With less than three minutes remaining in the Super Bowl and the 49ers on the move, there wasn't a person watching the game who didn't believe we were about to see San Francisco score. Down just five points after being down 22 at the half, the 49ers had stuck the Ravens defense for score after score, including 17 in just over four minutes following the power outage.
So when Frank Gore ripped off a 33-yard run down to the Baltimore 7, you had to figure that everyone in purple was gearing up for what would have to be a come-from-behind performance. No way the toughest offensive line in football was going to come up short on first-and-goal, right?
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But then came perhaps the most curious set of plays in the entire game, certainly a set that 49ers fans will look back on with nausea. From the shotgun, quarterback Colin Kaepernick handed off to LaMichael James for two yards. He then threw three straight incomplete passes to Michael Crabtree, and that was pretty much the ballgame for the 49ers.
The second-down pass, you can understand; Crabtree was sure-handed enough this game to snag five receptions for 109 yards and a touchdown. And the fourth-down play was desperation (and, yes, possible holding on the Ravens). It's that third down that's going to haunt 49ers fans for a long time to come.
Watch the video above. Kaepernick was set up in what he later confirmed was a read-option formation, which would have allowed him to potentially use his vaunted legs to outrun a tiring Ravens defense. But the play clock ran out, forcing San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh to burn a timeout. When the 49ers took the field again, they went with a more complex play involving Crabtree in motion.
What if they'd been able to get off that third-down read-option play? As the Packers and Falcons could testify, Kaepernick has had little trouble getting double-digit yardage whenever he's wanted. Certainly, Baltimore was prepped for the run, but at the end of a Super Bowl, it's likely that Kaepernick's legs were fresher than the Ravens' D.
"That's one thing we talked about," tight end Delanie Walker said after the game. "Why didn't we run it? We don't know. We were running the ball on them all day. ... I guess the offensive coordinator saw something up there, and he tried what he did, and they just did a great job of stopping it."
Football games generally come down to five or six plays that determine the entire contest. For the 49ers, it's too bad that one of those plays never even got run.
-Follow Jay Busbee on Twitter at @jaybusbee.-
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