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February 3, 2013
Rare err: Culliver, 49ers dig themselves deep first-half hole


Chris Culliver's lousy Super Bowl week is only getting worse.

In a half filled with 49ers mistakes, Culliver made two huge ones on the same play that allowed the Ravens to score late in the half and push their lead to 21-3. Culliver, the team's nickel cornerback, not only allowed receiver Jacoby Jones to sprint past him, but he failed to touch Jones after he had fallen to the turf. Jones got up and outran the pursuing 49ers defense into the end zone.

The 56-yard touchdown - the longest the 49ers have allowed this season - was the iconic play of an opening half in which the 49ers made errors as soon as they got the ball.

The 49ers' first play of the game was a good one - a 20-yard completion down the left side to Vernon Davis. But it was wiped out by an illegal formation penalty and the 49ers, discombobulated early, had to punt from deep in their own territory.

The Ravens took over at midfield, got a big, 20-yard catch from Torrey Smith and then got bailed out on third-and-nine by Ahmad Brooks, who jumped off sides. Joe Flacco, who is 13-20 for 192 yards and three touchdowns, took that gift and completed a 13-yard touchdown pass over the middle to Anquan Boldin, who had beaten Donte Whitner.

The 49ers responded with a 12-play drive that included big passes to Michael Crabtree and Davis as well as two runs by Kaepernick. But it stalled inside the Baltimore 10 when Kaepernick had both Crabtree and Randy Moss open in the end-zone but threw too high on his pass to Crabtree. On third down, he was sacked by Paul Kruger, and David Akers was called in for a 36-yard field goal.

Early on the 49ers had a hard time getting to Flacco, who showed better elusiveness than advertised. He escaped Brooks, who had a good opening half, and winged a ball 30 yards downfield to Boldin, who boxed out Culliver for the reception.

Culliver, of course, had the roughest pre-Super Bowl week of any player after his comments that gays wouldn't be welcome in the 49ers locker room went viral. The Ravens have appeared to target him in this game with four deep passes, two of which were complete.

The 49ers eventually collapsed Flacco's pocket, sacking him on third down at the end of the first quarter. The 49ers were rolling on the ensuing possession but rookie LaMichael James, spinning for extra yardage, lost the ball, which was recovered by the Ravens. Baltimore turned that into a short touchdown pass from Flacco to tight end Dennis Pitta.

Another big mistake occurred on the next drive when Kaepernick's pass to Moss sailed - Moss made no attempt for it - and it was picked off by safety Ed Reed, the ninth postseason pick of his career. The Ravens seemed poised to increase their lead with a short field goal. But needing nine yards for a first down, former special teams coordinator John Harbaugh called a fake that was snuffed out - with a yard to spare - by Patrick Willis and safety Darcel McBath.

Kaepernick typically has bounced back from interceptions by leading a scoring drives. This time he nearly responded with another interception. He threw late to Moss on the sideline deep in San Francisco territory, and the ball was nearly picked off by cornerback Cary Williams. On third and 10, the 49ers went with the conservative call and handed the ball to Frank Gore for a a short gain.

The 49ers, of course, played poorly in the NFC Championship, fell behind 17-0, and recovered in the second half to win that game. That comeback, however, began in the second quarter and the 49ers only trailed by 10 points at halftime. They're currently down 15 with the Ravens set to get the ball to open the second half.

-- Matt Barrows


Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.


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