Harbaugh's gutsy decision all for naught after bad calls, late 49ers mistakes

John Froschauer/AP PhotoSan Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh walks off the field at the end of an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks

John Froschauer/AP PhotoSan Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh walks off the field at the end of an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks

Jim Harbaugh's decision to go for it on fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard-line, after the disappointment of the second-quarter touchdown reversal via replay in Sunday's NFC Championship Game spoke Richter-scale volumes louder than anything the vaunted 12th Man of the Seahawks did all day.

Sadly, it wasn't enough to negate the phenomenally shoddy work of the 13th Man throughout and Colin Kaepernick's fourth-quarter follies.

As you read this, the Seahawks are likely sizing the ring fingers of every man who worked the title game in vertical, black-and-white stripes, and someone is fitting Kaepernick for goat horns that fit over his Beats.

The confidence Harbaugh's call exuded in an offense that had come up empty so many times against the suffocating Seattle red-zone defense was exactly what every man on the roster needed, right when they needed it, and despite coming as early as it did in a game that more than lived up to its considerable hype, for a good long time it felt like the key to getting the 49ers back to the Super Bowl.

It's why players love playing for Harbaugh, and they made damn sure they didn't make him look foolish for scoffing at an easy field goal and what would have felt like a tenuous six-point lead.

Oh, but what the football gods give, they do seem to enjoy taking away, and when Mike Iupati suffered a game-ending injury on the play, a quiet sense of dread was ushering into the collective psyche of the Niners.

San Francisco's inability to do much on offense for the rest of the first half and early in the second illustrated just how important Iupati is to the 49ers' attack, but it was more than that. It erased the bulletproof swagger with which the Niners had been carrying themselves for weeks.

The Seahawks' first drive of the second half was a massive mental kidney shot, too, as Public Enemy No. 1, Marshawn Lynch, finally started to break free. When he eventually broke through to tie up the game 10-10 and bring the electric crowd right back into the equation, the contest started anew with about 25 minutes to play.

What an excruciating 25 minutes it was.

Loo, when Jonathan Goodwin temporarily saves your ass with a fumble recovery, you know you're in for a bumpy ride. And though Anquan Boldin belatedly announced his presence shortly thereafter with an oh-so-Anquan touchdown catch to reverse momentum, let's be honest, Niners fans.

Did that TD settle your nerves? Probably not. Doug Baldwin's ensuing kickoff return proved what everyone watching already knew: The Seahawks weren't going anywhere. You simply don't earn home-field advantage in the NFC, out of the fearsome NFC West, without being one hell of a complete team.

The same compliment, of course, can be paid to the team that entered the game on the heels of three consecutive big-balls road wins, and holding the 'Hawks to a field goal after Baldwin's return deep into Niners territory was elephantitis personified.

By then, though, the dispiriting pattern had been established. Back and forth, back and forth, an unfortunate call left, an unfortunate call right, bleeding cuticles all around.

Witness the incorrectly assessed penalty when Andy Lee's plant leg was clipped – roughing and an automatic first down by definition – that gave the 12th Man renewed throat yet again.

A minute later, silence again. Intentional grounding, Russell Wilson. Yet one play later, bedlam yet again. A mind-numbing breakdown by the Niners on fourth-and-seven. Touchdown. Then another forehead slapper. Holding on the kickoff return, negating LaMichael James' first significant contribution in what seemed like forever.

Now it was getting ugly, and it was then that Kaepernick, so otherworldly to that point, started to crack.

First a delay-of-game penalty on third-and-one. Then the killer fumble. And then, to steal from an epic scene in “Dude, Where's My Car” … and then, and then, and then!

Never mind the refs blew yet another call by not giving NaVorro Bowman the fumble he so richly deserved. That was secondary to losing Bowman, the heart and soul of the best defense in football, to a gruesome injury.

That defense gamely came through one more time after Seattle's first interception, holding the 'Hawks to three to give the Kaepernick one more shot at redemption, but all it really did was make the end harder to swallow than Richard Sherman's postgame petulance.

After the teaser of a sustained drive that made a storybook 49ers finish possible came the tipped pick in the end zone that capped Kap's nightmare quarter with a cruelty only the football gods can conjure.

The pain wasn't intensified by Sherman's angry celebration. That was nothing more than laughable; way to embrace the joy of the moment, tough guy.

In truth, the pain couldn't be more intense for 49ers fans, for Kaepernick, or for Harbaugh, whose ballsy early call could have been the big story.

Now the story is a series of weak calls by the 13th man, but even more so, it's about Kaepernick crumbling.

Jim HarbaughMychael UrbanSan Francisco 49ersSeattle Seahawks

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