-breaking loss to the Baltimore Ravens, the only real question that comes to mind is, how? How could they lose that game? How could the superior team fall on the NFL’s biggest stage?
Let’s start by going back over my previously listed fundamentals, and the 3 Keys to Victory.
Core Fundamentals: As far as fundamentals go, the 49ers clearly missed the mark.
A) Control the Clock. The Ravens came out and controlled the clock for the majority of the first half. While the 49ers did make up for it in the second half, they had to try and overcome a would-be Super Bowl record 22-point deficit. By the end of the game, the 49ers only possessed the ball for just over 27 minutes of the game. Result: failed.
B) Limiting Turnovers. Lamichael James’ fumble resulted in a Ravens touchdown, while Colin Kaepernick’s interception could easily have resulted in points had the Ravens not attempted, or actually converted, a fake field goal. The 49ers only forced one turnover; a fumble by Ray Rice that helped fuel an attempted come back.
However, there were several plays in which the 49ers had opportunities to generate a turnover, but didn’t. Result: failed.
C) Converting on third down. Of all the areas the 49ers have been most successful with Colin Kaepernick as QB1, third down has been the most critical. Alex Smith could not get the job done most games converting less than 50% of third down tries. Kaepernick managed to dramatically improve that statistic during his first nine career starts. However, on this day, the 49ers only managed to convert two of nine tries. How much of that was Kaepernick, and how much was playcalling remains up for debate. But the bottom line is, they didn’t get it done when it mattered most. Result: failed.
So, if it wasn’t obvious enough why the 49ers failed to pull of a win, let’s look at the 3 Keys to Victory and see how the 49ers fared.
1) Pressure Joe Flacco. The 49ers managed to score one sack against a make-shift offensive line that dominated up front on passing plays. The 49ers shut down the struggling Ravens running game, but had no answer for Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith, and Dennis Pitta. Flacco rarely felt pressure and on several plays had all day to throw. Not once did the 49ers even threaten to come up with an interception. Of course Flacco was the MVP; he was playing Madden 13 on the Rookie difficulty setting. Result: failed.
2) Exploit the Tight Ends. On offense, Delanie Walker and Vernon Davis were significant contributors both blocking and in the passing game. However, neither player managed to score. Vernon Davis is a mis-match against every single Ravens defender. He’s 6′ 5” tall, 250lbs, and was a high-jump champion in high school. No touchdown catches. Delanie Walker is one of, if not the, fastest tight end in the NFL. No touchdown catches.
Yards and catches are significant, but no scores from two of the biggest offensive mis-matches is disappointing. On defense, Pitta drew very little attention from the 49ers in the first half, and it cost them dearly. Ed Dickson even made two catches, and Vontae Leach proved why he’s the best fullback in the NFL, and a key third down receiver. Ultimately, the 49ers had the advantage on both sides of the ball, but failed to capitalize.
3) Do NOT Settle for Field Goals. David Akers officially went 3 for 3 on his field goal tries in this game. However, he missed his third try, but was able to convince an official that a Ravens player ran into him drawing a penalty and a re-kick, which he made. However, the 49ers were two for six inside the red zone, settling for two field goals early in the game. The 49ers lost by only three points thanks to a Ravens self-inflicted safety. An extra five points from one touchdown would almost certainly changed the outcome of this game.
Good for Akers, bad for the team. Result: failed.
So, with the 49ers failing to win the basic fundamentals needed to control the outcome of the game, and not even coming close on the 3 Keys to Victory, fans can see pretty clearly why the 49ers lost this game. The score indicates a much closer contest than it actually was for the majority of the game. Ultimately, the 49ers had too many costly penalties (a common theme this season) and missed opportunities, especially in the red zone. Now, with many valuable players bound for free agency, they get to try again next year against a long list of up-and-coming NFC teams salivating to get another crack at the defending conference champs.
Next season will be the last played at the historic Candlestick Park, and it will be filled to the brim with the devoted 49er Faithful hoping, that under Jim Harbaugh, the third time is a charm.