SB Nation is having another theme week, and the topic this time is ‘What if...’ — all week long, we will take a look at different scenarios, and we’ll kick things off with one of the most discussed plays in NFL history.
Last week we jumped the gun with “What if” and the San Francisco 49ers draft history. Today we’ll relive one of the greatest games of this decade, the NFC Championship that took place following the 2013 regular season. There were several “What if” moments in this game. What if the 49ers scored a touchdown on their opening possession? What if Richard Sherman never deflected that pass? What if Michael Crabtree runs out of bounds during the two-minute drill on 3rd & 2? The game was a rollercoaster of emotions. The Seattle Seahawks first score came after an eight-second scramble by Russell Wilson. What if Ahmad Brooks had gotten to him a split-second sooner for the sack? What a game.
It wasn’t just a game where Seattle got lucky. San Francisco had some good fortune as well. Anthony Davis gets beat for a sack by Michael Bennett, and Bennett forces a fumble. The ball bounces around, and Johnathan Goodwin scoops up the ball for a gain of two. On the ensuing play, Colin Kaepernick throws a jump pass to Anquan Boldin for a 26-yard touchdown.
The 49ers defense played their butts off this game. Doug Baldwin returned a kick to the San Francisco 30-yard line. The defense held Seattle to three points. Kaepernick has a sack-fumble, and the Seahawks took over deep into 49ers territory, but they turned the ball over thanks to Navorro Bowman bullying Jermaine Kearse for the ball. On the following play, the Seahawks were stopped and the Niners took over. Unfortunately, Bowman was carted off after the play. The number of shocking sequences that took place throughout this game was unreal.
Where the 49ers lost control
The ending of the game is too easy. The 49ers lost control of this game after they scored a touchdown, ironically enough. The 49ers scored on their opening possession after a short field. The next possession didn’t result in points, but it did take just under five minutes off the clock. The following possession running back Anthony Dixon scored on 4th&1 after an 86-yard drive that took just under five minutes again.
Dixon came up short on the previous play. Many of you may remember, but on the fourth down where Dixon scored, Mike Iupati left the game. At the time, Iupati was known for being one of the top interior linemen in the NFL. It was a crucial loss for the offense. The game plan was to wear down the Seahawks defense. The idea was working before Iupati went down.
The seven drives after Iupati’s injury:
Here were the third downs after Iupati’s injury: 3rd & 12. 3rd & 5. 3rd & 16. 3rd & 10. 3rd & 5. 3rd & 6. Two 3rd & 2’s. Of those eight opportunities, the offense converted three of those. They couldn’t get ahead of the chains, and it hindered what the 49ers wanted to do on offense.
After everything that occurred, the 49ers still had a chance to win. Kaepernick scrambled to find Frank Gore on 4th & 2 for a massive conversion. Shortly after is when Sherman tipped the pass for the interception.
What if Iupati never left the game with an injury. The 49ers likely continue to dominate the ball and aren’t forced into obvious pass situations. Perhaps it’s Seattle that needs to score a touchdown during the two-minute drill to advance. You can watch this game and have a “What if” takeaway for every quarter, but I’m sticking with Iupati.