From Comcast SportsNetNEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Offensive linemen Alex Boone and Mike Iupati stood in one corner of a near-empty San Francisco locker room and pondered just how close they had come to winning the Super Bowl.It quickly began to sink in, beneath the Superdome on Sunday night as the Baltimore Ravens celebrated, that their season had ended short of the goal.One year, they almost reached the NFL's championship game. The next, they nearly won it."It just hurts, it hurts now," Iupati said. "There are no words to express how we feel right now. We've got to put it in the past now and we can't ever forget this moment. We've just got to go out there and next year is another year, and compete."The 49ers head into the offseason following a 34-31 Super Bowl loss knowing they were right there against the Ravens, and now move forward with the hope of keeping much of the team together and building to get back -- and this time win it all.One big question: What to do with backup quarterback Alex Smith?CEO Jed York said last week he would address Smith's situation soon. Smith would like to have the chance to start somewhere, and the 49ers realize that's a fair request."Last year losing in the NFC championship game, come back this year and you're in the Super Bowl, it feels the same way," running back Frank Gore said. "Any other team probably would have just laid down but we kept fighting. We just didn't get it done."Coach Jim Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke will soon begin planning for the 2013 season -- not to mention the draft in April -- and determine whether they can find a team for Smith.The 2005 No. 1 overall draft pick lost his starting job in November to second-year pro Colin Kaepernick, who nearly led the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history in the 10th start of his NFL career.A win would have put him right there in the 49ers' storied Super Bowl history aside Hall of Famers Joe Montana and Steve Young, who led San Francisco's last championship after the 1994 season.The Niners lost for the first time in six Super Bowls, leaving Harbaugh to shake hands with Ravens coach and big brother, John, afterward as the loser in the first sibling-coached championship."We want to handle this with class and grace," Harbaugh said. "Had several opportunities in the game. Didn't play our best game."The 25-year-old Kaepernick, a strong-armed, mobile quarterback with loads of tattoos and a signature touchdown move -- pumping his right arm and kissing his biceps -- went 7-3 as a starter and gave great promise to a franchise that wants to make Super Bowls an annual thing again.Last season it was another three-point loss, 20-17 to the Giants in the NFC title game, that ended the 49ers' season."Knowing how hard it is to get here, it's not promised," defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois said.Kaepernick finished 16 for 28 for 302 yards with three sacks and an interception for a 91.7 passer rating. The interception was the first by the 49ers in six Super Bowls and ended a streak at 169 passes without one.San Francisco nearly pulled off another improbable comeback, as it did in rallying from a 17-0 deficit to win 28-24 at Atlanta for the NFC championship."We let everybody know what type of guys we've got in our locker room," Gore said. "It's hard to break us, we're going to keep fighting. They just got it done today."The 49ers had three chances from the 5 with less than 2 minutes left, and Kaepernick threw three straight incomplete passes intended for Michael Crabtree, who got tangled up with cornerback Jimmy Smith on the final play but no holding was called -- though Harbaugh begged for a flag from the sideline, signaling a penalty at the officials.Kaepernick directed four second-half scoring drives, throwing a 31-yard touchdown pass to Crabtree and also running 15 yards for a TD. But the 49ers missed the 2-point conversion that would have tied the game with less than 10 minutes left."This is kind of tough, to get this far and let everything slip away through your hands," linebacker Ahmad Brooks said. "The funny thing about it is, within the next few months, we're going to start trying to get back to the same place that we're at right now."And this ball-hawking linebacking corps should be encouraged because the four starters are each signed through at least the 2015 season -- Aldon Smith's contract takes him three more seasons, Patrick Willis will be around through 2016, Brooks through '17 and NaVorro Bowman through 18 after signing a five-year contract extension in November worth 45.25 million, with 25.5 million in guaranteed money.Aldon Smith finished with a franchise-record 19 sacks in 2012 -- falling three shy of Michael Strahan's single-season mark set in 2001 for the Giants. Yet he didn't have one over the final three games, most of that stretch with Justin Smith sidelined because of a partially torn left triceps.Rookie running back LaMichael James, a late-season surprise after hardly getting a look early in the year, is sure this team has another postseason run ahead -- if not as soon as next season.Thinking about the future might be easy for a rookie, yet the veterans know there are guys who go their entire career and never get this far."It's tough," Gore said. "When you're in the dance, you want to get it."
