Trailing 34-29 with 4:19 to play in the Super Bowl, San Francisco mounted a drive that could have changed the tune of every piece of post-Super Bowl media coverage you’ve consumed in the day after.
Starting at their own 20, the 49ers handed the ball to Frank Gore for eight yards. Then Colin Kaepernick scrambled for eight more. After an incomplete pass, Kaepernick found Michael Crabtree for 24 yards. On the next snap, Gore barrelled down the left sideline for 33 yards.
In five plays, San Francisco had moved the ball 73 yards, and the Baltimore coaching staff had a huge problem on its hands.
In his always-excellent Monday Morning Quarterback column, Peter King relayed the story of Sports Illustrated reporter Matt Gagne’s conversation with Ravens’ defensive quality control assistant Matt Weiss about Baltimore’s plan to keep San Francisco from registering a potentially Super Bowl-clinching touchdown.
After a two-yard run by LaMichael James on first down, Baltimore wanted to get San Francisco out of its comfort zone as it faced a second-and-goal from the five-yard line.
“During the two-minute warning, John Harbaugh asked for zero blitz, telling defensive coordinator Dan Pees through the headset, ‘I do not want them to run the ball right here.’ Pees had already called for a base defense, zone coverage, but Harbaugh had him rethinking the plan,” King wrote.
“‘At the last minute he was going to change his call to zero blitz,’ Matt Weiss, the Ravens defensive quality control coach who was listening in on the conversation, told Gagne on Baltimore’s second down strategy. ‘But he didn’t, and that turned out to be a great call. Dean almost got talked out of his instinct, which would have been bad for us. If we’re in zero blitz there, there’s a good chance they score a touchdown.'”
As King writes, Kaepernick took the snap and immediately veered to his right to avoid a blitz that never came. Instead, he fired an unsuccessful pass to a well-covered Crabtree.
The next two plays ended in similar fashion, incomplete passes to Crabtree, with Baltimore back in its zero blitz look on fourth down. After gashing the Ravens for 62 yards and a touchdown, Kaepernick’s legs were taken out of the equation when it mattered the most by Baltimore’s staff (and some questionable pre-snap clock management by the 49ers).
As a result, everything you’ve read and watched since has had a purple-and-black tint to it.