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 quarterback, the Baltimore Ravens exposed plenty of flaws in handing Kaepernick and Co. a 34-31 loss Sunday despite San Francisco’s second-half rally.
“They got away with one,” running back Frank Gore said. “We showed we were the better team. It was just a couple plays here, a couple plays there.”
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 2-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.
The 49ers had a pair of penalties in the opening 4:24 that proved costly.
After Baltimore won the toss and deferred, Vernon Davis was flagged for an illegal formation on the first play from scrimmage to negate his 20-yard catch.
On defense, linebacker Ahmad Brooks jumped offside on Baltimore’s third-and-9 from the 18. That gave the Ravens 5 yards, and Flacco found Anquan Boldin for a 13-yard touchdown the next play.
Early in the second quarter, rookie LaMichael James made a 25-yard run in which he spun twice before losing the ball. And safety Donte Whitner received a 15-yard facemask penalty to give the Ravens first-and-goal on the 4. Flacco found Dennis Pitta for a 1-yard score two plays later.
Yet Kaepernick did a little bit of everything in San Francisco’s final drive, when the 49ers got the ball back at their 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 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. His off-balance throw under pressure on fourth down sailed through the end zone. Kaepernick lowered his head slightly and walked slowly off the field.
No comeback this time in the Big Easy.
Kaepernick wound up 16-for-28 for 302 yards with three sacks and an interception for a 91.7 passer rating in his outstanding Super Bowl debut. The interception was the first by the 49ers in six Super Bowls and ended a streak at 169 passes without one.
Kaepernick also rushed for 62 yards, joining Joe Montana as the only quarterbacks to pass for 300 yards and run for 50 in a Super Bowl. Kaepernick recorded the fourth 300-yard passing performance by the 49ers in the Super Bowl — Montana had two and Young one.