SAN FRANCISCO -- Numbers fight with sentiment all the time, and in a game as rigorously regulated as football, the two wage an uneven war.
Put another way, the 49ers 20-17 overtime loss to the New York Giants in the NFC Championship Game will be remembered as Kyle Williams cross to bear. But in the grander scheme, this will be the game in which the 49er Way was more hindrance than help, and the Giants got what they deserved more than the 49ers did.
The trip to Indianapolis to bask in the aura of Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI.
The 49ers tried to cheat the reaper with Alex Smith-to-Vernon Davis on offense, and pressure on Eli Manning on defense. And ultimately that wasnt enough, because not enough other players who rose so high against New Orleans the week before were sufficiently in evidence Sunday against the Giants.
Smith was short on miracles and long on failed third downs -- 12 of 13, to be exact, with the only conversion coming on the last play of regulation, a third-and-eight that was in essence a third and goal from the 49er 38.
The defense caused no turnovers, only the third time all year that happened (at Detroit in Week 6, and at Baltimore on Thanksgiving Day).
RATTO: Williams earns cruel place in 49ers lore
And when they needed the big play most, they had already used it twice -- a 73-yard touchdown pass to Davis, and a 28-yarder to Davis in the third quarter. No other touchdowns from anyone, and only two first downs of their own making in the games final 28 minutes.
It was reductive football at its most debilitating, at the worst possible time. And as a result, the Giants did get what they deserved, more than the 49ers did.
The killing blow, the strip of Williams by the Giants Jacquian Williams (and recovery by Devin Thomas), was not bound to happen. It was a football play, like so many others. Kyle Williams will eat that one because thats the way its played.
But the 49ers worst tendencies -- the long stretches where the ball could not be moved and the absence of their best virtue -- taking the ball from the other guy meshed into the anti-Saints game. It was a game where the other guy gets his credit through clenched teeth, the rehash takes a few days of pain, and then the resolve of the new year begins.
Along the way, there will be thoughts of what could have been, how deliciously the merging of the 49ers first and sixth Super Bowl appearances would have seemed to those who lived through them both. Defying the trends of historical badness, turning six wins into 15, Walsh v. Harbaugh -- notebooks would ooze with parallels, both real and forced.
But the one wrench in the spanner was the one that happened Sunday. The Giants played better, and more often, and they found more people to make big events happen. Character was not revealed or exposed Sunday -- it was just the vagaries of football played between two teams that if pitted against each other 20 times would have gone 10-10, 11-9 at the outside.
Sunday was New Yorks day, and if the reward -- a Super Bowl -- seems bigger than the size of their victory Sunday, it only seems that way to 49er fans. San Francisco had its shots and couldnt do enough with them. They couldnt make 7-0 turn into 14-0, or 14-10 into 24-10. They couldnt the Giants outside arms length, and they couldnt make the succumb.
Its football, face-first and cruel on cruel. But the result was football fairness. The better team won, on a day when better was defined in the final analysis by a blown punt return by a player who is about to find out just how heavy a weight can be when it must be carried for months on end.
The truth, though? The Giants got what they deserved more than the 49ers did. And if youre not too fixated on making this Kyle Williams fault, you will see that this is exactly the way the end of an effervescent season should be explained. Just desserts, all around.
Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com.