Gene Puskar, Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS — Colin Kaepernick got tripped up and tossed down, then still nearly led the greatest Super Bowl comeback in just his 10th career NFL start.
Rarely rattled on an impressive path to the Super Bowl, San Francisco's second-year quarterback finally showed some inexperience on football's big stage. Not to mention some guts.
After a remarkable postseason run — with those speedy legs — by the tattooed play-caller, the Baltimore Ravens exposed plenty of flaws in handing Kaepernick and Co. a 34-31 loss Sunday despite San Francisco's second-half rally.
"We were ready for the second half," Kaepernick said. "We knew we had to score to get back in the game. We had good plays, we had bad plays in the red zone."
No team has come from more than 10 points down to win a Super Bowl, and Kaepernick had a chance to make it happen less than three months after becoming San Francisco's starter.
He regrouped during a 34-minute delay early in the third quarter because of a power outage, finding his groove and turning the Super Bowl into a wild game down the stretch — and gave yet more cred to the pistol offense designed by his old college coach that is so well suited for the NFL's young, mobile quarterbacks.
"Colin was cool the entire game," left tackle Joe Staley said. "Colin was the same he's been the whole entire season. He's never shown any hints of being rattled, any hint of being uncomfortable on the football field, and he showed that exact kind of character today."
Kaepernick directed four second-half scoring drives, throwing a 31-yard touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree and also running 15 yards for a TD. But the 49ers missed the two-point conversion that would have tied the game with less than 10 minutes left.
Crabtree didn't get much help in a mistake-filled first half by San Francisco (13-5-1), which failed to stop Joe Flacco and deliver the franchise's sixth championship that would have matched the Pittsburgh Steelers for most ever.
The 49ers' perfect Super Bowl record? That's over, too. They lost for the first time in the title game.
Perhaps it's a bit premature to begin talking Bay Area dynasty again — in football, at least.
Playing for a title for the first time since Hall of Famers Steve Young and Jerry Rice won with a rout of San Diego 18 years ago, Jim Harbaugh's Niners made costly mistakes on both sides of the ball early in the game. And special teams, too.
Yet Kaepernick did a little bit of everything in San Francisco's final drive, when the 49ers got the ball back at their own 20 with 4:19 remaining and trailing 34-29. He ran for 8 yards, hit Crabtree on a 24-yard gain and handed off to Frank Gore for a 33-yard run to the Baltimore 7.
But with three chances from the 5, Kaepernick threw three straight incomplete passes intended for Crabtree, who got tangled up with a defender on the final play but no holding was called — Harbaugh screamed from the sideline and signaled for a penalty.
Kaepernick's off-balance throw under pressure on fourth down sailed through the end zone. Kaepernick lowered his head slightly and walked slowly off the field.
"That wasn't the original option," Kaepernick said. "It's something I audibled to at the line based on the look they gave us."
No comeback this time in the Big Easy.
The 49ers had a pair of penalties in the opening 4:24 that proved costly, on each side of the ball — Vernon Davis' flag for illegal formation on the first play from scrimmage to negate his own 20-yard catch, then linebacker Ahmad Brooks' offside on Baltimore's third-and-9 from the 18. That gave the Ravens 5 yards, Flacco found Anquan Boldin for 13-yard touchdown the very next play.
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