NFC West: Joe Flacco

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The San Francisco 49ers and the agent of Colin Kaepernick will surely talk about a contract extension in the offseason.

Let's look at the situation:

Why he's up for a deal: Kaepernick was a second-round pick in 2011. His contracts runs through 2014. He is set to be an unrestricted free agent in March, 2015.

What should he expect: It's an interesting situation. After Kaepernick led the 49ers to the Super Bowl in less than a full season as a starter, it would expected that Kaepernick would cash in as soon as he could -- after this season. It could still happen, but there is question of how much Kaepernick will get. Initially, it was expected Kaepernick would be a candidate to become the highest paid player in the NFL. Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco signed a six-year, $120.6 million deal earlier this year to make him the highest paid player in the player.

However, Kaepernick, 26, hasn't had a dynamic second season. He hasn't been awful and he is clearly hurt by a lack of receiving options. But Kaepernick hasn't dominated games. If that continues this season, I'm not sure the 49ers -- who will have to clear money for a big contract, anyway -- would feel comfortable giving Kaepernick a Flacco-like deal. They may want to see Kaepernick have a solid 2014 first. The 49ers could offer a lesser contract, but I'd doubt Kaepernick would agree. So, it might be the logical decision for both sides for Kaepernick to go into his contract year without a deal. The 49ers could always franchise Kaepernick if a deal is not done by the 2015 offseason.

Prediction: A deal will get done. The 49ers love Kaepernick and his long-term potential. It's just that these colossal deals are tricky and everything has to be right for both sides, so it could mean it takes a little longer to complete than some expected. By the way, 2011 first-round pick Aldon Smith is also eligible to get a new deal after this season. But the team may wait because of his recent off-field issues. So, some big-money decisions by the 49ers could be delayed.

Final 2013 preseason QB snap counts

August, 30, 2013
Six projected starting quarterbacks played in their teams' final exhibition games of the 2013 preseason. The Seattle Seahawks' Russell Wilson and the San Francisco 49ers' Colin Kaepernick were two of them, and both led touchdown drives before exiting after one series. None of the NFL's projected starters got hurt Thursday night.

The chart shows week-by-week snap counts for quarterbacks I singled out as projected starters heading into preseason. NFC West alums Kevin Kolb and Matt Flynn might not start after all, but I've left them in the chart for context.

St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher has generally played starters in the final preseason game. He did not this time.

"Typically I have, but I guess in the new world that we’re in, it’s hard to," Fisher told reporters after the Rams' game against Baltimore. "What that implies is that I'm pleased with where they are right now, those guys that sat. They worked hard. We got a great workout and it allowed them to fast-forward their minds to Arizona."

Fisher could have been alluding to the run of higher-profile injuries around the league this summer. Last year, the Rams lost rookie defensive tackle Michael Brockers to a high-ankle sprain in the final preseason game.

The Rams emerged from this preseason healthier than their division rivals. That did not stop the 49ers from playing their offensive starters or the Seahawks from playing starters on both sides of the ball Thursday night. The Arizona Cardinals rested most of their starters, though Michael Floyd was one notable exception.

San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh offered no explanation for playing his starting offense one series. Kaepernick hadn't gotten many snaps through the first three games, however. Getting additional reps for Kaepernick and the team's group of emerging receivers made some sense on the surface.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll went into the final preseason game saying he wanted starters to play because the team values this games as competitive opportunities.

NFL teams have played their most important snaps of the 2013 exhibition season now that every team has played at least three games.

This becomes a good time to check out how many snaps each projected starting quarterback has played. The players listed in the chart below entered preseason as the quarterbacks I considered most likely to start season openers. We might have to make adjustments in some cases.

Teams have different priorities based on a range of factors. This snapshot does provide some context.

