The San Francisco 49ers were just a few plays away from Super Bowl XLVI.
Despite having a solid season, QB Alex Smith was unable to make those plays. It's not as if the team didn't believe he could, after the former No. 1 overall pick had the best season of his career.
They showed they didn't believe in him when they allowed him to play into the final year of his contract. They showed it even more when they drafted Colin Kaepernick, a quarterback from Nevada, in the second round of the 2011 Draft.
And they're showing it now, balking at extensions for Smith, and pursuing the top free agent prize, QB Peyton Manning.
It's not a bad idea, either.
To blame Smith for San Francisco's NFC Championship game loss is a bit misguided (put it on a fluky return game). If they had won, he wouldn't rightly have deserved the credit either. That pretty much summarizes Smith, even at his best. Not the reason they lose, but not so much the reason they win, either.
San Francisco has the best coached defense in the league, and multiple players among the best at their defensive positions. This team will win a lot of games next season with how good their defense is.
But what it needs is a bit more offensive firepower. WR Michael Crabtree is poised to become a high-end producer, and if WR Randy Moss is legitimately back to his 4.3 self, and a strong-armed quarterback slinging the rock down the field, their offense becomes at least solid.
Putting a solid offense behind an elite defense usually fares well for teams in the NFL.
Manning is re-living his college recruiting days, having narrowed down his choice of employers to three - Denver, Tennessee and San Francisco.
All three are tempting options. He's got another great defense in Denver, and Tennessee is literally offering him partial ownership in the team upon his retirement. San Francisco is clearly the Win Now option, and with that, the largest obstacle he'd have to face.
Manning is a control freak. So is head coach Jim Harbaugh. Manning runs his own offense. Harbaugh took San Francisco from an also-ran to a dominant force in his first season. It's pretty likely both men feel their way works.
If it meshes together, they're looking at a 13 win season, at worst.
San Francisco, at the very least, appears to be doing more than just their due diligence on Manning. They have not yet given Smith an extension, and after Smith's reported 5.5 hour long meeting with Miami Sunday, at least appear to be in a position to lose out on a starting quarterback, and would be forced to turn to Kaepernick next year.
Does that mean they're going all-in after Manning? If they did, and Smith walks, a year or two with Manning under center, priming the stage for Kaepernick's eventual ascent to the position makes a lot of sense. They had to have at least considered the 2011 season as the likely end of the Smith Regime in the Bay Area, otherwise, Smith would have an extension, and it's unlikely they would have spent such a high draft pick on a quarterback.
If Manning is healthy, though, he couldn't have been released at a better time for the 49ers. If he wants to win, he'll sign with San Francisco. If he wants to control everything (literally), he'll go to Tennessee. If he wants to get paid the most, Denver's probably the best option.
Which one will it be? Who knows?
I can't link this story because I have no clue where I read it, but I remember a feature on Manning from a long time ago. The piece of the story was focusing on Manning's decision of which college he'd choose. His mom said he came into his parents room very early in the morning, told them he was up all night thinking about it, and decided to choose Tennessee. It wasn't the decision, the writer noted, it's the fact he deliberated for so long and with such intensity.
Tennessee was somewhat of a surprise, considering his father's star power at Ole Miss (where his brother Eli eventually attended). The point was Peyton makes his own mind, and he doesn't lead on to his intentions.
Anyone's guess is as good as anyone else's, but I think he'll go to San Francisco.