Harbaugh: 'We're the 49ers, we can do whatever we want'
Only one Super Bowl loser in the past two decades reached the conference final the following season. (USA TODAY IMAGES)
Jim Harbaugh can become the first head coach of the past two decades to lead his team back to the Super Bowl a year after losing it. (USA TODAY IMAGES)
Number slaves are the worst, because they believe so deeply in the numbers that they dismiss the unfathomable just because it hasn’t yet been fathomed.
Thus, the smart play is to see the 49ers miss the Super Bowl entirely this year, because no Super Bowl loser has reached the game the next year since the Buffalo Bills’ famed "four-poot" that ended 20 years ago.
San Diego, Pittsburgh and New England. Green Bay, Atlanta and Tennessee. The New York Giants (well, obviously not the Jets -- duh), Saint Louis and Oakland. Carolina, Philadelphia and Seattle. Chicago, New England and Arizona. Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and New England. And The Boys. More than that, only one of those -- the ’11 Patriots -- even reached their conference final, and eight of the 18 missed the next postseason entirely.
What this suggests is that, while there are any number of factors that can take down a random team, just as there are any number that can elevate a team, most Super Bowl teams are (a) good, (b) healthy, (c) turnover-free and (d) lucky.
And one other thing: Every Super Bowl loser thinks it was just unlucky the one time and that getting there is the natural prelude to winning there. And that’s only happened twice since ‘94, to the late-Elway Broncos and early-Brady Patriots.
Thus, the historically-bent smart money has been spent this summer trying to figure out ways that the 49ers can disappoint, and the answer to that is simple:
Injuries: The 49ers were a juggernaut in development until Justin Smith tore that triceps tendon and the time-space continuum of the 49er defense, making their march to the Super Bowl more of a nervous dance. It is the same everywhere, with every team –- lose a key or hard-to-replicate player, and it isn’t “next man up” as much as it is “look out below.”
Turnovers: Teams don’t win without the ball. The 49ers have been very careful, turning the ball over less than once per game in the Jim Harbaugh era (33 times in 37 games, +40 overall). As long as that remains constant, they should be fine. If not, well . . .
Gravity: As is seen below, times get hard for most Super Bowl-losing teams. This isn’t scientific or even particularly analytic, just what’s happened in the last two decades. As people like to say these days when they need to end a clumsy paragraph, your results may vary.
YEAR TEAM NEXT KNOCKOUT AFTER THAT
1994 San Diego (9-7) 1st round to Indy, missed next eight postseasons.
1995 Pittsburgh 10-6 2nd round to NE, missed 4 of next 7 playoffs
1996 New England 9-7 2nd round to PIT, missed 3 of next 4
1997 Green Bay 11-5 1st round to SF, then missed next two
1998 Atlanta 5-11 No playoffs, missed seven of next 10
1999 Tennessee 13-3 (same) 2nd rd to Baltimore, missed eight of next 12
2000 N.Y. Giants 7-9 No playoffs, missed 3 of next 4
2001 St. Louis 7-9 No playoffs, only two since
2002 Oakland 4-12 No playoffs, haven’t been back
2003 Carolina 7-9 No Playoffs, only two since
2004 Philadelphia 6-10 No playoffs, in and out since
2005 Seattle 9-7 2nd rd to CHI, then missed three of next four
2006 Chicago 7-9 No playoffs, one of six since
2007 New England 11-5 No playoffs Spygate, et. al.
2008 Arizona 10-6 2nd rd to NO, haven’t been since
2009 Indianapolis 10-6 1st rd to NYJ, only missed once since
2010 Pittsburgh 12-4 1st rd to DEN, then missed
2011 New England 12-4 CC to BAL, cut Tebow, fired Hernandez
And to continue their run of results? Well, they continue their run of results. Colin Kaepernick remains upright, Frank Gore squeezes more life out his legs, the secondary returns to its when-Smith-was-healthy standard, the tough early schedule doesn’t squelch them before they start, the read-option remains insoluble for most defensive coordinators, and finally and most importantly . . .
. . . history decides to be a liar for a change.