A few notes regarding the NFC West info:
  • Arizona Cardinals: Carson Palmer appeared sharper in the preseason opener than he did subsequently. Pass protection was one problem against San Diego on Saturday night. Palmer still got 37 snaps, his highest total of the preseason. But with the team losing key players Rob Housler and Jonathan Cooper to injuries, snap counts for Palmer were not a leading storyline.
  • St. Louis Rams: Sam Bradford has played 25 snaps in each of the last two preseason games. He is averaging 10.2 yards per pass attempt in the preseason and has a 114.1 NFL passer rating to this point (he finished the 2012 preseason with five touchdown passes, no picks and a 116.3 rating). The team's most recent preseason game, at Denver, provided Bradford a good opportunity to connect with Jared Cook, the tight end St. Louis lured away from Tennessee in free agency with $19 million in guarantees. Cook caught four passes for 50 yards and a touchdown.
  • San Francisco 49ers: Colin Kaepernick has played fewer snaps than any projected starter other than the Washington Redskins' Robert Griffin III, who has not yet played in a game since suffering knee injuries in the playoffs last season. Kaepernick finished strong against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday night, completing his final six passes, including one for a touchdown.
  • Seattle Seahawks: Russell Wilson took three sacks and threw two interceptions while playing 38 snaps against Green Bay in the most recent preseason game. The Packers, meanwhile, pulled Aaron Rodgers after 10 snaps. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said the Packers came after Seattle with scheme-related wrinkles an offense would address in the regular season, but not preseason.
The San Francisco 49ers' Colin Kaepernick has played fewer preseason snaps than any projected starting quarterback except for the still-idled Robert Griffin III.

Big deal? Not necessarily.

Injuries, game circumstances, position battles and other factors affect how NFL teams allot playing time during the exhibition season. Kaepernick played 12 snaps in the preseason opener, not far from the 13.8-snap average for projected starters in openers. His four snaps against Kansas City in the 49ers' second preseason game came in well below the 26.6-snap average for the other projected starters in their second preseason games.

"I didn't want anything freakish to happen," Harbaugh told reporters Sunday. "Sometimes you gotta have a plan and you also need a feel, too. So, just felt like he has gotten tremendous amount of work in practice. Though you’d like to have him play more in the preseason games, it comes down to a feel there."

The chart shows how many snaps projected starting quarterbacks have played in the preseason. "DNP" shows when a projected starter did not play. "MNF" reflects the scheduled "Monday Night Football" game between Pittsburgh and Washington.

The new contracts for Darrelle Revis in Tampa Bay and Kam Chancellor in Seattle will be interesting to analyze once the figures can be confirmed.

Initial reports tend to focus on maximum payouts, which can be misleading. Sometimes the new money available through an extension produces a misleading new average per year.

For context, John Parolin of ESPN Stats & Information recently put together charts showing how much money players received after signing deals reportedly worth at least $100 million. The answer was less than 50 percent in most cases.

The first chart examines the numbers for contracts that are no longer active.

The second chart shows how much money players have received on active contracts with maximum values of at least $100 million. It counts the $29 million signing bonus associated with Joe Flacco's deal as money already paid.

Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians envisions new quarterback Carson Palmer using a strong arm to strike well down the field in 2013.

"Having seen him throw it downfield so many times over the years, as good as it gets," Arians told reporters during a news conference Tuesday. "I know Joe Flacco, as a young guy, has a reputation of being a great deep-ball thrower, but I don’t think there has been anyone better than Carson in the last few years throwing the ball down the football field. It's been his forte forever."

Arians was with the Pittsburgh Steelers when a young Palmer played for the AFC North-rival Cincinnati Bengals.

Palmer was indeed a special talent as the first overall choice in the 2003 draft. Palmer is 33 years old now. He has suffered knee and elbow injuries over the years. Arizona acquired him from the Oakland Raiders for late-round draft considerations. Can he still sling it?

"When I was a young scout with the Browns and watching in pregame warmups, I remember thinking that is what the first overall pick in the draft throws the ball like," Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. said. "He doesn't do that anymore, but at times he thinks he can. His mind writes checks that his arm can't cash any more. He’s used to being the best player on the field, the first pick. I don't think he can put the franchise on his back and make Aaron Rodgers-type throws possession after possession."

Even so, Williamson said he thinks Palmer makes the Cardinals much better than they would have been otherwise. He expects Larry Fitzgerald's production to improve dramatically. And he thinks Palmer can throw the ball well enough to hit on some of the downfield throws Arians wants featured in the offense -- albeit at the risk of throwing 20-plus interceptions.

