NEW ORLEANS -- This is how the 49ers came to diminish their season Sunday. They complained about the officials. That's not a good way to close the book.
The 49ers should have taken the tough defeat, 34-31, and absorbed the urge to complain. They should have said they came up short. They should have said they put themselves in a hole and couldn't fully extricate themselves. They should have said they gave it a gallant try, to come back from the interception, fumble, the penalties, trailing by 22 points at one point. They should have said all that.
They even could have spoken of that questionable playing on their last three offensive plays of the game, and more on that later.
But with the defeat no more than 30 minutes old, their focal point lasered on the their last two offensive plays. With 1:55 left in the game and the Ravens leading 34-29, the 49ers found themselves with a third and goal on Baltimore's 5-yard-line.
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick threw an incomplete pass to wide receiver Michael Crabtree. Niners coach Jim Harbaugh thought Crabtree was held at the line of scrimmage by Ravens defensive back Jimmy Smith.
On fourth and goal, Kaepernick threw another pass to Crabtree, a floater. Crabtree and Smith were both grabbing each other as Crabtree was running his route. The pass sailed just beyond Crabtree's fingertips. Harbaugh immediately went Harbaugh on the Niners' sideline. He grabbed his right wrist with his left hand and yelled holding to the officials.
“I didn't even get an explanation of that (call),” Harbaugh said. “I thought those two plays were very similar.”
In that respect, Harbaugh was right. Both pass attempts were very much alike, so much alike that in describing both of them is to come to the same conclusion that NBA officials do late in their games. Unless the call is flagrant and obvious, you let the players play the game and decide it. On both non-calls, the two players did the same thing — they were fighting for territory. Smith didn't throw Crabtree to the ground, spin him around or even give a good yank.