SANTA CLARA — A few dozen fans showed up Monday outside the perimeter of 49ers headquarters, hoping to lift the spirits of their fallen heroes (and perhaps get some autographs, or even gloves and cleats, in the process). Inside the locker room, players boxed up their possessions, doled out some man-hugs and rode into the offseason in a convoy of Escalades.
The shock of the Niners' down-to-the-wire loss to Seattle in the NFC championship game had faded, but much of the sadness and frustration remained.
“It's still pretty fresh,” veteran center Jonathan Goodwin said. “I mean, it's one thing to play in a big game like that and not even be close in the game. But to have the opportunities to possibly win the game, it definitely stings a little more.”
Unfortunately for the 49ers, they are probably getting used to this. Each of the past three seasons included a strong postseason run. Each ended just short of a major victory.
In 2011, the Niners lost to the Giants in overtime in the NFC title game. In 2012, their bid for a Super Bowl victory ended with 1:46 left when the they turned over the ball on Downs against the Ravens.
This time, they were vying for the game-winning touchdown when Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman tipped Colin Kaepernick's pass in the end zone, and linebacker Malcolm Smith intercepted it with less than 30 seconds on the clock.
Sunday's 23-17 loss was made gloomier by a pair of significant injuries. Left guard Mike Iupati acknowledged Monday that he broke his left ankle (technically his fibula, according to the Sacramento Bee). And while the 49ers did not confirm any medical updates, multiple reports indicated that star linebacker NaVorro Bowman tore both the ACL and the MCL in his left knee.
Bowman was hurt when Seattle wide receiver Jermaine Kearse fell on his leg and bent it unnaturally. It was a hit by Niners safety Eric Reid that triggered the pile-up. “I didn't know till I heard him scream,” Reid said after the game. “That's the most unfortunate part about this loss, is that we lost one of our leaders. I mean, the man gave his body to keep the receiver out of the end zone.”