With the bitter loss from the Super Bowl still fresh in everyone’s minds, it’s hard to look back at this past season with anything except disappointment. San Francisco was arguably the best team in the NFL this season, yet have nothing to show for it. The 49ers are not a team that settles for moral victories, so while nobody is satisfied with how the season ended, it was not all for a lost cause. This team is on its way up, and it will not take another 18 years for them to make it back to a Super Bowl. They will be able to shore up their one glaring weakness in the off-season, and replace another. While there is no guarantee what the future holds for this team, when looking at the 2012-13 NFL season, it has to be kept in its proper perspective.
Bad News First
Outside of the final game, David Akers has to be the biggest disappointment this year. He went from an automatic, Pro Bowl caliber kicker to a player with no confidence and unable to hit anything over 40 yards. His season-long woes created uncertainty in the kicking game, and San Francisco, throughout the season and playoffs, left points off the board due to missed kicks. Thankfully, the Super Bowl did not come down to a last second field goal, as everyone knew a game winner was not coming off the foot of Akers. It will be a surprise if Akers is back, and whoever his replacement is can’t do worse, allowing the team to focus on other areas.
Even with the quarterback controversy, health concerns of Jim Harbaugh, the Brandon Jacobs fiasco and the injuries that decimated the team, outside of Akers, the Super Bowl was the only real low point this season. Unfortunately, losing a Super Bowl in the manner in which San Francisco lost is almost enough to ruin an entire season. There is no question that the referees blowing the holding call on Michael Crabtree was the final nail in the 49er coffin, but San Francisco did little to help out their own cause. Their lack of experience reared its ugly head several times throughout the game, and eventually cost them the Lombardi Trophy. Colin Kaepernick was the main culprit, as in just his 10th start, he was visibly rattled, and his accuracy suffered. His inability to run a hurry up offense and two second half timeouts he burned cost his team one final shot. For the first time all year, Kaepernick’s big play ability could not overcome what he lacked in experience.
The Good News
There is no team with a future as bright as San Francisco. The Seattle Seahawks are still in the NFC West, so the playoffs will be no easy task, but the 49ers have to like where they are at personnel wise. They have a young quarterback, young receiving core and a young defense that will all only get better with more time together, and draw closer after two playoff defeats. It will need to be a priority to resign Dashon Goldson, but outside of Delanie Walker and Randy Moss, there are no other free agents to be concerned about, and for the most part, the same team will be back next season. There will be few teams that are as battle tested as the 49ers moving forward, and experience is no longer something they lack; now they just need to get Kaepernick up to speed.
With an entire off-season and training camp to tailor the playbook to Kaepernick’s skill set and what he did well this season, the 49ers offense, along with the return of Mario Manningham, Kyle Williams and Kendall Hunter, will be ever more dynamic than the one that had several record setting performances this season. This should eliminate the slow starts that seemed to be a part of the San Francisco game plan, making the 49ers an even better team, and it will be on the rest of the league to keep pace.
A Team That Continues To Improve
Nothing can hurt more than a loss in the Super Bowl, but the joy that the 49ers gave the city and its fans on their run to New Orleans can’t be forgotten. To also help ease the minds’ of the 49er faithful is the reality that every year only one team can win, and San Francisco will be back. The 49ers are one of the few teams in the NFL that have all of their key players under contract, and in Alex Smith, if they decide to try and trade him, have quite the bargaining piece to help bolster their roster. The biggest problem this season was simply a lack of experience, which unfortunately they had to earn the hard way. This team will come back next year more experienced, a better all around team and will look to continue the trend under Jim Harbaugh of making it one step further the year before. This loss will only make the team stronger, and set a fire under them that can only be extinguished with a Super Bowl ring. Next season will be all about redemption.
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Jerrell Richardson is a Bay Area native who due to a college career at San Diego State University has grown an appreciation for all things sports related in California. His heart will always remain in San Francisco though where he currently resides and covers everything from the San Francisco 49ers and Giants to the San Jose Sharks and California Bears Baseball team. His work can be found on Examiner.com.