Jim Harbaugh's unguarded moment

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Jim Harbaugh's unguarded moment

Three days later, it's an image I still can't get out of my mind.Jim Harbaugh, for the first time since becoming 49ers coach a year earlier, unexpectedly revealed a part of himself he had gone to great lengths to hide.He tried as best he could to obscure the pain of the 49ers' gut-wrenching overtime loss to the New York Giants in the NFC Championship Game a day earlier.
But at the end of his 22-minute press conference on Monday, his eyes reddened and watered. He wiped his right eye, and then he abruptly exited the podium.

The snapshot in my mind that I'll remember about the end of the 49ers' season won't be Kyle Williams in the locker room accepting words of encouragement from teammates, coaches and others.
RELATED: Kyle Williams -- the day after
It won't be Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes and his teammates celebrating on the field while a stunned Candlestick Park crowd fell silent.My lasting memory will be Harbaugh's brief emotional moment a day later that went unnoticed by many at his season-ending press conference.From my from seat, less than 10 feet from where Harbaugh stood, it was obvious that a simple question prompted Harbaugh to lapse into unspoken introspection.How did you spend your time after the game? What did you do last night?Harbaugh paused. And then he tried his best to deflect the question and change the subject as his eyes told that the true answer would reveal more than he was willing to share."Is it just California that everybody just wants to know how you feel? Care about what you thought, what you did, how you felt, how your pinky feels," Harbaugh said, trying to turn light-hearted. "Is that just a California thing? Back where I come from, nobody really cares. In my opinion, it is a California thing."Actually, it's a human thing.People are emotionally attached to their team. Part of the media's job is to bring the people on the TV sets to life for the general public. People want to root for individuals with whom they can relate.Harbaugh does not want to "peel back the onion," as he likes to say, for fear that he'll show weakness. He often speaks of the "mighty men" in the 49ers' locker room. Perhaps Harbaugh believes the leader of these mighty men must be the mightiest of them all."This team's not defeated by any stretch of the imagination," Harbaugh said just minutes after the 49ers' season-ending loss. "A man can be destroyed, but he can't be defeated as long as this team knows that there's hope."Harbaugh borrowed the thought from Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea. Harbaugh is a football coach, but there's a lot more there, too. A week earlier, he spoke of Candlestick Park as a fortress, a clear reference to the work of Homer, author of the Iliad and the Odyssey.When speaking about the advantages of practicing in the same weather that the 49ers might play in Sunday at Candlestick Park, Harbaugh said, "Admiral Bull Halsey once said, 'If you're going to fight in the North Atlantic, then you've got to prepare in the North Atlantic.'"(It's difficult to pin down exactly whom first used that quote, but it has been attributed to Admiral Chester Nimitz.)As the season wore on, Harbaugh became more relaxed around the handful of media members who were around his team every day, though you might not have seen any evidence of it when he was standing in front of the group answering questions.Harbaugh began making regular stops inside the locker room to make small talk with reporters during the second half of the season. There was another time early in the season when Harbaugh broke out of coach mode around the media. It was the day the 49ers were leaving Youngstown, Ohio, en route to Philadelphia for their Week 4 game. Three reporters who cover the team shared with Harbaugh their plan to spend that Friday in Gettysburg.Harbaugh seemed genuinely excited to share his thoughts, in great detail, when asked if he had any advice on what to see and what to do. Harbaugh and his family visited the Civil War battlefield several months earlier. A few days later, he followed up with questions of his own about the reporters' visit.We've seen a lot of emotion from Harbaugh this season. He gets excited on the sideline. He gets upset. He can be defiant, stubborn. He's fiercely loyal to his players. And it's difficult to find anything he did wrong during his first year as 49ers head coach.After all, he took over a poorly coached 6-10 team, assembled a strong staff, put a plan into place during the lockout, managed to get the players to completely buy into his program, and he changed the culture inside the 49ers building.The 49ers were a couple mistakes away from playing in the Super Bowl. As a player, he experienced it. As quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts, he got tantalizingly close to the Super Bowl, only to lose to the Pittsburgh Steelers, 20-16, in the AFC Championship Game in January of 1996. Harbaugh, as well as anyone, knows how difficult it is to get this far.It was an emotional loss for players and for fans of the team, to be sure.After the game, Harbaugh tried to hide his own emotions. He made his rounds inside the locker room to inform all the players of a final team meeting set for 1 p.m. the next day. He tried to handle it with a business-as-usual approach.But that evening, Harbaugh spent time with his family. A day later, his eyes told a story about the pain of the defeat. It's a story he did not want to share with the public.Still, there was something there. He showed the human side -- if for just a brief moment. And it made me feel something about Jim Harbaugh that I had not felt since I began covering him.Maybe it is just a California thing.

