NFC West: Road to the Superdome
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.
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.
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.
Despite complaints from San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, Boger and his crew members got high marks from the website for their handling of the game.
Footballzebras.com founder Ben Austro's only significant complaint was for failing to limit post-play antics. Austro thought the Ravens' Cary Williams should have been ejected for shoving an official. But the interference and holding penalties Harbaugh wanted called against Baltimore during the game's frantic final moments did not represent errors in officiating, according to the website.
"When a receiver runs a route right at a defensive back and bumps him, there is an acceptable amount of holding that does happen, because the receiver initiated the holding," Austro wrote. "In this case, there was mutual pushing, so it all waves off. There needed to be a more egregious restriction of the receiver in order to draw a foul."
Former NFL officiating boss Mike Pereira, now a Fox analyst, also supported the non-call in that situation. My own view was that throwing a flag would have been worse than not throwing one. The play was still frustrating from a 49ers standpoint. Anyone in Harbaugh's situation would have wanted a call as well.
"Together, it was an even-called game," Austro wrote. "The points of disagreement were true judgment calls; there wasn’t anything that really moved out of a gray area throughout the game."
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.
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.
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.
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 -- Thoughts on the San Francisco 49ers' 34-31 defeat to the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII:
What it means: The 49ers came excruciatingly close to a sixth Super Bowl title, but they couldn't draw up or execute the winning plays with four shots from the Baltimore 5-yard line. Overall, they made too many mistakes to win the game. The 49ers' total collapse early in the game raises questions about their readiness for the Super Bowl after a week filled with the usual distractions, plus the one cornerback Chris Culliver created with his derogatory comments during the week.
What I liked: The 49ers again showed an ability to weather a rough start against a playoff team.
Tight end Vernon Davis repeatedly exploited a speed advantage against Ray Lewis and the Baltimore defense early in the game. Davis even got in Lewis' face to rub it in at one point early in the second quarter.
Patrick Willis and Darcel McBath saved the 49ers late in the second quarter when they chased down Ravens kicker Justin Tucker short of a first down on a fake field-goal try. The 49ers trailed 14-3 at the time, so the stop was important for them.
Michael Crabtree capped his most impressive season with another mostly impressive performance. He made a tough catch on a high pass early in the game. Crabtree also knocked down Ravens defensive backs Cary Williams and Bernard Pollard on his way to a 31-yard touchdown reception to pull San Francisco within 28-13 midway through the third quarter.
Davis, who topped 100 yards receiving, wasn't the only tight end making an impact in this game. Second tight end Delanie Walker blasted Ravens safety Ed Reed to help free Frank Gore for a touchdown run. Walker also planted Ravens kick returner Jacoby Jones as the momentum was turning late in the third quarter.
What I didn't like: The 49ers were sloppy early in the game. A formation penalty wiped out a 20-yard gain on their first play. The 49ers appeared to have a mixup in the backfield later in the drive. That was no way to start the game on offense after having two weeks to prepare. It got worse.
The bad start gave the Ravens good field position on their first possession. And when the defense held on third-and-9, an offsides penalty against Ahmad Brooks gave Baltimore another chance, setting up a touchdown pass on third-and-4.
The 49ers blew it again early in the second quarter when LaMichael James lost a fumble, allowing the Ravens to recover at their own 25-yard line. That led to another Ravens touchdown, and San Francisco gave the ball right back to the Ravens when Colin Kaepernick overthrew Randy Moss, finding Reed instead.
Allowing a 108-yard kickoff return to open the second half nearly killed the 49ers' chances for a comeback. They suddenly trailed by a 28-6 margin.
The 49ers let seven of the final 11 seconds run off while the Ravens ran around the end zone with the football before taking a safety. That left only four seconds on the clock when Baltimore executed a free kick. Having a few additional seconds might have given the 49ers a chance to return the ball into field-goal range, or run a play before attempting a field goal.
Early trend continues: The Ravens scored first. They became the fifth consecutive 49ers opponent to score first, joining Atlanta, Green Bay, Arizona and Seattle. San Francisco came back to beat the Falcons, Packers and Cardinals heading into Super Bowl XLVII.
Costly sack: 49ers right tackle Anthony Davis struggled against the Ravens during a 2011 game between the teams. In this game, Davis gave up a third-down sack in the red zone on the 49ers' second possession. Paul Kruger beat him decisively to take down Kaepernick before the quarterback had a chance to throw. The 49ers' pass protection was generally excellent, but not on this critical play.
First-half domination: The 49ers gave up three first-half touchdown passes for the second game in a row. Joe Flacco completed 13 of 20 passes for 192 yards, three scores and a 135.8 NFL passer rating in the first half Sunday. Two weeks earlier, Atlanta's Matt Ryan completed 18 of 24 first-half passes for 271 yards, three scores and a 151.2 rating against San Francisco in the NFC Championship Game. Flacco and Ryan combined to complete 70.5 pecent of their first-half passes for 463 yards and a 144.2 rating against the 49ers in those two first halves.
