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.

Patriots win one for the ages, but where does it rank?

Patriots win one for the ages, but where does it rank?

The price of watching Roger Goodell being booed back to the Bronze Age is a subtle but real one, and one that people will feel very dearly soon enough.

The last great cathartic Super Bowl is now done, with the New England Patriots winning the brilliant and decisive battle to be sports’ new evil empire. In doing so, it rendered Goodell a permanent and risible punch line in National Football League history, the mall cop who wanted the death penalty for littering, and in the words of the song “got what he wanted but he lost what he had.”

True, $40 million a year can make the dissolution of your public persona a reasonably decent tradeoff, but we lost the argument about who won his windmill tilt with the Patriots. It’s done, and he is now permanently and irrevocably a figure of ridicule.

But that’s not the only debating point America lost Sunday night, and while you wouldn’t think it given how much time we are willing to shouting at each other, quality arguments are not easily replaced.

We have almost surely lost the mindless debate about the best quarterback ever, because there is nothing anyone can bring up that the words “Tom Brady” cannot rebut except calling his own plays, and since that is no longer allowed in football, it is a silly asterisk to apply.

We have almost surely lost the equally silly shouter about the best coach ever. Bill Belichick is defiantly not fun, but he has built, improved and bronzed an organizational model that is slowly swallowing the rest of the sport. That and five trophies makes him the equal if not better of the short list of Paul Brown, George Halas, Vince Lombardi, Bill Walsh and Tom Landry.

Plus, Belichick locked up the most absurd response to a question in coaching history Monday when he said, “As great as today feels . . . we're five weeks behind the other teams for the 2017 season.” Even allowing for Gregg Popovich in-game interviews, the so-grim-he-could-make-a-robot-cry worship-the-process response has now become a cliché. If 2017 prep was so important, he should have skipped yesterday’s game, and he definitely should have chosen not to waste so much time on the trophy stand after the game when training camp drills needed to be scheduled.

Oh, and DeflateGate died. Dead. No zombie possibilities here.

We do have a meatheaded argument ahead of us about which championship in the last year is the best, which can be settled here.

1. Leicester City, because 5,000-1 is 5,000-1, and the whole world understands that. Plus, there was invaluable three-month buildup that engaged non-soccer fans.

2. Chicago Cubs, because 108 years is 108 years.

3. New England Patriots, because . . . well, I don’t have to explain it unless you have no useful memory span. “Down 25 In The Third Quarter” is the new “Down 3-1.”

4. Cleveland Cavaliers, because they slayed the first unbeatable Warrior team by coming from 3-1 down, and even as a silver medalist, it will always be an internet meme, which is what passes for memorable in our decrepit culture.

5. (tie) Villanova basketball and Clemson football in a tie, because they were essentially the same great game.

7. The Pittsburgh Penguins, because the Stanley Cup Final was devoid of drama or high moments, and only 14:53 of overtime. Feh.

But everything else is settled, and this Super Bowl will not be topped for a long time. Our current cycle of absurd championships is almost surely going to end soon, because “Down 3-1” has happened twice in eight months (three times, if you count Warriors over Thunder), and the bar has now been placed well beyond reasonable clearing.

Indeed, the only thing left is for a championship team to spontaneously combust on the award stand. But if they do so and ignite Roger Goodell along the way, that would be an ending America would cheerfully endorse.

But that also isn’t an argument any more, and yes, that includes Gary Bettman.

Raiders, 49ers can return to their normal madness after Fried Festivus 51

Raiders, 49ers can return to their normal madness after Fried Festivus 51

The Super Bowl is today, which means the best day of the year is fast approaching.

Namely, the day after the Super Bowl.

At that point, we as a nation can complete the inventory of gastric damage we did to ourselves on what shall be known to future generations as Fried Festivus.

At that point, the people who bombard us daily with news of the game – the least important part of the week-long trade show, as we have come to learn it – will all be on planes and too tired to re-explain what we already saw 37 times on game day.

At that point, nobody will care that Terrell Owens was apparently one of the first of the 15 Hall of Fame finalists to be rejected for induction because of crimes against the NFL state. The Hall of Fame is one of the sneaky ways in which the NFL never lets us escape its obnoxiously shouty profile, and the fact that Owens is right about the flawed process doesn’t change the fact that he’ll be just fine with the process when it allows him passage.

At that point, we’ll know whether Tom Brady is to be deemed a god, or merely maintain his demigod status. At least we’ll hear more about it, because it is easily the most tiresome debate in the football diaspora, engaged in by idiots with no better idea about how to kill time. A note: If you think Tom Brady is a greater quarterback because his team won a fifth ring, or a lesser one because he didn’t, your head is now officially empty enough to be reclassified a dance hall, and you are of no more value to normal society than a papier-mache goose.

And at that point, we can return to the two things we in these parts care to know – where the Raiders are going, and how the 49ers are going to present their new football brain trust.

We needn’t explain the Raiders again to you, first because you’ve heard it all if you’re paying any attention at all. Mark Davis has been trying to cobble deals at a frantic pace in hopes that one will stick, and his 31 fellow owners still have to decide how much longer they want to endure him, while faced with the painful fact that the East Bay is getting out of the exploitative license-to-be-stolen-from stadium business. They also get to know as they go to the meeting in Houston that will ostensibly decide Davis’ fate that they have ruined California as a market by their excessive greed-laced stupidity and deserve every lousy market the state can give them.

Which brings us to the 49ers, and the latest round of Judge Them By Their Press Conferences.

If there is anything worse than this team’s on-field profile, which is why Jed York hired Kyle Shanahan, it is the way it explains itself to the outside world, which is why Jed York hired John Lynch. Both Shanahan and Lynch will be paraded before a braying mobs, probably Tuesday, and York will be there as well for the cheesy photo array and a few unconvincing words of praise about each of them (as a note, Paraag Marathe will be present but only in hologrammatic form).

They will then promise – well, something or other – and Lynch will be hailed as the face of the glorious future because the man he replaced, Trent Baalke, had the public persona of a meth-tweaked hyena. Hard to find, and not worth it when you did.

Then we’ll all remember that the job Shanalynch (or Lynchahan, depending on what part of Ireland you’re from) are being asked to do is a three-year reclamation at the very least, and that the only useful question either can be asked is “Can you fix this before Jed gets embarrassed and angry and cans you both?”

And on Wednesday, there’s the start of pre-draft prep (in order words, The Eighty-Day Slave Market), and the hamster wheel to hell gears up again toward Super Bowl LII.

Only next year, the chances of relocation hysteria and a front office upheaval are that much less, and we haven’t sufficient distractions to make the year go faster.

But enjoy Fried Festivus. We can always look forward to that, even if we change the name back in December to the more traditional "Christmas."