Reports: Former 49ers wide receiver to visit Bills

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AP

Reports: Former 49ers wide receiver to visit Bills

Aquan Boldin is looking for a new football home.

And the former 49ers wide receiver is visiting with the Bills on Monday, according to multiple reports.

Boldin started all 16 games with the Lions last season, recording 67 catches for 584 yards and eight touchdowns.

From 2013 to 2015 with the 49ers, he racked up 237 receptions, 3030 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns.

The three-time Pro Bowler will turn 37 years old in October.

Boldin entered the NFL as the 54th overall pick in the 2003 draft.

Taking a closer look at Ryan's criticism of Shanahan

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Taking a closer look at Ryan's criticism of Shanahan

There is no shortage of blame to go around for the Atlanta Falcons’ collapse in Super Bowl 51.

The Falcons built a 28-3 lead in the middle of the third quarter and let it slip away, ultimately falling to the New England Patriots, 34-28, in overtime.

Matt Ryan voiced one previously undisclosed factor in the collapse this week in an interview with Pete Prisco of CBS Sports, pointing the finger at the new coach of the 49ers.

Kyle Shanahan has been the focus of a lot of the blame, but critique from the league MVP was a new one.

The Falcons quarterback faulted his former offensive coordinator for taking too much time to relay the play calls. Ryan said he did not have enough time to change any of the plays – presumably checking out of called pass plays to run the ball.

Here’s what Ryan told Prisco:

"Kyle's play calls -- he would take time to get stuff in. As I was getting it, you're looking at the clock and you're talking 16 seconds before it cuts out. You don't have a lot of time to say, 'There's 16 seconds, no, no, no, we're not going to do that. Hey, guys, we're going to line up and run this.' You're talking about breaking the huddle at seven seconds if you do something along the lines.

"With the way Kyle's system was set up, he took more time to call plays and we shift and motion a lot more than we did with (former coordinator) Dirk (Koetter). You couldn't get out of stuff like that. We talk about being the most aggressive team in football. And I'm all for it. But there's also winning time. You're not being aggressive not running it there."

The 49ers can point to mismanagement of the clock for their own Super Bowl heartbreak. The 49ers’ offense had the perfect play call at the perfect time against the Baltimore Ravens late in Super Bowl XLVII.

But with the play clock striking :00, coach Jim Harbaugh was forced to call a timeout from the sideline. A split-second later, the ball was snapped and it appeared the quarterback run would have easily ended up with Colin Kaepernick in the end zone.

Much like after the 49ers’ loss, the Falcons left plenty of room for second-guessing.

Two of Shanahan’s plays calls, which directly led to the collapse, will forever be scrutinized.

The first came with 8:31 remaining in regulation and the Falcons holding a 28-12 lead. On third and 1 from the Atlanta 36, Shanahan did not remain conservative with an expected run play. He swung for the fence.

Receiver Aldrick Robinson, whom the 49ers added this offseason as a free-agent pickup, was breaking free past the Patriots secondary for what could have been a touchdown. But just as Ryan was unloading, New England linebacker Dont’a Hightower hit him and forced the fumble. Running back Devonta Freeman whiffed on blitz pickup, which would have provided Ryan with enough time to target Robinson deep.

Ryan’s explanation does not appear applicable on this play, though. In watching the replay, the Falcons broke the huddle with more than 25 seconds remaining on the play clock and the snap occurred with :15 to spare.

The other questionable sequence came after the Falcons – leading by eight points -- got to the New England 22-yard line with less than five minutes to play. The Falcons lost 1 yard on a run play on first down.

On second down, Ryan was sacked for a 12-yard loss. Before that play, the Falcons broke the huddle with :19 on the play clock. The snap occurred with :04 remaining. The game clock was running, so the Falcons had reason to attempt to burn as much clock as possible.

In the fourth quarter, the Falcons never seemed rushed to get off a play. The closest they came to delay-of-game penalties were when they snapped the ball with :04 on the one play and :03 another time. The majority of their snaps occurred with :10 or more seconds to spare.

If the Falcons were guilty of anything when it came to the play clock, it was that the offense did not waste more time. After New England pulled to within 28-9 late in the third quarter, the Falcons ran only six offensive plays while the game clock was running.

On those six plays, the Falcons snapped the ball with :13, :09, :14, :20, :13 and :04 remaining on the play clock. If they’d snapped the ball with one second remaining each time, they could have shortened the game by 1 minute, 7 seconds. The Patriots scored the game-tying touchdown with :57 remaining in regulation.