NEW ORLEANS - The 49ers will remember their final drive of Super Bowl XLVII as a series of missed opportunities.
The Ravens went up 34-29 with 4:19 remaining on a Justin Tucker field goal, but San Francisco, riding a momentous swing in their favor after a 33-minute power outage to overcome a 28-6 deficit, was carving through Baltimore's defense from all angles.
Running back Frank Gore gained eight yards on first down and quarterback Colin Kaepernick scrambled for nine more for a first down with three minutes, 32 seconds left on the clock.
On the next play, which was a first-and-10 from the San Francisco 36, Kaepernick had tight end Vernon Davis in one-on-one coverage from the right side of the formation and down the sideline, where he had a full step on cornerback Corey Graham. The ball caromed off of Davis' outstretched hands, leaving the 49ers inches from what would have been Davis' longest reception of the season.
On second down, Kaepernick, who had great protection most of the night, zipped a pass to wide receiver Michael Crabtree over the middle for a 24-yard gain, setting up first down at the 49ers' 40 with 3:10 to play.
But it turned out the one area the 49ers couldn't master was the red zone, failing to get a touchdown on two first-half attempts inside the Ravens 20 and again in the game's final minutes.
Gore came within an ankle tackle by free safety Ed Reed of a 40-yard touchdown run on the ensuing play. In a power formation, Gore saddled behind two blocks from his tight ends and broke into the clear off left tackle. He crossed the 10-yard line before losing steam, and a diving Reed chipped him out of bounds at the Ravens' 7.
"We had to win four plays, all we had to do was win one quarter, just one of those plays and we won the last four," said Ravens defensive end Terrell Suggs.
Running back LaMichael James, in his first carry since a second-quarter fumble and his third of the game, gained two yards up the middle on first down before the two-minute warning.
On second-and-goal at the 5, Kaepernick took a shotgun snap from a two-tight end, two-wide receiver set and rolled right and couldn't get the ball to Crabtree.
The 49ers took another timeout, their second, but the third-down pass to Crabtree also fell incomplete when Ravens' cornerback Jimmy Smith arrived just as Kaepernick's pass did. Crabtree had motioned from the left side of the formation to the right, and as he made his cut toward the sideline, Smith separated him from the ball.
With 1:50 to go and facing a do-or-die fourth down because of the shortage of timeouts, Kaepernick took the snap in the Pistol formation with two wide receivers and tight end Delanie Walker in the slot. The Niners let blitzing inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe through the line, and Kaepernick's quick throw to the back, right corner of the end zone was well out of Crabtree's reach.
"There's no question in my mind that there was a pass interference and then a hold on Crabtree on the last one," coach Jim Harbaugh said.
It was Kaepernick's 11th career start and the grandest stage he's seen, but given his 8.9-yard rushing average against the Ravens - seven carries, 62 yards - and 326 yards rushing in four postseason games, why not keep the ball in the prodigy's hands?
"We kept them out of the end zone on the 2-yard line," Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. "That is championship football."