San Francisco 49ers: 5 Most Heartbreaking Playoff Losses in Franchise History
The San Francisco 49ers have more than their fair share of great playoff moments. But there are a few painful ones as well. Niner Noise looks at the five most heartbreaking postseason losses in franchise history.
A new era is beginning with the San Francisco 49ers. Kyle Shanahan is now the new head coach, coming over from his time as offensive coordinator with the Atlanta Falcons.
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The same Falcons that blew a 28-3 lead, only to lose to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI.
For Falcons fans, that game will undoubtedly be one of the most painful in their storied franchise.
But what about San Francisco?
Yes, the Niners have more than a few stomach-turning losses in the postseason to think about. There were those painful playoff exits at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys in the early 1970s, and again in the 1990s. Games versus the Green Bay Packers come to mind.
And we can certainly name a few more, even from the most recent run of 49ers success.
Just like R.E.M.’s Everybody Hurts (I’m no fan of R.E.M., by the way), Niners fans can contact their Falcons friends and let them know every team goes through losses like these. It’s OK. There’s always next season.
So, without any further delay, let’s take a peek back in San Francisco history and try to endure the pain of reliving the five most painful postseason losses for this famous franchise.
No. 5: 2012 NFC Championship Game versus the New York Giants
Poor Kyle Williams. He’s the reason the New York Giants make this list twice, and for the wrong reasons.
The 2011 season put an end to San Francisco’s long playoff drought. It was the first year under then-head coach Jim Harbaugh. And the Niners rode his coaching ways, plus a stout defense and solid ground game from running back Frank Gore, deep into the postseason.
And all of it came crashing down on January 22, 2012.
Former tight end Vernon Davis twice gave the 49ers the lead, once in the first quarter and again in the third.
But at the 11:17 mark of the fourth quarter, and leading 14-10, Williams fumbled. New York recovered, culminating in a touchdown reception by Giants wideout Mario Manningham to give New York the lead.
San Francisco managed to tie things up and the game went into overtime. But another muffed punt by Williams set up a 31-yard game-winning field goal for the Giants, who pulled off the 20-17 stunner.
“It was one of those situations that ended up for the worst,” Williams said, via Ron Kroichick of SFGate.com. “It’s hard to be the last guy to have the ball, to have it end that way and lose a game of this magnitude.”
New York went on to win the Super Bowl a game later.
No. 4: 1992 NFC Championship Game versus the Dallas Cowboys
The Giants might have pulled off a great victory in 2012. But the Dallas Cowboys’ win over the 49ers in the 1992 NFC Championship game at Candlestick Park burns a little more.
Why? Well, it ended one dynasty and began another. And San Francisco was no longer the NFL’s top dog.
The only point at which the Niners led was in the first quarter, thanks to a one-yard scramble by quarterback Steve Young. And then Dallas took over with quarterback Troy Aikman and running back Emmitt Smith doing the lions’ share of work.
In the fourth quarter, the 49ers found themselves trailing 24-13. But the Niners looked like their vintage selves, driving 93 yards and capping it off with a five-yard touchdown reception by wide receiver Jerry Rice at the 4:22 mark.
All that was needed was a defensive stop and another touchdown. Easy, right?
Well, it didn’t happen.
Cowboys wideout Kelvin Martin scored three plays later, putting Dallas up 30-20 and ending the Niners dynasty of the 1980s.
Worse yet, this was the game in which then-Cowboys head coach infamously said, “How ’bout them Cowboys!” when the game was over.
No. 3: Super Bowl XLVII versus the Baltimore Ravens
The 49ers’ quest for six and perfect Super Bowl record finally took a hit in Super Bowl XLVII versus the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, February 3, 2013.
To be fair, the Niners didn’t help their cause by digging themselves a 28-6 hole at the start of the second half, thanks largely to Ravens kick returner Jacoby Jones’ 108-yard kick return for a touchdown.
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Was there holding on the play? 49ers fans will surely answer yes. And they’ll answer yes on that infamous fade route in the waning seconds.
More on that in a second.
Still, San Francisco began to stage what would have been an epic comeback, scoring back-to-back touchdowns from Michael Crabtree and Frank Gore to cut the lead to 28-23.
Baltimore would tack on a field goal, but quarterback Colin Kaepernick would answer back with a 15-yard touchdown run of his own. Ravens kicker Justin Tucker’s 38-yard field goal put Baltimore up 34-29, ensuring a field goal wouldn’t win it.
And then there was that failed fade route from Kaepernick to Crabtree. Holding? Perhaps. A game-winning memory for the ages? No.
The Ravens went on to win 34-31, handing the Niners their first ever Super Bowl loss.
No. 2: 2014 NFC Championship Game versus the Seattle Seahawks
This game hurts for a number of reasons.
First, it gave rise to the Seattle Seahawks as dominant players in the NFC West — a statement no 49ers fan wants to hear.
Second, All-Pro linebacker NaVorro Bowman suffered his gruesome knee injury, which kept him out of the entire subsequent 2014 season.
Lastly, and most painfully, the Niners lost in painful fashion.
In all honestly, this was a thrilling game. One which Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman — yes, we’ll get to him in a minute — called “the real” Super Bowl.
Trailing 23-17 in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick managed to engineer a drive to Seattle’s 18-yard line.
But with just 30 seconds left in regulation, Kap’s fade pass to wide receiver Michael Crabtree (again with this play?) was tipped by Sherman and into the hands of linebacker Malcolm Smith.
Of course, we remember Sherman’s epic tirade, going off on Crabtree after the game:
Seattle got the last laugh. The Seahawks went on to easily defeat the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII.
No. 1: 1991 NFC Championship Game versus the New York Giants
So the Giants have broken 49ers fans’ hearts twice on this list. And the first time they did so, the Giants ensured the Niners wouldn’t be the first team in NFL history to win three consecutive Super Bowls.
After all, San Francisco was the back-to-back reigning champions.
Even though touchdowns were hard to come by in the game — the only one being a 61-yard pass from quarterback Joe Montana to wide receiver John Taylor — the 49ers had that game won. They were up 13-12 late in the fourth quarter.
Sure, the lead might have been bigger had Montana not taken a huge hit by Giants Leonard Marshall. But San Francisco was still winning.
And in New York territory too, with 2:42 remaining.
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That’s when running back Roger Craig fumbled. That fumble will haunt 49ers fans’ dreams for years.
The Giants marched down the field and took a 15-13 lead as time expired, thanks to kicker Matt Bahr’s 42-yard field goal. And New York would march on to a Super Bowl victory over the Buffalo Bills.
“It haunts me to this day,” then-head coach George Seifert said, via Carl Steward of the San Jose Mercury News in 2016. “I don’t know that ownership has ever forgiven me for losing that game.”
We forgive you, George. And we forgive you too, Roger.
Niners fans everywhere felt your pain.