NEW ORLEANS -- Losing the Super Bowl was a pain the 49ers never dealt with in their previous five trips.
But Sunday night, they came away with a new, crushing feeling that left them grasping for explanations after dropping a 34-31 heartbreaker to the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII.
Why didn't the referee call a penalty on Colin Kaepernick's final pass? How did the 49ers fall behind 28-6? How could they work so hard all year only to be stopped 5 yards from a game-winning touchdown?
Through all the twists, turns and virtual twilight thanks to a power outage that stopped the game for 34 minutes, this game went far beyond the storyline of two brothers coaching against each other for the first time in Super Bowl history.
Jim Harbaugh, who commended Ravens coach John Harbaugh during a postgame handshake, said he wanted to handle the loss "with class and grace." But it proved too much in the end.
The 49ers had reached the Ravens' 5-yard line with 2:00 remaining when their final three snaps resulted in incomplete passes to Michael Crabtree. Harbaugh argued that penalties should have been called on two of those plays.
"No question in my mind there was a pass-interference (penalty), and a hold on Crabtree on the last one," said Harbaugh, who took off his black cap and unsuccessfully begged for those calls during the game.
The oddest mystery of all, however, was why the Superdome suffered the power outage. Coincidentally or not, that delay sparked the 49ers' remarkable second-half comeback.
"I don't think it had anything to do with it," linebacker Ahmad Brooks countered. "We had to go through the same thing they did. ... It just took a little longer for us to lose."
Said John Harbaugh: "I just knew with Jim Harbaugh being on the (49ers) sideline and all those years we have been together, that game was going to be a dogfight right to the end."
Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith is the one who not only broke up a second-down pass to Crabtree but also blanketed -- or, in Harbaugh's words "grabbed and held" -- the 49ers' leading receiver on the fateful fourth-down fade pass.
"It was a lot of contact," Crabtree said. "Had the ball been a little lower and given me a chance to make a play, I'm sure it would have been called. ... It's frustrating. It was a game-winning touchdown. It makes you sad. It's the Super Bowl."
Colin Kaepernick, making only his 10th career start, said he audibled on that final play to counter a Ravens' all-out blitz and give Crabtree "a chance."
Frank Gore didn't get a chance to ever touch the ball again after his 33-yard run put the 49ers at the 7-yard line. LaMichael James had a 2-yard carry on the next snap, and then Kaepernick followed with his incompletion trifecta toward Crabtree.
Left tackle Joe Staley said he would have liked more running plays at the end, and when Harbaugh was asked why he didn't call on Gore, the coach paused before stating they had "other plays called."
"We were very relaxed and confident we were going to get it in (to the end zone)," Staley said. "Five yards short. After all that work we do in the offseason, and it came down to five yards."
Retiring Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis relished that series: "That was one of the most amazing goal-line stands I've ever been a part of in my career. What better way to do it than on the Super Bowl stage."
Had the 49ers completed that rally from a 22-point deficit, it would have been the largest comeback in Super Bowl history, surpassing the 10-point comebacks by the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XXII and the New Orleans Saints in Super Bowl XLIV.
A comeback was nothing new to these 49ers. Two weeks ago, they rallied from 17-0 to topple the Atlanta Falcons 28-24 for the NFC championship, and they also overcame a 7-0 deficit in a playoff-opening win over the Green Bay Packers.
Trailing 21-6 at halftime, the 49ers' comeback bid suddenly became a bigger task after the second half's opening kickoff. That's because Jacoby Jones made the score 28-6 on his 108-yard return.
The 49ers' pass defense faltered early against red-hot Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, whose three touchdown passes in the first half raised his total to 11 for the postseason, matching a record shared by Joe Montana (49ers) and Kurt Warner (St. Louis Rams). Flacco (22 of 33, 287 yards) won Super Bowl MVP honors and had no interceptions this postseason.
While Flacco was hot, the 49ers offense started cold thanks to two second-quarter turnovers, including the first interception in 171 passes by a 49ers quarterback in Super Bowl history. That came when Kaepernick overthrew Randy Moss and Ed Reed snagged it for his record-tying ninth career interception. James lost a fumble on the 49ers' previous drive, which had reached the Ravens' 24-yard line.
The 49ers ripped off 17 unanswered points in a third-quarter stretch once lights were restored. That four-minute scoring spree pulled them within 28-23, and they got even closer when Kaepernick dashed for a 15-yard touchdown run to make it 31-29 with 9:57 left in the game.
Although Kaepernick's two-point conversion pass toward Moss sailed incomplete, the 49ers had very much emerged from the shadows of defeat.
Their third-quarter resuscitation featured a slew of big plays: Crabtree's 31-yard touchdown catch, Ahmad Brooks' third-down sack, Ted Ginn Jr.'s 32-yard punt return, Gore's 6-yard touchdown run, Tarell Brown's forced fumble and David Akers' 34-yard field goal.
"That's when it started to look like a football game," Brooks said.
Linebacker Patrick Willis contemplated for a few seconds when asked what lasting image he'll take from the first Super Bowl appearance of his star-studded six-year career.
"The clock striking zero," Willis said, "and us with fewer points on the scoreboard."