What's next: The 49ers head toward the 2013 NFL draft with the 31st overall choice. The Ravens will pick 32nd overall.
Power just returned to the pressbox. The Superdome is now brighter than it was recently. Players are huddling as if the game could resume shortly.
The NFL rule book calls for interrupted games to be rescheduled on a later date if they cannot be completed on the day they started. We're a long way from that happening, of course.
"If an emergency interrupts a postseason game and such game cannot be resumed on that same date," the rulebook reads, "the commissioner will make every effort to arrange for its completion as soon as possible. If unable to schedule the game at the same site, he will select an appropriate alternate site. He will terminate the game short of completion only if in his judgment the game would not be normally expected to alter the ultimate result."
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.
Baltimore is playing a much cleaner, more efficient game than the 49ers are playing to this point.
The Ravens have one penalty and zero turnovers. The 49ers have committed three penalties and two turnovers. One of those penalties killed the 49ers' opening drive, wiping out a 20-yard reception. Another penalty gave the Ravens a second chance on third down, enabling a touchdown pass.
LaMichael James (lost fumble) and Colin Kaepernick (interception) committed the turnovers. The Ravens turned James' turnover into seven points. They now have 31 points off turnovers in 3.5 playoff games. No other team has more than 14 points off turnovers in the postseason.
The 49ers are not dead. They overcame a 17-0 deficit last week. Their previous four opponents also scored first, and the 49ers won three of those games. But the 49ers are kicking off to open the second half. They're in trouble.
Chris Culliver, in the news for the wrong reasons during Super Bowl week, appeared to blow the coverage on Joe Flacco's 56-yard touchdown pass to Jacoby Jones. Flacco has completed 3 of 5 attempts on passes traveling more than 20 yards past the line of scrimmage, according to John Parolin of ESPN Stats & Information. The Ravens have gained 106 yards on those passes. The 49ers have now allowed seven completions on those throws in two and a half postseason games.
Flacco has three touchdown passes in the first half, matching Matt Ryan's total through two quarters in the NFC Championship Game.
Will the 49ers give those Ravens fans much to cheer about? We're minutes away from finding out.
The 49ers made a significant upgrade since then by moving Alex Boone into the lineup at right guard. Anthony Davis remains the right tackle. Davis is less than three months past his 23rd birthday and he already owns 52 career starts, counting playoffs.
The 49ers' offensive line has given quarterback Colin Kaepernick an exceptionally clean pocket during playoff victories against Green Bay and Atlanta. San Francisco matched up well against those defenses. Both lacked exceptional speed. Both lacked exceptional size. The Ravens are bigger. San Francisco can probably expect a tougher challenge.
How well Boone and Davis fare on that right side will be key for the 49ers. Kaepernick's mobility is a big asset for both. He can turn potential sacks into big rushing gains. Former starter Alex Smith had a harder time doing that. He took nine sacks in that game at Baltimore last season. The Ravens won it, 16-6.
That is 22-2 with at least one pick and 3-4-1 without one. Counting playoffs, the figures are 24-3 with at least one pick and 3-5-1 without one.
I'm going to go out on a limb here and say it's looking like the 49ers will want to intercept Flacco's passes in Super Bowl XLVII.
Flacco has eight touchdown passes and no interceptions in three playoff games this season. He had eight touchdown passes with eight interceptions in his previous playoff appearances.
I've been feeding a steady diet of photos to my Twitter timeline, most taken from the second-row press box level high above the field. Clayton is seated directly to my left. Jerry Izenberg of the Newark Star-Ledger, one of the few reporters to cover every Super Bowl, is seated further down the same row. AFC North blogger Jamison Hensley is in the row ahead of us. He's special.
Lights for the halftime show were supposed to obstruct some views, but that is not the case from my vantage point right now. The biggest challenge for coverage will involve getting down to the field-level interview area in a timely fashion. The NFL is advising reporters to leave the press box with 7 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter for the walk down through stairs and multiple ramps. That walk could take 10 or 15 minutes. Those remaining in the press box for the full game probably won't be able to participate in postgame interviews.
I've got a clear view of the field from about the 5-yard line near the 49ers' end zone and along the 49ers' sideline. San Francisco is the home team, so its sideline is where the New Orleans Saints' sideline would normally be. I've got a clear view of five replay monitors. Those are often on a slight delay, allowing for the ability to watch plays live and then see them right away on the screens. That's a big help.
No players are warming up on the field yet. Louisiana-born music is playing over the loudspeakers. Clarence "Frogman" Henry's famous "Ain't got no home" is playing right now.