"I think he fits the Arians system," Williamson said. "I don't love him. He's not close to what he once was. At one point, I thought he was one of the four or five best quarterbacks in football. ... He is still an effective player."

The chart shows how many yards past the line of scrimmage quarterbacks' passes traveled on average.

The numbers are instructive when applied to the San Francisco 49ers. Colin Kaepernick ranked first and teammate Alex Smith ranked 34th in average pass length, affirming that the 49ers changed their offense for the stronger-armed Kaepernick.

Andrew Luck, who played in an Arians-coordinated offense with the Indianapolis Colts, ranked a close third behind Kaepernick and Jay Cutler. Palmer ranked 25th while playing for the Raiders. His passes traveled 8.07 yards past the line of scrimmage on average, nearly two full yards behind the average for Kaepernick. That number will presumably rise in Arians' offense.

"We're going to put a running game with it that will help him, and obviously we’ve got a fast, young receiving corps that is excellent," Arians said. "I'll echo about that offensive line -- it's not a problem and it won’t be a problem.

"Our guys went through a ton of injuries last year. Having walked into that room today, that’s as good a looking football team as I’ve seen in my 20 years of coaching, stepping in the first day. There’s not a bad body in the room. It’s a great looking bunch of athletes, and we will never use talent as an excuse."
Players play and general managers manage. Moves made Monday drove home that point.

The Baltimore Ravens traded Anquan Boldin to the San Francisco 49ers even though Joe Flacco, the Ravens' recently re-signed quarterback, had publicly lobbied to keep the receiver.

Separately, the Minnesota Vikings traded receiver Percy Harvin to the Seattle Seahawks against the wishes of a certain Vikings running back.

Adrian Peterson's tweets say it all.
ESPN's Chris Mortensen has driven another nail into the Darrelle Revis-to-San Francisco coffin we constructed board by board by board by board.

Let's turn our attention to a subject of greater import: the expanded windows San Francisco and Seattle will enjoy before their talented young quarterbacks demand much greater shares of their salary-cap resources.

Joe Flacco's new contract with the Baltimore Ravens is the impetus for this item. Forget the line about Flacco being the highest-paid quarterback in the NFL. We can't know how much of the $120.6 million over six years he'll actually earn. We do know the deal will count more than $14.5 million against the 2014 and 2015 caps before ballooning enough the following season to invite a renegotiation. Having that much cap room invested in one player puts greater pressure on teams to draft low-cost starters.

This is where the 49ers and Seahawks are working the system to their favor at quarterback.

Rules prevent rookies from renegotiating their contracts until after their third season. As a result, the 49ers with Colin Kaepernick and the Seahawks with Russell Wilson enjoy the best possible situation: outstanding quarterback play at low cost.

Kaepernick, currently signed through 2014, cannot cash in on his success until after the 2013 season at the earliest. Wilson, signed through 2015, cannot renegotiate until after the 2014 season. Their contracts are counting roughly $2.1 million combined against their teams' salary-cap allotments for 2013. That is less than 1 percent. The figure could exceed 10 percent for Flacco in Baltimore over the 2014 and 2015 seasons even if the cap reaches $130 million per team.

The 49ers are relatively tight against the cap anyway, but with quarterback Alex Smith heading to Kansas City by trade, the team will gain flexibility. The Seahawks have enough room under their cap to carry inflated numbers for players such as Zach Miller, Sidney Rice and Matt Flynn. Those three players combine to count nearly $28 million against the cap in 2013. That could be tougher to justify if Wilson were counting $15 million as well.

If all goes to plan, there will come a time when San Francisco and Seattle happily pay their rising young quarterbacks market value. They'll smile for the cameras and celebrate the occasion even though their championship windows might close a little as the ink dries. That was the risk for the Ravens when they re-signed Flacco, but that is OK. They won a championship first. Can the 49ers and/or Seahawks do the same?

Related: Agent Jack Bechta examines the tradeoffs associated with paying quarterbacks.

ESPN's John Clayton is listing the Seattle Seahawks second to Green Bay among teams most likely to supplant San Francisco as the NFC team in the next Super Bowl.

