Harbaugh Bowl: The San Francisco 49ers Imploded on Their Final Four Offensive Plays
The San Francisco 49ers nearly completed a historic comeback in Super Bowl XXLVII. After being down 28-6 at the time of the now infamous blackout inside the Superdome, the 49ers came back and found themselves within a two-point conversion of tying the game in the fourth quarter. They missed that two-point attempt, but got back down the field on their next possession and found themselves with first and goal at the Baltimore Ravens‘ seven yard-line. These would be their final four offensive plays of the game.
On first & goal, LaMichael James ran for two yards. Second down was an incomplete pass to Michael Crabtree near the end-zone. Third down was first interrupted by a timeout from the 49ers and then ended up as another pass near the end-zone to Crabtree, but that was broken up thanks to a big hit from Ravens’ defender Jimmy Smith. And fourth and goal was a pass from Colin Kaepernick intended for Crabtree that landed out-of-bounds after plenty of contact between Crabtree and Smith.
The thing that stands out about these final four plays is no use of the read-option from the 49ers despite the fact that it had begun to really work for Kaepernick and the 49ers in the second half, most recently on their previous drive when Kaepernick ran for a 15-yard touchdown run. Though third & goal looked like it was going to be some kind of run from Kaepernick before the timeout was called. Even though the play was interrupted, why not go back to some kind of a run? It’s not like the fact that the 49ers are running the ball gives anything away, so the risk wasn’t any greater than it was the first time they tried to run a play on third & goal. Considering Kaepernick ran for 62 yards (2 short of the Super Bowl record by a quarterback) and had been gaining basically all of those yards in the second half, it was a disastrous mistake not to have Kaepernick run the ball once on these final four plays.
Now to the fourth down play that everyone is talking about and Jim Harbaugh is absolutely certain there should have been a holding call on Smith. Both men made plenty of contact with each other, though it did appear that Smith may have had a hold of Crabtree’s jersey at one point during the play. The bigger question to me is whether or not the ball was even catchable on the play. If Crabtree hadn’t had to deal with Smith the way he did on the play, I have no doubt that Crabtree would’ve been able to jump in the air for the ball. However, I don’t believe that Crabtree would have been able to get both feet in after pulling in the pass; he might have been able to get one foot in, but I don’t see him getting both feet in.
And there you go. Sure, you can blame the refs if you want to, but I have to respect not making the call in this situation. A referee in a championship situation does not want to potentially hand one team the title on a questionable call. It was questionable not to make the call on fourth & goal, but it would have been just as questionable to make the call because it’s not definitive whether or not Crabtree could have even made the catch.
The fourth down play will be analyzed for years to come because of how close to the end of the game it was. The sad part is that all four of the 49ers’ plays inside the Ravens’ 10 should be analyzed because it was here that the 49ers finally hit the wall that they appeared to be right about to hit before the blackout occurred.