NEW ORLEANS — Maybe next time, when he has a bit more experience, a little more cunning, Colin Kaepernick will win his Super Bowl.
As it was, the man with less than a season's worth of real professional playing time nearly pulled off an improbable comeback in one of the strangest of NFL championship games Sunday night.
Along the way, he almost turned that theory of Super Bowls being won strictly from the pocket inside out.
SUPER BOWL: Ravens hold off 49ers
BOX SCORE: Ravens 34, 49ers 31
The mobile Kaepernick played lights out after Super Bowl XLVII went dark during a 33-minute, third-quarter power failure. So close, so young with so much more time for Kaepernick, 25, to lead the San Francisco 49ers where he nearly did Sunday night.
And how close he came, driving them inside the 10 in the final two minutes, trailing by five points. But there it ended. An overthrown pass on fourth down falling softly beyond the corner of the end zone sealed a 34-31 Baltimore victory. Questions were raised about contact in the end zone with Ravens defensive back Jimmy Smith and 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree, but no call was made.
The Ravens tried to run out the clock and then took a safety to create the final margin.
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On that last series, the 49ers threw three passes for Crabtree, three incompletions, though Harbaugh insisted Kaepernick, the ever-dangerous red-zone threat with his sprinter's speed had the option to run on one of the plays.
Asked if he wanted to run on that last possession Kaepernick said, "Not necessarily run it. We were just trying to score any way that we could. ... That last drive when we got the ball and had time to go down and score a touchdown, we thought it was our game.''
Afterwards, Kaepernick took responsibility. saying, "I feel like I made too many mistakes for us to win. It wasn't enough."
There is no question Kaepernick is a new-wave game changer — and he almost proved it sooner than expected by nearly bringing the 49ers back from a 22-point, second-half deficit.
After the unprecedented outage, Kaepernick rallied the 49ers on a 23-3 rampage. First, he hit Crabtree for a 31-yard touchdown, then led an 80-yard scoring drive capped by Frank Gore's 6-yard touchdown run and set up a David Akers field goal.
Kaepernick also raced 15 yards into the end zone only to throw an incompletion on the tying two-point conversion pass with 10 minutes, 54 seconds left in a defeat that bodes well for the franchise's future. He even made some history on that touchdown run. It is the longest by a quarterback in Super Bowl history.
Kaepernick can feel no shame in losing out to Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, who put the finishing touches on a Joe Montana-esque postseason. Flacco's three touchdown passes gave him 11 scoring passes without an interception this postseason, equaling Montana's 1989 total en route to winning Super Bowl XXIII.
Kaepernick didn't flinch in leading the 49ers to postseason wins against Green Bay in the divisional round, then rallying them from a 17-0 deficit to a 28-24 NFC Championship game win against Atlanta.
And he kept his poise even after Jacoby Jones returned the second half kickoff 108 yards to put Baltimore up, 28-6.
Too bad Kaepernick, who threw for 302 yards and ran for 62 more, didn't start hotter. He completed just 8 of 13 passes for 139 first-half yards. That led to CBS analyst Bill Cowher suggesting the 49ers pull him for Alex Smith, who began the season as the starter. Kaepernick in the second showed why that would have been the wrong move.
"Things were working in the first half," he said. "We just didn't finish our drives.''
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As if he thought his quarterback played a good game, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said, "I did, yes. He made some good throws. One got a little high. But he led a fourth quarter comeback. In my opinion, that last series should have continued.
"We battled back and were right on the brink of winning."
Kaepernick's inexperience surfaced on a second-quarter crossing pass intended for Randy Moss that sailed right to ball-hawking safety Ed Reed.
Yet Kaepernick's early mistake didn't prove costly when Ravens coach John Harbaugh's call for a fake off Justin Tucker's 32-yard field goal attempt backfired when Tucker was stopped just short of the first down.
Best player in the draft. That is what Jack Harbaugh, Jim and John's dad, said Jim told him before the 49ers traded up to select the dual-threat Nevada quarterback in the 2011 second round. He also made an impression on the Ravens Terrell Suggs.
"Nobody hates quarterbacks more than me but I've got the utmost respect for Colin Kaepernick," said Suggs. "The kid can play.
"That Colin Kaepernick, that kid is special. Just when I thought he was going to break, he's a young quarterback, he's going to break, down 28-6. The lights went out. That boy kept coming, he got rolling and he made some impressive throws.
"I take my hat off to him. He's going to play in a few of these.''
Kaepernick seemed to agree. Asked what went through his mind after a tough loss he said simply, "We'll be back.''
And next time, he might just win it.