NEW ORLEANS – Colin Kaepernick got tripped up and tossed down, then still nearly led the greatest Super Bowl comeback in his 10th career NFL start.
Rarely rattled on an impressive path to the Super Bowl, San Francisco’s second-year quarterback finally showed some inexperience on football’s big stage. Not to mention some guts.
After a remarkable postseason run – with those speedy legs – by the tattooed play-caller, the Baltimore Ravens exposed plenty of flaws in handing Kaepernick and Co. a 34-31 loss Sunday despite San Francisco’s second-half rally.
“We were ready for the second half,” Kaepernick said. “We knew we had to score to get back in the game. We had good plays, we had bad plays in the red zone.”
No team has come from more than 10 points behind to win a Super Bowl, and Kaepernick had a chance to make it happen less than three months after becoming San Francisco’s starter.
He regrouped during a 34-minute delay early in the third quarter because of a power outage, finding his groove and turning the Super Bowl into a wild game down the stretch. In doing so, Kaepernick gave even more credibility to the Pistol offense designed by his former UNR coach that is so well suited for the NFL’s young, mobile quarterbacks.
“Colin was cool the entire game,” left tackle Joe Staley said. “Colin was the same he’s been the whole entire season. He’s never shown any hints of being rattled, any hint of being uncomfortable on the football field, and he showed that exact kind of character today.”
Kaepernick directed four second-half scoring drives, throwing a 31-yard touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree and also running 15 yards for a TD. But the 49ers missed the two-point conversion that would have tied the game with less than 10 minutes left.
Crabtree didn’t get much help in a mistake-filled first half by San Francisco, which failed to stop Joe Flacco and deliver the franchise’s sixth championship that would have tied the Pittsburgh Steelers for most ever.
The 49ers’ perfect Super Bowl record? That’s over, too.
Playing for a title for the first time since Hall of Famers Steve Young and Jerry Rice won with a rout of San Diego 18 years ago, coach Jim Harbaugh’s 49ers made costly mistakes on both sides of the ball early. And special teams, too.
Yet Kaepernick did a little bit of everything in San Francisco’s final drive, when the 49ers got the ball back at their 20 with 4:19 left and trailing 34-29. He ran for 8 yards, hit Crabtree on a 24-yard gain and handed off to Frank Gore for a 33-yard run to the Baltimore 7.
But with three chances from the 5, Kaepernick threw three straight incompletions while targeting Crabtree, who got tangled with Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith on the final play. No holding was called, though Harbaugh screamed from the sideline and signaled for a penalty.
Kaepernick’s off-balance throw under pressure on fourth down sailed through the end zone. He lowered his head slightly and walked slowly off the field.
“That wasn’t the original option,” he said. “It’s something I audibled to at the line based on the look they gave us.”
Kaepernick wound up 16-for-28 for 302 yards with three sacks and an interception for a 91.7 passer rating in his Super Bowl debut. The interception was the first by the 49ers in six Super Bowls and ended a streak at 169 passes without one.
Kaepernick also rushed for 62 yards, joining Joe Montana as the only quarterbacks to pass for 300 yards and run for 50 in a Super Bowl. Kaepernick recorded the fourth 300-yard passing performance by the 49ers in the Super Bowl; Montana had two and Young one.
The 25-year-old completed 8 of 13 first-half passes, was sacked twice and threw an interception as San Francisco fell behind 21-6.
In the NFC Championship Game at Atlanta on Jan. 20, such a deficit was no problem. Kaepernick rallied the 49ers back from 17-0, while the defense delivered by holding the Falcons scoreless in the second half to win 28-24.