Ratto: Conservative Harbaugh ekes out first NFL win

September 12, 2011, 1:51 am
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Sept. 11, 2011


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For those of who you thought Jim Harbaugh would leap, fully formed and pushing in with seven-deuce all day long Sunday, surprise. Hes just like every other NFL coach.And for those of you who thought Ted Ginn would turn into Devin Hester, surprise again. He did.Ginns 102-yard kick return and 55-yard punt return 59 seconds apart in the fourth quarter -- the first such double touchdown in franchise history -- gave the newest new-era 49ers a 33-17 win over the stultifying Seattle Seahawks Sunday.RECAP: 49ers win opener thanks to Ginn's two return TDs
But without it, the 49ers would have been a very vanilla-on-white-bread team, living off a stout defense and David Akers chip-shot-honed left leg. Which, frankly, tells us that for the moment, and as should have been expected, the Jim Harbaugh Era still has more than mere trace elements of the Mike Singletary Era.

And before you get your delicates into an uncomfortable formation, we speak here of the conservative, careful, largely predictable offense that is dictated by the personnel and the opponent, rather than the Harbaugh of the last two seasons at Stanford, which was all wolverines-out-of-hats and no-lead-too-safe-to-make-seven-point-safer.In other words, Harbaugh coached to his talent, Pete Carrolls talent, and the exigencies of the National Football League. Why, he even did something with Carroll on the other sideline he had never done before.He took a knee to kill the clock. Twice.And he should have, just as he should have taken a fifth field goal off the board at the end of the first half to take a couple of shots at the end zone -- which he got when Alexander D. Smith chugged into the end zone for the offenses only TD, 12 seconds from halftime. We were a pretty blue-collar offense today, Harbaugh kept saying, which is a fancy way of saying he did very little to fool the Seahawks. No discernible razzle, barely a bit of dazzle. Frank Gore ran 22 times for 59 yards, even though Seattle clearly schemed to stop him first, last and in between, and ran eight times on third down in 12 tries, converting none of the runs and only one of the passes.In short, Harbaugh did what he used to do at Stanford when his personnel wasnt infused with Andrew Luck. He did with what he had, as conservatively as he could get away with and as liberally as he thought he could sneak.Because, and lets be honest here, what he has is still largely Mike Singletarys personnel.This should not be a surprise to those who know that in the NFL, change is like turning an ocean liner. It needs lots of planning and takes a long time to complete. And with the lockout smothering his plans to recreate the franchise and all its minions in his own image, it will take even longer.Thus, he kept Smith on a short leash, with only 20 pass attempts and one major blocking assignment, on a reverse-field pitch to Gore than netted 12 yards. He rang up memories of the old Lombardi line, You want a seam here, and a seam here, and you take it . . . up . . . the alley.Yes, Alex Smith as Fuzzy Thurston. Whod have guessed?But whatever members of the audience had qualms about this carefully controlled offense, they were overcome when Ginn broke the game open, giving the game the pizzazz it had lacked for so long, and Harbaugh his first National Football League victory.On a day when the St. Louis Rams were decimated by the Philadelphia Eagles, Arizona pipped Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers, and Seattle declared itself one of the five or six worst teams in the league, the 49ers established . . .. . . well, not a lot, really. There will be at least 14 games where gaining 209 total yards, lower than all but Minnesotas 187 in San Diego, will not be sufficient. Neither will averaging 2.7 yards per rush, or 4.0 per play, or throwing only 20 times. Were still allowing for the possibility that the 49ers can get away with this in Seattle, barring new information between now and Christmas Eve.But for one day, Harbaugh gets the last word:The only goal is to win, and our guys did a great job.Okay, not the last word. They did a competent job on a day when competence was good enough. It wont be so low a standard as often that wins the game, but the 49ers will presumably raise their game from this.If not, it will be a lot closer to the Singletary Years than anyone wants to consider.