NEW ORLEANS -- When the architects of the 49ers' offence finish reviewing and critiquing their post-season performance, they will wonder what got into their headsets during Super Bowl XLVII.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh and offensive co-ordinator Greg Roman were masterful and creative in their divisional win over Green Bay, resilient and deceptive in their comeback victory over Atlanta in the conference championship game.
Harbaugh and Roman tripped over their playbook in the 34-31 Super Bowl loss to Baltimore.
Maybe they were blinded by the sheer volume of brilliant possibilities available with Colin Kaepernick, as unique a quarterback as there is in the NFL.
Harbaugh and Roman installed Kap as the starter because his multiple skills force defences to react to every member of the offence. His presence provides an advantage the unit lacked under Alex Smith.
What happened to common-sense ingenuity?
There were throughout the game several puzzling play calls and a few outright gaffes -- most notably on the potentially winning drive late in the fourth quarter.
"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 seven 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. He 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 6-4 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 handling of Kaepernick. Kap was busy dropping and throwing. Doing what Alex could have done.
San Francisco's last hope stalled at the money window. The offence gained two 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 two yards, and threw three times to receiver Michael 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."
Asked why Gore never got the ball, Harbaugh delivered a three-second stare and a terse response.
"We had other plays called," the coach said.
With the end zone close enough to touch and the Lombardi Trophy on the line, Roman and, by extension, Harbaugh got throw happy.
"Five yards short," Staley said. "All the work we did in the offseason, the whole entire season, everything comes down to five yards. And we weren't able to get it."
No doubt Roman and Harbaugh have regrets. That's typical among coaching staffs that lose the Super Bowl, especially when they come so close to winning it.
No doubt, either, that these two saved some of their worst and weirdest for last.
They have a few months to question their strategy, examine their identity and evaluate their personnel -- plenty of time to figure out why they blinked in the final minutes of the biggest game of their coaching careers.
-- The Oakland Tribune