Separately, ESPN's Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith like the 49ers' chances for winning it all next season (see video above).

A few things to remember, from my perspective:
  • Health is huge: San Francisco and Seattle were both quite healthy through most of the 2012 season. Injuries caught up to both teams in the end. A fully healthy Justin Smith might have been the difference for San Francisco this season. The defense couldn't finish plays as consistently while Smith played with one healthy arm. That was one reason opponents completed too many deep passes against the 49ers late in the season. For Seattle, losing defensive end Chris Clemons severely hurt the pass-rush and run defense. While it's natural for those teams to lament these injuries, we shouldn't forget how healthy these teams remained in qualifying for the postseason. Frank Gore, Russell Okung and Sidney Rice played full seasons, a bit of a surprise. There are no guarantees good health will continue in the future.
  • QB watch: The Ravens have consistently won with Joe Flacco, but this postseason was the first time I thought Flacco really carried the team. Perhaps that should be encouraging for the St. Louis Rams. Sam Bradford obviously has talent. The Rams could use a Flacco-type transformation for Bradford. Perhaps that can happen if the Rams continue improve the supporting cast. Torrey Smith and later Jacoby Jones gave Flacco receivers with the speed to take advantage of the quarterback's strong arm. Anquan Boldin gave Flacco a big target with the ability to compete for the ball. The Ravens also settled on an effective line combination. I'm not sure whether Flacco's transformation is sustainable, but it's encouraging, at least. For now, the Rams have the third-best starting quarterback in the NFC West. The gap must shrink or disappear for the Rams to join the 49ers and Seahawks in this discussion.
  • Remember Arizona: Not long ago, the 49ers and Seahawks were seen as teams with promising defenses, but no viable quarterback. Both teams had some issues on their offensive lines as well. That is where the Cardinals find themselves heading into the 2013 offseason with new coach Bruce Arians. There are some differences, too, and much personnel work lies ahead. It's sounding like the Cardinals will invest in their offensive line the way their division rivals have done in recent seasons, with varying degrees of success. Arizona still hasn't taken an offensive lineman in the first three rounds over the past five drafts. Their division rivals have combined to draft 10 in the first three rounds over that period.
  • Changing division: The 49ers held on to win the NFC West by a half-game this season. Seattle was gaining in the end. The Rams went 1-0-1 against San Francisco. Winning the NFC West isn't a given for any of these teams. The competition will be fierce. The first-round bye saved the 49ers this season, in my view. Not having a bye forced Seattle to play consecutive games in the Eastern time zone. The Super Bowl hopes for NFC West teams could hinge on which one emerges atop the division.

QBR ranks: Kaepernick good til the end

February, 4, 2013
NEW ORLEANS -- The San Francisco 49ers had their chances in Super Bowl XLVII. They had four consecutive shots from the Baltimore 7-yard line or closer in the final minutes. They couldn't quite finish what would have been the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history.

Quarterback Colin Kaepernick passed for 302 yards and a touchdown. He ran for another score. He played well for much of the game.

Those wondering why Kaepernick finished with a 46.1 Total QBR score -- below the 50-point average and well behind the 95.1 for Baltimore's Joe Flacco -- will find the answer here.

Kaepernick's score would have been an impressive 74.5 without adjusting for game situations, notably time and score, according to Albert Larcada of ESPN Stats & Information.

"However, QBR does adjust for game situation and Kaepernick did not come through in the highest leverage situations," Larcada said.

Kaepernick's QBR score had climbed to 78.6 when the 49ers faced first-and-goal in the final three minutes. The quarterback then threw incomplete three times following a 2-yard run on first down. QBR assumes an average level of culpability for the quarterback in such a situation without mitigating variables such as dropped passes.

"Since these plays were the most important plays of the game (and really the entire season), Kaepernick’s QBR fell to his final number of 46.1," Larcada said. "If Kaepernick would have scored a touchdown on any of those plays, it is a safe bet to assume his QBR would have been very close to Flacco’s."

Kaepernick had posted an NFL-high 94.1 QBR score in the playoffs before Sunday. His QBR score through nine career starts (84.0) was the NFL's highest since 2008, the earliest year for which charting data is available.

