NEW ORLEANS The San Francisco 49ers came close to a record Super Bowl comeback but were left distraught after failing to convert three times from the five-yard line with the Lombardi Trophy within their grasp.
"Five yards short, all the work we did in the offseason, the whole entire season, everything came down to five yards and we weren't able to get it done," said dejected 49ers tackle Joe Staley.
The 49ers, searching for a sixth Super Bowl title, trailed 28-6 before a 35-minute power outage but roared back to find themselves down 34-29 on what was likely to be their final possession.
Colin Kaepernick drove San Francisco down to the Ravens' seven but, after a two-yard run by LaMichael James, the second-year quarterback threw three straight incomplete passes to hand the ball back to Baltimore with less than two minutes remaining.
After coming back from a 17-point deficit against the Atlanta to win the NFC Championship game, the 49ers believed they could produce another remarkable turnaround.
"We felt we were going to win the football game. We got all the way down to the five-yard line. With the offense that we have and the quarterback we have, I would think that we probably will punch it in," said safety Donte Whitner.
The defeat was the first in a Super Bowl for the franchise that had won all five previous appearances in the NFL's championship game.
The inquest will inevitably fall on how Kaepernick failed in the red-zone at the crucial moment and on the decision of offensive coordinator Greg Roman not to let him or powerful running back Frank Gore run the ball, at least once, from the five.
"All I could think of was maybe running a different play but that is a player mentality," said tight end Vernon Davis.
"Greg Roman, he calls the shots, we have to go with it, we have to respect what's called. He believed in it, we believed in it, but it just didn't work," he added.
Three times Kaepernick tried to reach receiver Michael Crabtree in the end-zone but failed.
Davis said he was surprised that on the fourth down, Crabtree, who had 109 yards on five catches and one touchdown, was again the intended target.
"A little surprised but it's coach's call," said Davis. "I guess they wanted to get the ball to Crabtree. It's tough for the coaches in that situation because if it works, you are a genius and if it doesn't you messed it up.
"It is a tough situation for the coaches."
Some Ravens players yelled in celebration in the media area, drowning out 49ers talking to reporters.
"This will all be motivation," said Staley.
(Editing by Steve Ginsburg)