San Francisco, CA - It was a terrible ending to a great season. But if you look at the past three years, the Forty-Niners have done a remarkable job of making it to the NFC Championship and Super Bowl for three consecutive years despite not winning.
In their quest for a sixth championship, San Francisco had to face the number one defense in the NFL and this time, the Seattle Seahawks dismantled an offense led by Colin Kaepernick. The Seahawks forced the young quarterback to make three crucial turnovers that proved costly in the fourth quarter.
"I didn't play good enough to win, Kaepernick said. "I turned the ball over three times. I cost us the game. I could've put it in a little deeper in the corner and gave only [Michael] Crabtree a chance."
That one critical play came with 30 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Down six and inside Seattle's 30-yard line Kaepernick threw to Crabtree in the back of the end zone. The ball was tipped by Richard Sherman and it fell into the hands of Malcolm Smith. The Seahawks clinched and head to the Super Bowl to face the Denver Broncos.
As for the 49ers, they head into the offseason. Not a familiar place for a team that lost to the Baltimore Ravens last year in the Super Bowl. They wanted badly to return but this time the opportunity slipped away. So, while they pack up their lockers and seek to return bigger and better, San Francisco will look forward to starting their new season in Levi's Stadium.
"Just glad we had the opportunity to fight as long as we did," said Anthony Dixon. "We'll get better in the offseason. We need to work on everything, we weren't the best so we need to work on the passing game some more."
"We have no reason to hang our heads," Ahmad Brooks said. "We've experienced a lot this year and it is what it is. We lost to the better team and they won."
Navarro Bowman who has had one of his best years in the NFL went down with a knee injury and was carted off the field in the 49ers loss to Seattle. It has been determined that Bowman tore his ACL and MCL. The MCL will heal on its own but surgery is expected to repair the ACL and Bowman is expected to be ready for the start of the 2014 season.
"He sacrificed his body for this team. He's our leader. Arguably the best player we have," said Eric Reid. "To see him go down, it hurts. I'll be praying for him and wish him a speedy recovery.
In the meantime, San Francisco has some work to do in making sure their journey continues next year putting them back in the Super Bowl. If the team is able to bring everyone back despite the free agency of some players. One thing that needs improvement is the offense passing game.
Kaepernick didn't have his best individual performance this year, he failed twice in two years failing to make passes in the final minutes both last year in the Super Bowl and in this years loss in the NFC Championship game. While we know he can run the ball well, his timing on passes and decision making must improve drastically.
"I don't think we can keep getting to this spot and just keep losing," Vernon Davis said. "It's not fun, It's not good. It just sucks. It's tough.
A mix of emotions from players, some sad, optimistic and anxious. While packing up their belongings players gave hand shakes, hugs and exchanged signed jerseys. Head coach Jim Harbaugh held a 11am exit meeting on Monday addressing the teams contributions were much appreciated and to enjoy the offseason.
"He thanked us for an amazing year," said Tarell Brown. "We had a heck of a run, put up an amazing fight but fell short. He said he'll fight to keep this group together, and I think he will, but it's hard with the salary cap."
Brown is among about ten veterans who'll become free agents along with Mike Lupati and Bowman who both struggled walking with crutches in the locker room. Wideout Anquan Boldin, Safety Donte Whitner, and Kicker Phil Dawson are to name a few of the looming list of free agents. But that's not the main focus for next season, winning a Super Bowl is.
"Here we're playing for championships, each and every year," Whitner said. "The majority of guys will be back next year, and you have a couple pieces that you need to bring back and then try to make another championship run. So that's what we're looking forward to."