PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 2: Head coach Jim Harbaugh of the San Francisco 49ers looks on in the second quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles during an NFL football game at Lincoln Financial Field on October 2, 2011 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The 49ers defeated the Eagles 24-23. (Photo by Rich Schultz /Getty Images)
It's Monday morning and while things are not perfect in 49ers-land, it's pretty close. The 49ers emerged somewhat scathed in their 48-3 rumbling over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as Joshua Morgan suffered what is being reported as a fractured ankle. While that is a downer (more to come), the game itself was otherwise pretty awesome.
As I said yesterday, this was the most complete effort by a 49ers team since the 2002 playoff team. We've had some strong performances in recent years, but never four quarters of domination. No team can dominant for four quarters for 16 games. But good teams will dominate whistle to whistle several times a year. The 49ers still have plenty to build towards, but they are establishing a fantastic base from which to build.
The team is executing with greater and greater precision and that has been one key to victory. But the San Francisco 49ers are returning to relevancy in 2011 because of Jim Harbaugh. We're only five weeks into the season, and yet, I feel like I can say that if you are not sold on Jim Harbaugh, I don't know what else there is that can be done.
Yes, the 49ers have to take what they did against the Bucs and establish some game-to-game consistency. There are still some areas to improve and continue to get better each day. The team has to deal with some injuries and remaining difficult games on the schedule. And yet in spite of all this, I move forward with more confidence in the 49ers than I have felt since Steve Mariucci was coaching the team.
The biggest question mark in regards to Coach Harbaugh came on a late play. As @49ersCBSSports pointed out and I had overlooked, the pass play where Morgan was hurt actually came on 4th and 3 at the Bucs 20. Instead of kicking a field goal the 49ers went for it, converted the fourth down and lost Morgan for an undetermined amount of time.
The game was all but over with four minutes left. The 49ers had already proven they were a dominant team on the day. It got Colin Kaepernick a chance to make a fourth down play, but even still, was it worth it? I know hindsight is 20/20, but isn't the concern about losing players to injury one of the reasons teams bench players when they're up big late in a game? I think this goes beyond hindsight and considers common sense and logic.
Moving forward it will be interesting to see how Harbaugh responds if a similar situation presents itself.
Head Coach Jim Harbaugh
Press Conference - October 9, 2011
San Francisco 49ers vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Was that about as well as you guys could execute?
"It was good, it was definitely very good. Felt like everybody contributed: offense, defense, special teams. I think you're going to see a lot of good play by a lot of folks. Secondary stood out, probably the most, shined the brightest. Getting their hands on balls all over the field, getting takeaways, making huge plays, scoring, just thought it was a phenomenal effort by them. [LB] Patrick Willis, [LB NaVorro] Bowman all over the field, again. Next thing to highlight, just the play of our receivers and the way they blocked, and the way the tight ends blocked. There was second level blocking; there was hustle, just outstanding. Then, yards after contact by our skilled players, thought was really good. It all got going with the passing game. Thought [QB] Alex [Smith] did a terrific job. Offensive line, I thought, was at their best today, in all regards. No sacks and coming off the ball; really felt they played well. Stopped the run, our guys were set up to do that, they wanted to do that. They made that a point of emphasis and they got that done. Across the board, I thought it was an outstanding day by our team."
You mentioned the yards after contact by the receivers. How much of that is Alex Smith putting it in a nice place for them to keep going down field?
"I think Alex was really on point today, right from the opening snap of the game. Came out, read the play properly, got it to [RB] Frank [Gore], because it was covered down field. Then, just made really cool headed decisions all day long. That was big. His location, though, his accuracy, I thought was the best of the season. One high ball to [WR] Michael Crabtree on a third down, and Crab again goes up and makes the high catch. He makes it look so easy the way he does it. I've never seen a guy with that strong of hands, to just pluck a ball at the outer ring of his catch radius is really outstanding."
When Alex is on like that, what is sort of different? What is important for him fundamentally, mechanically that is different from him being just okay to being really, really good?
"I think it's all the guys. It's always the unit. It's always how they play together, how they function together. I think he had time to see things today because the offensive line did a great job protecting, not just straining but locking guys up at the line of scrimmage. All together, receivers that make plays for you like that, running game that gets cranked up, I think it all feeds on each of those phases."
