Jim Harbaugh’s Play-Calling Lacked Creativity, Which Led to 49ers’ Late-Game Letdown

Jim HarbaughThe 49ers were nearly flawless throughout the second half of Super Bowl XLVII. But when push came to shove down near the goal line with the game on the line, they just couldn’t convert.

Colin Kaepernick played brilliantly throughout the second half, hitting receivers in stride consistently and using the pistol offense to both his and Frank Gore‘s advantage.  Under his guidance, the 49ers scored four times, including three touchdown drives, in the second half and looked primed to take the lead with less than two minutes to go. But an unsuccessful goal line series from inside the five-yard line ended the Niners’ hopes at Super Bowl glory.

Some may view the 49ers’ inability to score as a failure. Others might characterize it as a choke. Then again, maybe it was just superb defense by the Ravens that stopped San Francisco just short. In the end, no matter which way you twist it, the 49ers just weren’t able to get it done when it mattered most. And for that Jim Harbaugh deserves most of that blame.

Much of the 49ers’ offensive success in the second half was predicated off of the run. Frank Gore shredded the Ravens’ defense on the night, carrying the ball 19 times for 110 yards of which 67 yards came on their final two drives of the game. Gore had just finished off a 33-yard scamper down the sidelines to get the 49ers into scoring position, and it was he who took a handoff six yards into the end zone late in the third quarter.

Even more than just Gore, though, the 49ers also boast one of the, if not the, best running quarterbacks in football. Yet, with three plays to gain five yards and get into the end zone, Harbaugh called three consecutive pass plays.

So, why abandon your best asset in such a key moment of the game? There’s no real explanation.

Gore deserved a chance to pound through a Ravens defense that was playing sans Haloti Ngata. Kaepernick should have been given the chance to break it to the outside for the score, like he did just minutes earlier. Instead, Harbaugh viewed the passing game as their best chance to score, but even then his play calling was underwhelming.

Kaepernick to Crabtree was the 49ers best passing option on the season, and the pair had even displayed that chemistry time and again on Sunday.  But three consecutive passes to the receiver might have been a bit of overkill, and overly predictable.

Vernon Davis is a monster in the red area and worked his way open on the third down incompletion, but Kaepernick wasn’t even looking for him. Randy Moss, at 6-foot-4 and with a freakish 47-inch vertical, might be the best end zone target in NFL history. Yet when time came for a fade route to the back of the end zone, he was nowhere to be found — isn’t this why you signed him in the first place?

The play calling lacked creativity, the execution was non-existent and the 49ers just didn’t earn the victory. Harbaugh might not get all the blame for his team’s inability down near the goal line, but he deserves a hefty dose.

Have a question for Luke Hughes? Send it to him via Twitter at @LukeFHughes or send it here.

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