49ers muff Super opportunity in OT loss

January 23, 2012, 5:32 am
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SAN FRANCISCO -- Kyle Williams' teammates spent the aftermath of the 49ers' heartbreaking, season-ending loss fixating on the many other things that went wrong on Sunday.Williams had the misplays that will long be remembered as the reasons for the 49ers' excruciating 20-17 overtime loss to the New York Giants in the NFC Championship Game.Even without Williams' two turnovers on punt returns -- the only two turnovers of the game -- it was far from a perfect performance, as 49ers players on both sides of the ball were quick to point out."It's not the end of the world," 49ers safety Donte Whitner said. "It only feels like it."RATTO: 49ers failed to cheat the reaper
The 49ers' remarkable season ended on a damp day in front of a sold-out and rambunctious crowd at Candlestick Park. And it ended one game away from a trip to Super Bowl XLVI.Lawrence Tynes kicked a 31-yard field goal with 7:06 remaining in the first overtime to provide the winning points for the Giants, who advance to play the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI on Feb. 5 in Indianapolis.Tynes' kick came after Williams' second fumble of the game gave the Giants the ball at the 49ers' 24-yard line. Linebacker Jacquian Williams reached in with his right hand to strip Kyle Williams, who was holding the ball in his right arm.49ers' Williams: 'It's just one of those things ... football happens.'
"It was just one of those situations where I caught the ball, tried to head up-field, tried to make a play, and it ended up for the worse," a distraught Williams said.Devin Thomas recovered the loose ball, and a stunned 49ers' crowd fell silent. The end of the season was only five plays away after running back Ahmad Bradshaw run plays gained 8, 6 and 4 yards. Quarterback Eli Manning centered the ball between the hashmarks with a 2-yard loss before Tynes came on."We all have things wish could've been different -- wish we could've done better," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said.Williams' first mistake gave the Giants an opportunity to take the lead in the fourth quarter. He got too close to a bouncing punt with the 49ers protecting a 14-10 lead. Giants coach Tom Coughlin challenged the no-call on the field, believing the ball touched Williams.Referee Ed Hochuli ruled the ball grazed Williams, and the Giants took possession because Thomas immediately recovered it. Six plays later, Manning hit Mario Manningham with a 17-yard touchdown against the coverage of second-year player Tramaine Brock.RATTO: Fair or not, Williams cast as 49ers villain
Brock was in the game after starting cornerback Tarell Brown was knocked out by teammate Dashon Goldson late in the third quarter as both were going for a possible interception. That pass fell incomplete, and the 49ers forced no turnovers in a game for only the third time in 18 games this season."He'll make you pay when you lose the turnover differential," 49ers defensive lineman Justin Smith said of Manning. "And it's like that every week. That's how we won a lot of games, and it's how we lost."The 49ers' saw their one chance for a game-changing turnover disappear with 2:29 remaining in regulation at the Giants' 21-yard line.Brock made a stop on Bradshaw and linebacker NaVorro Bowman appeared to strip him of the ball. But head linesman Mark Hittner ruled Bradshaw's forward progress had been stopped and there was no fumble. That ruling meant that the play was not subject to review."It looked like a fumble," Harbaugh said. "Every play that happened in the game except that one was played out to the conclusion of the play."With the exception of quarterback Alex Smith's two touchdown passes to tight end Vernon Davis, the 49ers' offense did very little right throughout the game.Trailing 17-14 in the fourth quarter, the 49ers had a first down at the Giants' 15-yard line with 7 minutes to play. The 49ers settled for David Akers' 25-yard field goal to tie the game.Then, the 49ers had four other possessions, including one in overtime, in which they could have won the game. The offense went nowhere. And the 49ers converted just 1 of 13 third-down opportunities in the game."We were awful on third down," Smith said. "We didn't help out our defense enough. A lot of three and outs."For me, I'm looking at -- what did we go? -- one of 13 on third down. I know obviously he (Williams) will be thinking about those two punts for quite a while. But we didn't lose the game there. We lost the game across the board. Offensively, we weren't good enough. We didn't get it done."The 49ers were playing without receiver and return man Ted Ginn, who missed the game with a right knee injury. His absence was critical on special teams and on offense. Without a deep threat, the 49ers were unable to get anything going with their outside receivers.Smith completed just 12 of 26 passes for 196 yards. He threw touchdown passes to Davis that covered 73 and 28 yards. But wide receiver Michael Crabtree caught one pass for 3 yards. No other 49ers wideout had a reception."The defense played great. Great defense. They were great," Crabtree said. "Sometimes you got to move the ball and make plays -- give people chance to make plays."Crabtree was targeted on five passes throughout the game, and he believed there should've been more passes come his way."I'm a receiver. I'm always going to think I'm open, even when there's somebody on me. Like I said, just give me a chance."When asked what the 49ers could have done better on third down, Crabtree said there's no reason to always get to third down."Do better on second down and limit the third downs," he said. "It doesn't always have to come down to third down."The game brought an abrupt end to a 49ers season that began with low expectations. The 49ers had a new coaching staff and no offseason program to implement their systems because of the lockout.But the 49ers were one of the remarkable stories of the NFL season, as Harbaugh's team won the NFC West for the first time since the 2002 season and earned the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs.The 49ers advanced past the divisional round with a memorable 36-32 victory over the New Orleans Saints. And nobody was ready for it to end quite like this."Proud of our players, the way they played, worked and competed," Harbaugh said. "It wasn't there for us today. In a lot of ways, we played well enough to win, and we don't come away with it. It's a tough one. It might take a while to get over it. But we'll get over it."