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Jim Harbaugh’s Flaw in 2009 repeats in 2013 Super Bowl.

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Thank you David Lombardi for pointing out Jim Harbaugh's reluctance to give Frank Gore the ball on the final drives:

Toby Gerhart's final touch in 2009's Big Game resembled a bowling ball obliterating teetering pins, a 29-yard haul that put Stanford on the verge of stealing a massive contest late.

    Frank Gore's last carry in Sunday's Super Bowl XLVII turned into a rumbling 33-yard dash that put his 49ers team on the brink of the title-winning touchdown.

    The parallels are uncanny: In both situations, head coach Jim Harbaugh never turned to his stud running back again, suddenly shunning his team's massive physical advantage and relying instead on a first-year starting quarterback to daintily finish the job. In 2009, it was clear that Cal would not have stopped Gerhart, but redshirt freshman Andrew Luck threw two horribly designed passes -- one of which was picked off to seal the game -- instead. Golden Bears 34, Cardinal 28.

    History repeated itself in 2013 on a bigger stage. After a slow start, the 49ers were gashing the Ravens to the tune of eight yards per carry in the second half. Defensive bedrock Haloti Ngata, Baltimore's primary run stopper, was out with injury. Yet, after Gore's dominant run had fully exposed the Ravens' defense, Harbaugh never gave No. 21 the ball again. Instead, he took Colin Kaepernick -- making only his tenth career start -- out of his element, dialing up three consecutive low-percentage passing plays that removed San Francisco's biggest strengths from the equation. Ravens 34, 49ers 29: another otherwise spectacular drive left incomplete. 

    Jim Harbaugh has resurrected Stanford and San Francisco in remarkable fashion. His entire body of work at both Bay Area sites has been spectacular, but an identical flaw has now reared its ugly head at both stops. In the biggest situations, with rivalry games and world championships on the line, Harbaugh's teams have abandoned the ingenuously creative power run at its highest point of success and replaced it with a fearful, sputtering passing plan at crunch time. Perhaps Harbaugh, a former NFL passer, experienced urges to live vicariously through his quarterbacks in both spots. Or perhaps offensive coordinator Greg Roman, at the helm of both the 2009 and 2013 meltdowns, saw his playcalling suggestions tighten up in both nerve-wracking situations.

    Whatever the reason, Harbaugh is the man with the final call as head coach, and he must learn an important adage moving forward to take the next step as a great coach: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Sunday's final sequence demanded continued creativity, an intelligent mix of run and pass (or the magic option) that could have capitalized on San Francisco's staggering amount of strengths, and not on a suddenly stale passing plan that instead summoned the team's one weakness. This much is certain: Gore's last touch shouldn't have been his 33-yard carry.

    The silver lining: the year after the 2009 Cal debacle, Harbaugh’s 2010 Stanford squad was the greatest in school history, going on a 12-1 tear capped by a 40-12 Orange Bowl triumph. A similar 2013 49ers response would put San Francisco in excellent position to return to the Super Bowl.

Very stressful, emotional situations led to the same bad call twice.

This is why experience is so important in football. It helps us learn from mistakes.

Next year Jim Harbaugh will be calmer and wiser, and the 49ers will be more experienced in drives that require poise and creative employment of the power run.

he was also a QB

Which means that when he's stressed he thinks he can throw his way to victory.

He should not have pulled Kaepernick's run option. Next time he'll know better.


I think so. The run game was working -- Frank Gore was doing great -- and Jim Harbaugh will become more comfortable trusting the run going forward.

I just read this great analysis: "When the architects of the 49ers offense finish reviewing and critiquing their postseason performance, they will wonder what got into their headsets during Super Bowl XLVII."

Super Bowl 2013 Poole: Jim Harbaugh, Greg Roman saved worst for last - San Jose Mercury News

Monte Poole of the Merc writes:

"That last drive, when we had time to go down and score a touchdown, we thought it was our game," Kaepernick said.

Of course he did. The 49ers were 7 yards from the goal line, with four chances to cross it. On the biggest stage in sports, with a chance to establish themselves as trendsetters and their unit as the most versatile in the league, the formidable football minds of Harbaugh and Roman were afflicted with system failure.

They could have tried veteran running back Frank Gore, who had gained 110 yards, was getting better as the game wore on (81 yards on eight carries after halftime) and would have to be the sentimental choice to punctuate such a stirring comeback.

Nope. Not once.

They could have floated a fade route to fading wideout Randy Moss, who at 6-foot-4 remains a towering specimen able to leap and reach passes most others can't.

Nope. Not once.

Most stunning of all, though, was the curious handing of Kaepernick. His terrific speed and impressive arm create a conundrum for defenses. Do they spy him? Try to pinch him to keep him in the pocket? Sit back in a conservative zone? Send the house and hope?

Might the Ravens defense, which was gasping and reeling and bending on that final drive, have broken if faced with a read-option play featuring Kap and Gore?

Never came. Kap was busy dropping and throwing. Doing what Alex could have done.

Roman and Harbaugh apparently planned to turn to the read-option on the fourth-down pass that sailed over the head of wideout Michael Crabtree. Seeing a blitz coming and "man" pass defense, Kaepernick audibled out of the plan and couldn't connect with Crab, who was wrestling with cornerback Jimmy Smith in coverage.

San Francisco's last hope stalled at the money window. The offense gained 2 yards -- on first down, LaMichael James coming off the bench -- on four plays, giving the ball back to Baltimore, effectively ending the game.

To reiterate, the 49ers ran once, for 2 yards, and threw three times to Crabtree in vain.

Tackle Joe Staley said he wanted to keep running. Veteran safety Donte Whitner, watching from the sideline, said he was "a little surprised" by the late play-calling.

Gore took it a step further.

"We could've ran on them all day," he said. "We called plays that we thought were good, and things didn't happen."


Read more:

Other analysis points to other mistakes. Mismanagement of timeouts, for one.

A secondary pass defense that went from best in regular season to worst in playoffs, for two.

49ers Pass Defense Collapsed In The Playoffs - Business Insider

More on that:

There was a 99% chance the Ravens would win when the score was 28-6.

However, by the 2-minute warning the 49ers were favored to win:

Ravens, 49ers Super Bowl Win Probability Chart - Business Insider

Heck of a game.  The problem was the 2nd down play.  Once that pass went incomplete, the distance favored passing.  But there's now way the 49ers couldn't have gotten 7 yards on the ground in 4 downs.

Chris, that's the essence of why this was such a heartbreaker.

The power running game was working for them. It got them there.

So why, suddenly, were they second guessing it?

Switch it up: Gore, James, Kaepernick, the Pistol formation... 4 runs makes so much sense.

But it was a highly stressful, highly emotional situation, and when that happens, a person returns to their basic instincts. And Jim Harbaugh's basic instincts were to throw. If it had worked, no one would be second guessing him like we are now.

Still, it's tough to be left with the feeling that the 49ers were one good play away from winning the Super Bowl. That kind of thing stays with a person forever.

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