The drop from nearly 80 to 46.1 over three plays seems harsh, in my view.

However, teams are expected to score a high percentage of the time when they have first-and-goal inside the 10-yard line. The fact that Kaepernick threw three times in that situation without completing one pass came at great cost with the score so close (34-29) and so little time remaining.
NEW ORLEANS -- The clock is ticking on visitors' Super Bowl stays in Louisiana, but those waiting in the airport security line wouldn't hear it over the music playing from a live band.

That's right, there's a live band playing in the New Orleans airport. These folks know how to throw a party.

I'll be boarding a plane and then making a tight connection a few hours later, so it's possible there won't be an opportunity to keep up the usual day-after-game blogging pace. I'm hoping to post a few tidbits here before boarding.

Albert Larcada of ESPN Stats & Information has come through with evidence illustrating just how much the San Francisco 49ers' chances suffered when officials flagged cornerback Chris Culliver for a 14-yard interference penalty. Culliver and coach Jim Harbaugh strongly disputed the call. That single fourth-quarter play on third-and-9 from the Baltimore 22-yard line improved the Ravens' win probability from 54 percent to 64 percent, the largest single-play gain for the Ravens' offense all game.

The Ravens won, 34-31, to claim their second Super Bowl championship.

Here's the interesting part from Larcada: "Since Joe Flacco’s rookie season in 2008, he has drawn more defensive pass interference calls than any other quarterback. He has added 51 more points than an average quarterback on pass interference calls. Eli Manning, the next best QB, has added 36 points above average."

The Ravens' receivers obviously have something to do with that as well. But if Culliver and the 49ers are seeking a small measure of consolation, they should know they haven't been the only ones on the wrong end of interference calls against Baltimore.
NEW ORLEANS -- Colin Kaepernick scored his fifth red zone rushing touchdown of the season during Super Bowl XLVII. His inability to complete passes in that area was a problem, however.

Kaepernick completed 1 of 5 passes for eight yards and no first downs in the red zone during the 49ers' 34-31 defeat to the Baltimore Ravens. He took two sacks on red zone plays.

Completion percentage in the red zone was one area where former 49ers starter Alex Smith outperformed Kaepernick this season. Smith completed 70.6 percent of his passes (12 of 17) with eight touchdowns, one interception and two sacks on 26 red zone action plays. Kaepernick completed 47.5 percent of his passes (19 of 40) with seven touchdowns, one pick and four sacks on 68 action plays in that area.

Action plays are plays when quarterbacks did not hand off or spike the ball to stop the clock.

The chart compares red zone production for Kaepernick and Baltimore's Joe Flacco during Super Bowl XLVII. Kaepernick had posted a 67.5 Total QBR score in the red zone previously this season. His QBR score in the red zone was 1.8 against the Ravens, dropping his season-long score to 41.1 thanks to the small sample size. Smith's QBR score in the red zone was 78.8 on an even smaller sample size.

Kaepernick threw incomplete three times when the Ravens rushed at least one member of their secondary on red zone plays, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That included the play when the 49ers failed on a two-point conversion attempt. Kaepernick had completed all three passes, including one for a touchdown, when opponents applied DB pressure previously this season. Smith completed both his passes for touchdowns on these plays during the regular season.

Kaepernick and Smith have both fared well when targeting tight end Vernon Davis in the red zone. Davis scored touchdowns on both red zone targets from Smith this season. He caught two scoring passes from Kaepernick on four red zone targets.

Smith fared better targeting Crabtree and fellow wide receiver Randy Moss in the red zone.

Note: This item was updated to show that the Ravens rushed a defensive back on the 49ers' two-point conversion try, not on the 15-yard touchdown run by Kaepernick that preceded the conversion try.
Colin KaepernickAP Foto/Evan VucciThe 49ers squandered opportunities and could not get the final five yards in the fourth quarter.
NEW ORLEANS -- Say this about the San Francisco 49ers: They can take a punch. They can take a lot of them, in fact. And if a power outage gives them 34 minutes to clear the cobwebs, look out. But it's tough to win a championship playing the way San Francisco did during this 34-31 defeat to the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII.

