Here are the deeper notes from the 49ers 23-17 NFC Championship game loss to the Seattle Seahawks upon further film review:
-First of all, the final interception by Malcolm Smith was a pre-made decision as Jim Harbaugh said on Tuesday. The 49ers wanted to draw attention towards the left with Vernon Davis, Quinton Patton and Anquan Boldin as distractions. Patton was open as the check down receiver, but would've only gained seven yards at the most. Davis was also open for a short gain after he just caught a reception to bring the 49ers on the 18.
Boldin was relatively open if Kaepernick wanted to throw a lob pass his way with Byron Maxwell in coverage. However, the Seahawks would have had safety help on the left side and it wouldn't be a guaranteed touchdown. Kendall Hunter was also open in the middle of the field for a dump off, but the running back would only get six yards at the most. Had this play not been a pre-snap decision, Vernon Davis would've been the best choice to make as the 49ers could have chipped away slowly before going to the end zone.
Jim Harbaugh was set on the one-on-one battle between Michael Crabtree and Richard Sherman saying it was the matchup he would take. His argument is valid that a higher throw would have resulted in a touchdown, but it's still a near impossible play to execute. Harbaugh wanted to go bold with his quarterback and lost. It's been a large contrast between how Alex Smith would check down more while Kaepernick takes the risks.
-Speaking of bold throws, Colin Kaepernick's touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin was also a gamble which happened to work. It was just high enough to go over Earl Thomas' hands as Boldin came down with the ball. It's where the good comes with the bad on making the big throw.
-In an awkward move on the final offensive position, Greg Roman called for a trick play with LaMichael James having the option to run or throw. He paused to look if any receivers were open, but Seattle snuffed the play out and James was forced to only get a minimal gain. While trickery isn't a bad idea late, the Seahawks were ready for anything defensively from that specific play. James was only on the field for two offensive snaps including the fourth quarter play.
-Vance McDonald was a disappointing blocker again as he wasn't able to do his part when making room for Frank Gore. On the other hand, Seahawks TE Luke Willson was also used as an occasional FB to block but created space for Marshawn Lynch. Willson was taken three rounds later than McDonald in the 2013 NFL Draft and both players were teammates at Rice. It's been a disappointing season for the backup tight end as he wasn't a huge secondary target nor an adequate blocker in his rookie season.
-The 49ers offensive line has been viewed as one of the best in the NFL, but on Sunday, the pass protection wasn't the greatest after what appeared to be a strong first half. Anthony Davis and Joe Staley struggled in particular as Kaepernick scrambled away from any pass rushers. If it weren't for the quarterback's awareness, Seattle would've had more sacks in the game.
-Defensively the 49ers were great, but the little mistakes added up to the scoreboard with two that stand out. The first one being the 51-yard pass to Doug Baldwin after Russell Wilson scrambled for almost eight whole seconds. This was one of the rare times Donte Whitner and Eric Reid let a receiver get past them for a big play. Whitner was caught up looking at Wilson in the event he started to take off, which let Baldwin sneak by on a broken play.
-The second mistake was on fourth and seven, but the play before that was too soft on third and 22 after Wilson was called for grounding. Seattle was set to throw a deep ball no matter what, but Aldon Smith jumping offsides had the defensive line become casual on the play and gave the Seahawks quarterback an easy decision. With Smith being laid back, there was no pressure on Wilson.
Carlos Rogers was playing man defense on Kearse and mistimed the jump to knock away the pass. It was a tough play to defend as Wilson threw it in a tight window, but for a player who could be a cap casualty this offseason, it isn't looking good. Rogers has an $8 million cap hit in 2014 if they keep him.
-In what was the final play of the season in an interception, it's fitting to the 49ers season in two specific losses. The 49ers couldn't win the division as Seattle finished one game behind them in the NFC West Standings. Seattle was able to beat the Panthers and Saints while San Francisco lost to them in close fashion.
In both games, the 49ers were not able to finish them from a dropped pass by Frank Gore against New Orleans to Vance McDonald unable to out-muscle Luke Kuechly in holding onto a deep pass. Sometimes it's a game of inches, as Seattle was able to win several close games this year. Unfortunately, the interception could've been a higher throw or better decision to give them a win. The last three 49ers losses in the 2013 season were by 10 points combined. There are several things this team has done right, but a few little mistakes have been crucial and they will need to be ready for next year.