Sept. 18, 2011
Jim Harbaugh prides himself on saying nothing, and explaining less, when it comes to the outer workings of his job and his teams jobs, but to his great revulsion, he must face the fact that he revealed the central essence of the 49ers in one sentence Sunday.We played well enough to win the game, he said, and without taking a breath, followed it with, but we didnt play well enough to win the game.Oh. Well in the case, well done, and shame on you.
I suppose there is some sense to be made in controlling the Dallas Cowboys early, taking a 14-0 lead with the same conservative deftness that propelled them to a 16-0 lead a week ago against Seattle. Nothing flashy, nothing too demanding, just regular tough-minded flatnosed football.But then came the final 39:16, in which they gained 52 yards and three first downs, en route to a galling 27-24 overtime loss in front of a very happy transplanted Cowboy crowd at La Candeliere. A week after they finished 31st in yards gained, they gained three fewer yards than that. They ran for 11 fewer yards. Why, if the Cowboys werent such damaged goods (their injury report starts with Tony Romos ribs and shoulder and goes weird from there), this might have been a full-on rout.In short, Harbaugh might defiantly refuse to play the blame game, saying, Im not gonna play the blame game, the blame here is clear.The man who failed the 49ers is Ted Ginn, Jr. I mean, if he isnt going bust two returns a game, this is going to be a long season.Oh, lets be honest. This is going to be a long season anyway, and the number of 49er fans who sold their seats to Cowboy fans is an indicator that most people know it. There is no quick fix, and Sunday showed the conundrum in which the 49ers are truly wedged.They are at their best when they are careful with the ball, but they cannot run because defenses have put 16 and 17 men in the box to squeeze Frank Gore. The receiving corps were average before Michael Crabtree and then Brandon Edwards went down. The offensive line was stripped naked by Dallas greater talent and multiple fronts.In other words, the 49ers at their most efficient can jump out on a team quickly, but are not yet a team that can keep that opponent jumped upon, and they know it.Or at least they are beginning to suspect it.This isnt about coaching. It certainly wasnt about leaving David Akers 55-yard field goal on the board with 11:12 to play. The 49ers were playing against a crippled quarterback whose two best receivers, Jason Witten and Miles Austin, were clearly hurt. It was the right percentage move.But it also demanded that the defense continue to stifle Romo, Witten and Austin, let alone Jesse Holley, who caught the 77-yard throw on Dallas first offensive play of overtime. The Cowboys gained 237 yards and scored 17 points in fewer than 14 minutes of playing time, and nine minutes of possession time.Thats not a team that played well enough to win, or is in a position to say such a thing, even if it it just pre-programmed, stonewalling nonsense from a coach who is not in a position to say, Were not good enough yet.At least not without two stiff belts of Ginn.Not that Harbaugh will get any more glib in the months and years to come, so lets never mind fixing that idiosyncrasy. It is, as most existentialists will tell, what it is.The fact is that whether the opponent is Seattle or Dallas, scheme will only take you so far. The rest is toughness, and an even more difficult trait to develop, talent. One player change doesnt do it, either, so stop with the blathering about You Know Who. This team simply isnt in a place yet to stand steady on ground like two games over .500.And you all know this as well. Otherwise, Sunday wouldnt have been a modified home game for the Cowboys.But if its any consolation to 49er fans, consider this. The lead the 49ers blew was three fewer points than the one the Raiders coughed up in Buffalo three hours earlier.That, kids, is what happens when you play well enough to win the game but not well enough to win the game.