Ray Ratto

Ratto: Conservative Harbaugh ekes out first NFL win


Ratto: Conservative Harbaugh ekes out first NFL win

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.

In retirement, Andre Ward will have days when he desperately wants back in


In retirement, Andre Ward will have days when he desperately wants back in

Andre Ward finally did what he said he would do – retire before the sport of boxing retired him.

Now we’ll see if boxing intends to leave him be.

Ward announced his retirement via Twitter Thursday morning, seemingly ending the career of one of the world’s greatest fighters in the elusive pound-for-pound category. He now plans to get into media, which is a battle of its own (ask Teddy Atlas when he talks with Stephen A. Smith how rewarding that can be).

But there’s that word “seemingly.” Boxers have a greater incidence of unretirement than any other sport because they miss what they do, they are typically surrounded by people who like the paydays the boxer’s fights provide, the unpaid tax debts some incur never go away, and sometimes they just don’t have anything better to do.

And then one day they find out they can’t do anything at all because of the punishments that come with violent sport, and then they become either tragedies or cautionary tales. Almost nobody gets to 95 like Jake LaMotta did.

Ward has said repeatedly that would never happen to him, that he was in control of his destiny and would remain so. And you want to believe him, because he would be that rarest of boxing stories – the unmitigated success.

It will be his toughest fight, however, far tougher than Sergei Kovalev. Boxing has this weird thrall upon its practitioners that can prove irresistible, if not outright necessary, and Ward will have to train as hard to repel its call as he did when he was neck-deep in it. It will not be easy, and he will have days when he desperately wants back in.

But retired fighters typically make poor unretired fighters, and the more one unretires, the worse the future becomes. So Andre Ward has to win this one more than any other fight.

And maybe it will be an easy victory for him – but it is a victory that will have to be achieved every day, almost like fighting alcoholism. Boxing is bad for you, and though it has been good for Andre Ward (as far as anyone knows), being an ex-boxer will be even better. He has done what needs to be done, and now he needs to do something else, one that doesn’t require putting his body and brain at risk for our amusement.

If this can be done, Andre Ward can achieve it. But neither he nor anyone else should think it will be any easier than understanding an Adalaide Byrd scorecard. Post-boxing will be difficult and rewarding business. All he has to do is master it every day for the rest of his life.

The time has come to draw your own conclusion

The time has come to draw your own conclusion

For the record, and just so you can’t say you weren’t told, these are the 32 starting quarterbacks in the NFL and the 50 backups. Draw your own conclusions.

(Author’s note: We list these only because Joe Webb was just signed by the Buffalo Bills, whose starter and first backup, Tyrod Taylor and T.J. Yates, are still in the concussion protocol).


DENVER: Trevor Siemian (Paxton Lynch, Brock Osweiler)

KANSAS CITY: Alex Smith (Patrick Mahomes, Tyler Bray)

LOS ANGELES: Philip Rivers (Cardale Jones)

OAKLAND: Derek Carr (E.J. Manuel, Connor Cook)


BALTIMORE: Joe Flacco (Ryan Mallett)

CINCINNATI: Andy Dalton (AJ McCarron)

CLEVELAND: DeShone Kizer (Cody Kessler, Kevin Hogan, Josh Woodrum)

PITTSBURGH: Ben Roethlisberger (Landry Jones, Joshua Dobbs)


HOUSTON: Tom Savage (DeShaun Watson)

INDIANAPOLIS: Scott Tolzien (Andrew Luck, Jacoby Brissett)

JACKSONVILLE: Chad Henne (Blake Bortles)

TENNESSEE: Marcus Mariota (Matt Cassel)


BUFFALO: Nathan Peterman (Taylor, Yates, Webb)

MIAMI: Jay Cutler (Matt Moore, David Fales)

NEW ENGLAND: Tom Brady (Jimmy Garoppolo)

NEW YORK: Josh McCown (Bryce Petty, Christian Hackenberg)


ARIZONA: Carson Palmer (Drew Stanton, Blaine Gabbert)

LOS ANGELES: Jared Goff (Sean Mannion)

SAN FRANCISCO: Brian Hoyer (C.J. Beathard)

SEATTLE: Russell Wilson (Austin Davis)


CHICAGO: Mike Glennon (Mitchell Trubisky, Mark Sanchez)

DETROIT: Matthews Stafford (Jack Rudock)

GREEN BAY: Aaron Rodgers (Brett Hundley)

MINNESOTA: Sam Bradford (Case Keenum)


ATLANTA: Matt Ryan (Matt Schaub)

CAROLINA: Cam Newton (Derek Anderson, Brad Kaaya)

NEW ORLEANS: Drew Brees (Chase Daniel, Taysom Hill)

TAMPA BAY: Jameis Winston (Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Griffin)


DALLAS: Dak Prescott (Cooper Rush)

NEW YORK: Eli Manning (Geno Smith, Davis Webb)

PHILADELPHIA: Carson Wentz (Nick Foles)

WASHINGTON: Kirk Cousins (Colt McCoy)

Again, draw your own conclusions. I know I’ve drawn mine.