Record: 13-5-1 (Lost in Super Bowl XLVII to Baltimore)
Head Coach: Jim Harbaugh
Starting Quarterbacks: Colin Kaepernick, Alex Smith
Best Players: LB Patrick Willis, LB Aldon Smith, LG Mike Iupati
Five measly yards.
That’s what separated the 49ers from their sixth Lombardi Trophy. They had four cracks from inside the ten yard line to score what surely would have been a game-winning touchdown in Super Bowl XLVII. I had personally written them off after Baltimore returned the second-half kickoff for a touchdown and a 28-6 lead, but then the lights went out and things got crazy, with the 49ers firing what would have gone down as possibly the greatest comeback in NFL history…if they had just managed to pick up those last five yards. If you’re five yards from the end zone with two minutes left in the Super Bowl, you have to score. The failure to do so keeps this out of the top five greatest seasons in 49ers history, while their merely above-average offensive performance keeps them out of the five best teams in 49ers history.
But, good lord, that defense. I’d put that defense up against the best of the 49ers’ dynasty period, the best that George Seifert ever concocted. I’d put them up against Leo Nomellini’s vicious teams from the 1950s. This was an all-time great unit.
The linebacking corps is unequalled in franchise history. Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman and Aldon Smith were all first-team All-Pros, and it’s not like Ahmad Brooks was a slouch. Justin Smith, arguably the second-best defensive lineman in franchise history, controlled the edge, allowing Aldon to rush around edge for an astounding 19.5 sacks. Both starting safeties, Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner, made the Pro Bowl as well. More than half of the NFC’s Pro Bowl defense that year was from San Francisco. That’s incredible.
They were backed up by a ferocious running game. With Mike Iupati and Joe Staley on the left side of the line, Frank Gore had room for days. His 1,214 rushing yards were the second-most of his career, as the 49ers established their identity by physically grinding players into the dust.
The duo of Colin Kaepernick and Alex Smith at quarterback played very well, but are enough to keep this year’s squad down a little bit in the rankings—a franchise which has boasted Joe Montana, Steve Young and Y.A. Tittle aren’t quite as impressed by the likes of Kaepernick and Smith. The defense, however, makes this an all-time squad.