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49ers: Time to work on next year

  • Aldon Smith and Justin Smith walk off the field as the Seahawks celebrate their NFC title win. (JOHN BURGESS / The Press Democrat)

SANTA CLARA — The San Francisco 49ers took months last year to get over the sting of a three-point Super Bowl loss to Baltimore.

It won't be much different as they head into the offseason now, again left to ponder how close they were to competing for another championship. Except this time, they have the added frustration of being forced to watch the rival Seattle Seahawks head to the Super Bowl next week instead.

Three years under coach Jim Harbaugh, three near misses. Yet this is exactly where the franchise wants to be: in the mix for a Super Bowl each year.

“I don't think this is heartbreaking,” safety Donte Whitner said. “I played in Buffalo, N.Y., for five years. We're playing in the cold, and we're playing for nothing at the end of the year. Here we're playing for championships, each and every year. We're playing a lot of big games, lot of nationally televised games that we win.”

What hurt perhaps more than packing up two weeks prematurely was seeing All-Pro linebacker NaVorro Bowman go down with a serious knee injury during Sunday's 23-17 NFC championship loss at Seattle.

Everybody is hopeful of Bowman returning for the 2014 season.

“I absolutely believe he can. I really do,” Harbaugh said Tuesday. “He's got healing ahead, he's got grueling rehab ahead. That is not the way that you would've foreseen his offseason to be after coming off what many have talked about, and deservedly so, a Defensive Player of the Year-type of performance. Great year by NaVorro. But facts are stubborn things. That's what lies ahead of him.”

And, regardless of what changes take place with the roster, Harbaugh was ready to get back to work building for another playoff run a year from now.

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