Bruins forward David Pastrnak will have a disciplinary hearing with the NHL Department of Player Safety on Friday over his check to the head of the Rangers’ Dan Girardi in the Bruins’ 5-2 loss Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.
Boston’s David Pastrnak will have a hearing tomorrow for charging/ illegal check to the head on NY Rangers’ Dan Girardi.— NHL Player Safety (@NHLPlayerSafety) October 27, 2016
The hit came when Girardi reached up to catch a puck in the neutral zone 10:55 into the second period and Pastrnak came in hard and sent his left shoulder into Girardi’s chin. Pastrnak received a two-minute penalty for an illegal check to the head.
Girardi left the game as part of the NHL concussion protocol, but later returned.
It’ll be the 20-year-old Pastrnak’s first hearing with the Department of Player Safety.
Before I make the following point, I'd like to make one thing clear to my sensitive readers: I do not believe the Denver Broncos are better than Patriots. I do not believe they have “passed'' the Pats. Please, Patriots fans, when New England goes into Denver and wins on Dec. 18 and/or the Pats beat them again in the playoffs, save your emails and calls. Don't get your panties in a bunch. You're still the best.
However, as we assess the pathetic state of brainpower across the NFL, the Broncos are one of only a few teams that deserve mention alongside the Pats. Perhaps they're the only one. As their recent handling of their quarterback situation shows, especially from a coaching standpoint, Gary Kubiak and John Elway have proven they know what they're doing -- and how many teams in the league can you say that about?
In Denver, Brock Osweiler actually looked like a quarterback with a future. In Houston, he barely looks like he belongs in the league. That's about coaching, scheme and culture. It seems that somewhere between the silly letterman jackets in Houston and his second crack in Denver, Kubiak got a clue. Last year, he managed Osweiler to a 5-2 record before sitting him and somehow winning a Super Bowl behind the noodle-armed Peyton Manning. This year, he has another marginal talent, Trevor Siemian, off to a 5-1 start in his first season under center.
There are many NFL coaches who didn't hit their stride until their second job, and you have to wonder if Kubiak falls in this camp. I actually saw him put down his playsheet with his offense on the field the other night and thought, maybe he's starting to get it. He looked more like a head coach and just a little less like an offensive coordinator.
Either way, Kubiak has displayed an excellent touch with a string of mediocre quarterbacks. And from the original decision to shut down Manning, to the insertion of Osweiler, to the reinstatement of Manning, and then the ultimate handing of the job to Siemian, he and Elway have pushed all the right buttons. If Paxton Lynch turns into a player down the road, look out.
Of course, Kubiak hasn't had much to do with his defense, which has been the domain of Elway, the architect, and to a lesser extent, Wade Phillips, the coordinator. Elway remains one of the few executives to build a championship team largely through free agency, and some of his moves have been so cold-hearted, so debated at the time, that only Bill Belichick could relate.
Who else fires a coach who led you to four division titles and a Super Bowl berth (John Fox), and then follows that up with a title? Who else lets go of BOTH quarterbacks who led you to a title and follows that up with a division lead?
It's moves like those that led ESPN to display a stat montage late in the game on Monday depicting Elway as ``the Don.'' (Wonder where they got that idea from?). Think about it. Who else in the league -- what coach, executive or owner -- gets that kind of ``mastermind'' treatment? I don't think anyone else deserves it other than Belichick and, in second place, Elway. Ozzie Newsome in Baltimore would be a distant third; or perhaps Pete Carroll and John Schneider in Seattle deserve mention.
Regardless, as the ESPN graphic showed, the Broncos' record since Elway took over in 2011 is now 63-24, second in the league over that time only to the Pats (67-20). Denver is also one of just four teams to make the playoffs every year during his tenure (the Packers, Pats and Bengals are the others). Like the Pats and Seahawks, he's been to two Super Bowls and won one. And like the Pats, he has won his division five straight years.
Perhaps that all comes to an end this year, and it sure looks like Denver will be fighting an uphill battle when it comes to earning home field over the Pats come December. But for now, in a league where there are no equals to Belichick, it's almost refreshing (to me, anyway) to consider someone who at least belongs in the conversation.
Email Felger at firstname.lastname@example.org. Listen to Felger and Mazz weekdays, 2-6 p.m., on 98.5 FM. The simulcast runs daily on CSN New England.