What was it about the matchup with putting TE Delanie Walker on the field that you guys used that more than maybe two back sets?
"Right now, I don't know. I would have to look at the numbers to self-scout ourselves to know that we did that more than normal. But that's always a big part of our plan, Delanie, [TE] Vernon [Davis] and the two wide outs."
How big of a play was CB Carlos Rogers' interception return to kind of get everything going in your favor?
"I thought that was huge because we had just turned the ball over on the fumble when we had knocked it down in there on a long drive and came away with no points. But then, Carlos gets that interception, that puts us right back in business. That was huge. I think he's had three in a row now, right? Three games in a row with an interception. Just outstanding."
Did you think both the offense and the defense would be this intact in week five?
Like today, both the offense and defense were pretty superb.
"I thought we played well. I thought our guys really prepared well, I thought they were ready to play this game. From an emotional standpoint I thought they were prepared; physically and mentally for the ball game. Thought our coaches did an outstanding job preparing our guys for that. We'll just move on with humble hearts and get ready for Detroit.
Does this surprise you at all? Here you are 3-1 and you played so well today...
This early in the season, I mean that things have come together so quickly?
"I think a lot of you think it's a cliché that we're really just focused on getting better. Being better tomorrow than we were today. Being better today than we were yesterday. That's how we're judging success, so we didn't put any limitations on ourselves or any things like that. We'll just keep moving on with that plan, improving. Not changing but improving."
What kind of setup was this, though, to get you to the next level?
"Thought it was a great win for our team, great thrill of winning. We take the next step. It was a step. I feel like our team performed well, competed hard."
Buccaneers QB Josh Freeman didn't get into a rhythm during that game at all. It seemed like he had a lot of trouble with your coverages early. Did you guys do anything different for a plan in the secondary?
"We were doing some things, we were changing some things up. We don't really talk about the scheme. I thought that our players, especially in the secondary, were just breaking on balls and fast. Fastest I've ever seen our guys break and cover and read. I thought they were getting the jump, and I think that's just good. It's good playing, it's good coaching, it's good scheme. I think it was tied in very well together. The line, the linebackers, the secondary, everybody was on point today."
Can you talk about the play of DT Ricky Jean Francois from what you saw?
"It's Ricky Jean, it's Ricky Jean. Get the pronunciation right. I think he was outstanding, Ricky
Jean was outstanding. There was never any doubt that it wouldn't be. Ricky Jean's prepared hard, he's a heck of a football player, we had great confidence in him."
Does the way you won in Philly last week help you take these next steps, make you better?
"The game in Philly? I think that was a good character builder for a young team last week. To be able to do that on the road and then bounce back and put an exclamation point on and stamp that, that's another step, that's another block, another building block for our team. Certainly not where we want to be yet, but we'll leave out of here and enjoy this one and then get back to work."
Can you enjoy it after WR Joshua Morgan goes down late in the game? Does that sort of cast a pall over the day a little bit?
"We'll see. When we were out there on the field, Josh said it was starting to cool down. We'll get an evaluation on it."
How special was this win for you given that, I think you made some comments yesterday regarding the passing of Coach Al Davis and how much he made an influence to your coaching career?
"Yes. First of all, like you said, any time you win a game it's a great thrill of winning. I think Mr. Davis would have been proud of the way our team played today. He would have been proud of those guys."
The play that Joshua Morgan got hurt on, it was 41-3 and it was a pass. It's easy to second guess that, why were you still in kind of a passing mode?
"You've got to play. You can't take a knee with four minutes left in the game. It could have been a run. Josh was competing; I think he's going to be okay. [QB Colin] Kaepernick is competing; he's got to get to work. We're not taking a knee with four minutes left in the game."
You talked about the running game being cranked up; Frank Gore had another strong game, second game in a row. Can you talk a little bit about him?
"Another strong game by Frank. I thought he was seeing things really well today, I thought he was seeing holes. Thought he was planting very well, he was making the shallow cuts today. He had his burst back. He looked like Frank. He's having fun out there. That's the thing I see in Frank most of all right now, is that he's enjoying football."