It's tough to win a championship when allowing three first-half scoring passes and a kickoff return for a touchdown to open the third quarter. It's tough to win a championship when the opponent is converting nine times on third down, or after your second-year quarterback and rookie running back commit turnovers. It's tough to win a championship when committing key penalties and burning through timeouts.

49ers coach Jim Harbaugh pleaded for a holding call against the Ravens as Michael Crabtree struggled to get past cornerback Jimmy Smith on 4th-and-5 with 1:50 remaining, but officiating wasn't the difference in this game. Far from it. You can't blame the straw that broke the camel's back after building a three-story haystack on it first.

Harbaugh understandably wanted the call anyway.

"Yes, there's no question in my mind that there was a pass interference [on second down] and then a hold on Crabtree on the last one," he said.

Later, after answering a question about quarterback Colin Kaepernick's overall play, Harbaugh doubled back to the non-call.

"Again, in my opinion, that series should have continued," he said.

Mike Pereira, the former NFL officiating vice president and now a Fox analyst, said he agreed with the non-call.

Harbaugh wasn't finished with the officiating complaints. He also complained about an interference call against his own cornerback, Chris Culliver.

"You're talking about the one that extended their drive when they made their second-to-last drive with the ball?" he said. "Didn't think that was interference."

And when the Ravens ran seven of the final 11 seconds off the clock before taking a safety, Harbaugh wanted a holding penalty called.

"It's a good scheme on their part to hold as many people as they can, and you teach them just to tackle when you're taking a safety like that, but not one holding penalty was called," Harbaugh said.

Again, the officiating wasn't perfect, but neither was it the 49ers' biggest problem.

The Ravens were a step ahead of the 49ers in the red zone all night, not just when Smith restricted Crabtree with the game on the line.

Perhaps we should have seen that part of the matchup coming.

The Ravens' defense ranked second in red zone touchdown percentage allowed during the regular season. Kaepernick, though an overall upgrade from former starter Alex Smith, had completed just 51.4 percent of his passes in the red zone over the regular season and playoffs. Smith's completion rate in that area was 70.6 percent. The two quarterbacks had similar touchdown-to-interception ratios in the red zone. Kaepernick had provided another dimension as a runner, obviously. But when the 49ers needed to finish drives Sunday, Kaepernick could not complete passes.

[+] EnlargeJacoby Jones
Jack Gruber/USA TODAY SportsJacoby Jones set an NFL record with a 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
The Ravens sacked Kaepernick twice and held him to four incompletions -- all intended for Crabtree -- on six red zone pass plays. Kaepernick got free for a 15-yard touchdown scramble on another red zone play.

The 49ers scored two touchdowns on six red zone possessions. They also failed to convert a two-point try while trailing 31-29 in the late going. Still, the red zone wasn't where the 49ers lost this game so much as it was where they failed to win it. Turnovers and defensive lapses got the 49ers into trouble early.

"Didn't play our best game," Harbaugh said.

Victory had not come easy for the 49ers lately. Injuries struck their top pass-rushers. Aldon Smith went a sixth consecutive game without a sack after collecting 19.5 during the previous 13. The 49ers' ability to cover deep passes, once a strength, suffered. Their special teams, a disappointment most of the season, conspired against them in this game, same as during the NFC Championship Game one year ago.

The 49ers have now lost playoff games in successive seasons as a betting favorite. They lost this game against Baltimore with a 300-yard passer (Kaepernick), a 100-yard rusher (Frank Gore) and two 100-yard receivers (Crabtree and Vernon Davis). Losing despite such production suggests the 49ers didn't do the things well-coached teams do to win.

There will be room to question the 49ers' play calling following this defeat. Haloti Ngata, the Ravens' massive defensive lineman, wondered why Gore didn't get the ball more frequently in the red zone. Harbaugh's explanation: "We had other plays called."

The 49ers wouldn't have won back-to-back NFC West titles while regularly setting franchise records for offense without Harbaugh and coordinator Greg Roman at the controls. But there were too many times Sunday when the Ravens summoned answers that continually eluded the 49ers.

