On the first play of Sunday’s NFC title game in the Emerald City, San Francisco outside linebacker Aldon Smith sacked Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson, forcing a fumble, which he recovered to put the 49ers in perfect position to record the equivalent of a first-round knock-down in boxing.
While the knock-down might not win the prize fight at that moment, it both sent a message of watch out, and set the attitude and tone of the match that it’s just a matter of time before they eventually win.
Unfortunately, San Francisco wasted the perfect chance for a gridiron knock-down of the Seahawks, and their loud fans, by, again, not scoring a touchdown and settling for a field goal.
The 49ers’ first play after Smith’s big-time forced turnover and fumble recovery should have been a quarterback Colin Kaepernick pass into the end zone, followed by more aggressive passes in the end zone, or an early scramble by Kaepernick – whatever the means, go for and get that quick touchdown,
But, by not being the quick aggressors and taking a key advantage in the championship playoff game, which decides the NFC representative in the Super Bowl, the Niners didn’t seize the early offensive momentum and go on to build a 14-0 lead, which looks more daunting than a 10-0 advantage, with the difference of those extra four points proving costly in the end.
When both teams have the two best defenses in the NFL, this game was going to be won by who makes the most plays on offense. With Marshawn Lynch-running-led Seattle not really built offensively as a comeback team, though they did pull off its share of comebacks during the season, the 49ers needed to build up as big an early lead as possible.
But San Francisco couldn’t distance itself from the Seahawks enough by the half, and then, with the advantage of receiving the second-half kickoff, it couldn’t muster enough yardage to put points on the board on both of its first two possessions of the third quarter, which can be blamed, again, on conservative play calling.
Then, there’s the question of, again, poor officiating coming into play, with a few crucial, and glaring, bad calls by the officials, who had trouble making quick decisions, even though that’s their job. The bad decisions cost the Niners points and enabled Seattle to grab the momentum, and, eventually, the title win and trip to the Super Bowl.
I’m not being a sore loser by using the officiating as the main reason the 49ers lost, but I’m not the only one who agrees with the fact that two missed calls – on the punt and the fumble recovery by super inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman, who was nastily injured on the play – showed a lack of knowing the rules and directly affected the outcome.
In fact Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman said as much in the announcers booth, as did the NFL’s officiating authority who reviewed the calls.
Still, in the end, we can complain about the poor officiating, but the 49ers came up short on calling and making enough big plays to join Denver in the wintry New York-New Jersey-based Super Bowl.