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49ers vs. Vikings: Hind Sight is 20/20

As I watched the screen of a “netbook” style laptop waiting for the next play to refresh, I remember the sense of victory I had when the 49ers got the ball back late in the 4th quarter.

I was unable to see the game live or otherwise due to a friend’s birthday party we were attending.

“Just get some first downs and you will have beaten a team many thought you couldn’t hold a candle to!” I said.

Then San Francisco went 3 and out on consecutive running plays and were forced to punt the ball back to the Vikings and Mr. Fourth-Quarter himself with ample time left on the clock.

Nervously I stared at the 10.1 inch screen, hoping beyond all hope that the next “bar” indicating the previous play’s progress wouldn’t be one that extended to the end zone, or even close.

Prayers answered.

As I saw that the Vikings had been forced to punt, I was wearing a grin from ear to ear. The 49ers could surely run out the clock at this point and the victory was theirs.

The first play was, again, a run for little gain. Then another. Then another.

I was beside myself as the 49ers again punted the ball back, breathing new life into the Vikings chances of stealing away a game for which San Francisco had fought so hard.

I chewed all of my fingernails off as I watched the screen. The Vikings were moving down the field masterfully. But they were running out of time.

When the final play was set to occur I feared the worst, though I didn’t expect it. I fully expected there to be a hail mary attempt of some sort that would surely fall innocently to the turf as the 49ers celebrated the victory that so mightily tested their resolve.

The bar then reached all the way from the 32 yard line to the back of the end zone and somewhere on that tiny screen I saw the words “TOUCHDOWN!”

I waited, hoping it was going to come back on a penalty. There would surely be a review. It will get reversed. We can’t lose this game on the last play.

Then the game that was on the TV at the time cut to the live broadcast from Minneapolis. The review had been upheld and the Vikings were on the field celebrating their last second heroics.

And I was getting so used to the phrase “Three and oh!”

I spent a good bit of time at my desk today reading post-game articles, watching highlights, perusing blog comments, etc. I needed something more…justification, closure…something.

I saw many comments echoing the same thoughts that ran through my head during the closing minutes of Sunday’s tragic loss.

Why didn’t they pass on 3rd down to try and get the first down? Why so conservative? Why weren’t there 47 guys in the end-zone defending that last-second pass? Why didn’t we rush more guys to pressure Favre into a bad throw?

I felt conflicted.

Part of me wanted to justify the loss in some way that would make certain that we were the better team…only we had simply made some easily-fixed error that ended up costing us the game.

But still another part of me wanted to believe that we were indeed the better team…but had simply lost on a lucky, impossible play that no one could have predicted.

I’m not sure which side won.

My final conclusion though—the one that gives me that “closure” or whatever it is that a die-hard fan needs to get over a tough loss—is that hind sight is 20/20.

Sure, it’s cliche…but let me explain.

If that final, fateful pass had ricocheted off of someone’s helmet and landed harmlessly on the ground as most of them seem to do…would there have been any doubt about how the 49ers handled the closing minutes?

Sure, there invariably would have been some, but would it have been as widespread? I think not.

We would have heard experts and fans alike praising the coaching staff for protecting the ball, ensuring they didn’t turn it over, and having the confidence in the Defense to put the game away.

After all, that’s what happened in Week 1 against Arizona wasn’t it? San Francisco’s defense was brilliant in coming up with a last-second strip of Kurt Warner to end the game.

That’s, however, what we as fans do. For whatever reason, it seems to soothe the pain by making the loss more about a choice than about the talent on the field.

I for one have no doubt that in the end, the 49ers were no worse than the Minnesota Vikings on that day.

There’s no telling what would have happened if San Francisco had decided to pass on the final 3rd down. Perhaps a pick-six to end the game…perhaps an incomplete pass, giving even more time to the Vikings to work with on their final drive.

Hind sight is so easily clear because it allows us to point out what should have happened after we already know the results of what DID happen. Fact is though, nothing is certain.

Brett Favre and the Vikings beat the 49ers on the only play that could have possibly won the game. They executed a very low percentage pass and won the game. That San Francisco was in the game, winning the game, until that point shows this fan that they belonged there and could have just as easily won.

Maybe next time…you know, “in the playoffs!”

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