"A little surprised," 49ers safety Donte Whitner said about the 4th-and-5 play call. "I guess they wanted to get the ball to Crabtree. It's tough. It's tough for the coaches being in that situation because anything they do, if it works, you're a genius, and if it doesn't, you messed it up."

How odd it was after the game to hear the Ravens crediting receivers coach Jim Hostler, overmatched as the 49ers offensive coordinator back in 2007, for adding a pump fake to the play quarterback Joe Flacco used to find Jacoby Jones for a 56-yard touchdown.

"I thought that's a pretty good idea," Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell said. "Then, we ended up running it, and Joe ended up buying enough time to get the ball out there to Jacoby."

Like Whitner said, you're a genius if it works.

Jacoby's touchdown reception staked Baltimore to a 21-3 lead in the second quarter. It made Flacco the second 49ers opponent in as many games to strike for three first-half scoring passes. Flacco finished the postseason with 11 scoring passes and zero interceptions. He was the best quarterback in this Super Bowl, even when under pressure. That was a surprise and counter to previous form.

The 49ers finished with a 468-367 advantage in total net yards. They had more first downs (23-21). But they couldn't get five yards when they had to have them.

"Very frustrating," left tackle Joe Staley said. "All the work we did in the offseason, the whole entire season, everything came down to five yards, and we weren't able to get it done."

The 49ers should remain a playoff-caliber team for years to come. Their division rivals are gaining, however. Their most important defensive player, Justin Smith, turns 34 in September and will be coming off triceps surgery. Gore turns 30 in May.

There is no shame in losing a Super Bowl after overcoming nearly all of a 28-6 deficit. It's just tough squandering two prime chances in two seasons when there are no guarantees for the future. They don't hand out championship rings for having bright futures.


Grading the 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII

February, 3, 2013
NEW ORLEANS -- The San Francisco 49ers' tremendous second-half rally came up short. Here's a look at how things played out in Super Bowl XLVII:


After a shaky first half, Colin Kaepernick was spectacular as he rallied the 49ers back into the game. Kaepernick led them to 17 points in a span of 4:10 in the third quarter. Kaepernick also scrambled for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter. Michael Crabtree finished with five catches for 109 yards and one touchdown. Kaepernick's second-half play was brilliant. But he did throw the first Super Bowl interception in franchise history. Joe Montana never threw one. Steve Young never threw one. Montana and Young have Super Bowl titles. Kaepernick doesn't.


Frank Gore wasn't much of a factor early on as the 49ers fell way behind. But Gore had a few key runs, including a 6-yard touchdown in the third quarter and two big runs in the fourth quarter. Kaepernick didn't have any explosive plays off the read option, but his scrambling ability caused major problems for Baltimore's defense. Backup running back LaMichael James lost a second-quarter fumble that helped the Ravens take a 14-3 lead.


Joe Flacco completed 13 of 20 passes for 192 yards and three touchdowns in the first half as San Francisco's secondary struggled and the pass rush was quiet. But, just like everything else, the pass defense improved in the second half. Still, it wasn't good enough.


This wasn't a big problem for the 49ers because the Ravens came out throwing in the first half. But the 49ers held Ray Rice in check when he did run.


San Francisco allowed Baltimore's Jacoby Jones to return the second-half kickoff 108 yards to take a 28-6 lead. But the 49ers did stop a fake field goal attempt in the second quarter and David Akers made three field goals.


Jim Harbaugh did a nice job of getting his team back into the game after the power outage early in the second half. But Harbaugh's team, particularly Kaepernick, seemed uptight in the first half. Harbaugh is known for being extremely intense. I can't help but wonder if his high-pressure style might be why his team started so poorly. Harbaugh's play-calling at the end of game, when the 49ers failed to score on four plays from within seven yards of the end zone, also leaves him open for plenty of criticism.

NEW ORLEANS -- Joe Flacco has picked up in the Super Bowl where Matt Ryan left off in the first half of the NFC Championship Game.

The two quarterbacks have combined for six first-half touchdown passes against the San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers contained Ryan in the second half and won the game 28-24. They'll need another strong half to overcome a 21-6 halftime deficit against the Ravens.

The chart shows the combined first-half damage inflicted by those quarterbacks against the 49ers.