San Francisco 49ers players reflected on Sunday’s painful loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship game after arriving today to pack up their things at the team training camp in Santa Clara.
The players drove past lines of waving 49ers fans at the rear of the planned Levi’s Stadium on Marie P. DeBartolo Way in Santa Clara and went inside the camp’s locker room amid reporters and the sounds of tape being stretched onto cardboard boxes.
“A lot of people didn’t expect us to get to this game,” said linebacker Aldon Smith about the 49ers making it to a third conference championship game in a row.
“There was a lot of adversity that we faced,” Smith said. “We grew as a team. We’ll be stronger when next year comes around.”
The 49ers lost 23-17 on Sunday to their division rival Seahawks before a boisterous home crowd at CenturyLink Field in Seattle.
“It’s hard, man. You know, this is everything we worked for,” 49ers linebacker Ahmad Brooks said. “We wanted to make it to the Super Bowl and we didn’t. So it hurts.”
Brooks said that he was “going to take some time off, of course. It’s been a long season. I can’t wait to play next year.”
Tight end Vernon Davis recalled being upset when he saw the game-ending play—a pass by 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick meant for receiver Michael Crabtree that was deflected by Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman and intercepted by Seattle linebacker Malcolm Smith in the end zone.
“It’s tough, it’s frustrating,” Davis said. “I wasn’t really upset with anyone, I wasn’t upset with (Kaepernick) or Crabtree. I was just frustrated myself because that pass, that interception. Things wasn’t going our way.”
Seattle’s defense “did a great job as far as their coverage,” Davis said. “Just everything. Defensively, they did a tremendous job. They played good football. I think we played great as well. We kept fighting, we stayed in there, we didn’t give up. It was a battle.”
Davis criticized the Seahawks’ Sherman, who taunted the 49ers after Seattle intercepted Kaepernick’s pass and in a post-game interviews railed against Crabtree, whom he called “a sorry receiver” who “wouldn’t make the top 20 NFL receivers.”
“He talks a lot,” Davis said. “Sometimes you just need to shut your mouth. You got the win. Be humble. Be gracious. Just accept it. You don’t need to talk. You made a good play.”
“I mean, congratulations to them,” Davis said. “They made it. I don’t have anything negative to say about them. I think (Sherman) could learn from people around the league who know how to be a true gentleman and show good sportsmanship.”
Smith reacted coolly to Sherman’s comments about Crabtree.
“It’s a competitive game,” Smith said. “I can’t say it didn’t bug me. But they kind of have that right. They won the game. So, good for ‘em.”
Jonathan Goodwin, the 49ers’ center, said that it did not feel any worse losing to the Seahawks versus other NFL teams.
“I think that at the end of day, we just don’t think about that,” Goodwin said. “We missed an opportunity to go to the Super Bowl. If that had been the (New Orleans) Saints, or the (Green Bay) Packers, it would still sting the same.”
Some players saw the positive of taking to their new field next season, the $1.5 billion planned Levi’s Stadium, right next door to the Santa Clara training camp.
“It’s kind of like starting over again,” tight end Vance McDonald said. “Now you have new turf and new grounds to kind of establish that history with a new team. It’s going to be really exciting.”
Kaepernick walked past the news media to his locker without a word, quickly packed up some things in a cardboard box and left the building through the equipment room.
He then drove away in a white Jaguar past fans waiting outside the complex on Marie P. DeBartolo Way.
Some 49ers fans complained about calls by NFL officials on the field during Sunday’s crucial game, such as a roughing the kicker penalty by Seattle and a fumble recovery by the 49ers’ NaVorro Bowman that officials missed.
Smith took the high road about it.
“I played in the game, so I saw some of the officiating, but I’m not going to blame anybody for how the game turned out,” Smith said. “They (officials) couldn’t play the game, we played the game, so you know, put it on us and the coaches.”
“No blame game, two good teams played and there was a winner,” he said.
A reporter asked Smith about how he had handled himself on the field this season, returning to the team after being charged with felony gun charges in San Jose and going through weeks of rehabilitation for alcohol abuse following an arrest in San Jose for DUI.
“I’ve got goals in life, I’ve got things I want to accomplish,” Smith said. “I know what I wanted to handle, you know, coming back from where I was at. I was able to do that. My goal is just to keep moving forward and take it one day at a time.”
49ers guard Mike Iupati, who suffered a fractured ankle in the game, emerged into the locker room on crutches, his lower left leg in a plastic brace.
Iupati said he was in pain and that the team would assess the extent of his injury on Tuesday, but that he was sure about returning to play next season.
Among the 49ers fans waiting outside the complex to cheer players were Tammy and Eddie Bomagat, both 52, formerly from Pittsburg in the East Bay, who came from their new home in Huntsville, Ala. to experience Sunday’s game in the Bay Area.
“I’ve been a fan since birth,” Tammy Bomagat said. “They played their hearts out this season. They deserve our thanks and our devotion.”
“I just get angry, because I feel like the officiating was terrible,” Tammy Bomagat said. “I don’t think it was very fair. But you know, Kaepernick did throw some bad throws. But I still think they did well.”
The 49ers will kick-off the 2014-2015 season with the first of two pre-season games at Levi’s sometime in August, 49ers spokesman Bob Lange said.
The NFL will release the preseason game dates in April and the regular season dates in May, Lange said.
The first sports event at the stadium will be a professional soccer game with the San Jose Earthquakes playing against the Seattle Sounders FC on Aug. 2, Lange said.
Jeff Burbank, Bay City News