Kristopher Knox went through each team in the NFL to determine their biggest scapegoat for the last decade. Here is who he said for our beloved San Francisco 49ers:
San Francisco 49ers fans may still be looking for someone to blame for their loss in Super Bowl LIV. However, that contest largely came down to Patrick Mahomes’ greatness and his ability to make plays when it counted late. The Chiefs won that game far more than the 49ers lost it.
But the same sentiment cannot be applied to San Francisco’s last game of the 2011 season.
Led by new head coach Jim Harbaugh and quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the 49ers posted a 13-3 record, earned a first-round bye and hosted the Giants in the NFC Championship Game. That contest went to overtime, when the 49ers lost almost solely because of receiver/returner Kyle Williams.
With less than 10 minutes remaining in the extra period, the Giants punted to Williams, who fumbled for the second time in the game. This muff proved fatal, as Devin Thomas recovered the ball at the San Francisco 24-yard line. A few plays later, Lawrence Tynes hit a 31-yard field goal for the win.
Of course, there’s no guarantee the 49ers would have scored had Williams held on to the ball—they had already punted once in overtime. However, his fumble directly led to a score. Considering the Giants went on to beat the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI, this postseason gaffe yielded another of the great “what ifs” of NFL history.
Based on last week, some of you may answer Jed York. This past Super Bowl is still fresh, so if you’re confident there was a single scapegoat, you’d list that person. On Sunday, I listened to a random football fan tell me Colin Kaepernick and Jim Harbaugh were to blame. He was my next-door neighbor. There was nowhere for me to run.
Williams is the answer, though. Williams returned a punt in the first quarter as it was raining for 14 yards. That was with plenty of space around him. The next punt went out of bounds, so Williams didn’t have a chance to field the punt. The third punt would have made me nervous as a coach. Williams appeared to misjudge the ball in the air and ends up diving for the ball. He fielded the punt, but it was evident Williams lacked confidence.
The week prior against the Saints, Tedd Ginn fielded two punts for 23 yards, while Williams had one return for six yards. A rub route gone wrong the week before kept Ginn out of the NFC Championship. Ginn’s knee injury forced Williams into the lineup. Midway through the third quarter, the rain had slowed, and Williams had space. He returned a punt for 24 yards before losing his footing. Williams fielded two more punts cleanly before you know what happens.
Unless you’re Devin Hester or have that type of green light, coaches will tell you if you cannot field the punt in the air or on the first bounce, get away from the ball. Williams was indecisive on the third hop, and after the ball hit his knee, the entire game changed. San Francisco had an opportunity on 3rd & 5 from the Giants 10-yard line, but Alex Smith throws the flat route to Michael Crabtree too late, and a first down that would lead to a potential touchdown is short, and the 49ers have to settle for a field goal to tie the game.
That’s two strikes on Williams.
New York and San Francisco traded possessions in overtime, and on 3rd & 3, Justin Smith comes up with a huge sack to force a punt. Williams fields the punt but didn’t secure the ball. Not only did he have the ball in the wrong arm, but it was loose enough for the defender to jar the ball from Williams. A disastrous ending that will never be forgotten.