49ers Vs. Giants, NFC Championship Game: Jim Harbaugh Discusses Whether To Keep The Clock Running

49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh chatted with the media today before practice and there was an intriguing question that came up about Alex Smith's touchdown run. On a 3rd and 8 at the 49ers 28, Smith ran a keeper to the right that ended with him scampering in for a go-ahead touchdown with 2:11 remaining.

Today, the media asked Coach Harbaugh whether he would have preferred Alex Smith stop short of the goal line to run more clock. It almost cost the 49ers as the Saints marched down the field to nearly win the game, but obviously things worked out ok. In response, Coach Harbaugh had this to say:

That's a great question. Now you're going to get some debate here because there would be two schools of thought on this one. First of all, we didn't ‘heads up him' to do that. Because it was a third-and-eight play and we were back there at the 30-yard line. We're trying to get thefirst down. You certainly wouldn't put any thought in his mind of that at that point. The other thing was, he scores and you're still outside the two minute warning. You're still up there around 2:10, 2:15, 2:20. With them having one timeout, you kick that field goal at about 1:20 and that gives the Saints or the opposing team 1:20, only needing a field goal to beat you. I think you weigh out all the percentages and odds and you'd rather have the touchdown at that point. I think, right decision by Alex. Made the battlefield decision and took it into the end zone. I think it was the right one.

I can see the argument for stopping short of the goal line, but given how badly things can go, and forcing the Saints into a position to need to score a touchdown seemed like a good idea. The Saints had one timeout remaining so the 49ers could have brought the clock down pretty low, and they have the best kicker in the game right now. So, there is a significant argument for trying to whittle down the clock.

How would you have handled it? It's in the past now, but there is always the chance something like this comes up again against an explosive offense. The Giants can move the ball quickly with their receivers, and the Patriots can do some impressive things with that offense. So, it's not like this has no chance of happening again.

Head Coach Jim Harbaugh
Press Conference - January 19, 2012
San Francisco 49ers

Listen to Audio I Media Center

We're going to talk to CEO Jed York in a little bit, just talk about what contact you've had with him throughout the season. Have you had meetings with him after games? What's the relationship there this season with Jed?

"It's been shoulder to shoulder along with [General Manager] Trent [Baalke] and [Owner] John York. Everybody in the organization doing their job. I can't do Jed's job and I can't do [RB] Frank Gore's job. Everybody kind of doing their job. Weekly, sometimes daily."

He's obviously a young guy running the franchise. What was your first take of him when you were interviewing for a job?

"Very smart. Very quick-minded. Had the ability to make cool decisions. Had seen evidence of that over and over. Just all really positive. Set up a structure here to be an organization that's a top organization. Stand the test of time in all regards. Felt like he'd be a good skipper of the ship."

If you had to identify your team in a word or two, what comes to mind for you? Secondly, what has K David Akers meant to this team? What kind of year has he had?

"In a word or two? Define the team? I'll use six: The Team, The Team, The Team. With this team, that's not just a mantra, that's who they are. David Akers really could be our most valuable player. Maybe our most talented player. Really going along with who we are, [DT] Justin Smith can't do David Akers' job. David can't do Frank Gore's job or [QB] Alex Smith's job or [DT] Ray McDonald's job or [S] Donte Whitner's job. It's that kind of group that it's really who they are. They're a team. They all understand what they had to do. Specifically David Akers, he's probably the most talented guy at what he does, not only in the league this year, but it may shake out that he's the best of all time."

Talk about the offensive line. Alex's development has been credited far and wide. What have you seen from the day of the start with the offensive line to where they are now?

"They've gotten better and better. I think that's a group that really has taken to heart being better today than they were yesterday and being better tomorrow than they are today. It's helped that they've all played together. They've all stayed healthy. They've all played 17 games. It's a pretty expansive question, what you're asking. Let's go back to day one and detail out every way that they've performed. They're 14-3. That's how they've performed. That's the kind of offensive line that they've been. They've been a 14-3 type of offensive line."

With the six comebacks this season, we talked about the ‘95 comebacks of the Colts, what common traits do those teams have that make such comebacks possible?

"I hate to compare. You can't compare. It's so hard to compare. You're talking 15 or 16 years ago, my goodness. It's like baseball. Who's the greatest baseball player of all time? It's such a tough argument. I like to say Willie Mays, but you have other people that'll say Babe Ruth, because of what he did in his era. That he had more homeruns than any other baseball player, than some other teams hit at that time. He was hitting 65 and other teams were hitting nine. It's really tough to make comparisons. I think Willie Mays, too. Don't you, Art? Five-tool player. Lot of baseball people disagree with that. They've got a heck of an argument in Babe Ruth. Maybe that's a discussion for another time."

But Babe Ruth didn't play at Candlestick though.

"But Willie Mays didn't pitch. This could go on and on."

What tools do the modern-era 49ers possess?

"If you are going to make a comparison to players that played in the 90s to the ones that are playing now, I think the players now, and you have evidence of this, are bigger, they're stronger, they're faster, they're smarter. There are just so many qualities that they are."

What Cam means is what are the most important traits of a comeback team? What's the most important trait of a team that can come back?

"I don't know that I'm the expert of knowing that. Really, I kind of just answer that with really... we're not in to answering questions. We're really not looking to write the magazine article or the book. Or anything like that. We're still asking questions as a team. That's what we are. That's how we have been doing this all along. There's no reason to veer off of that. Do we have what it takes to find a way to win? If we're in that situation again this week, are we focused enough and diligent enough to study the way we need to, this team that we're playing this week? Will we be as physical as the Giants in this ball game? Are we tough enough to play with this team this week? There's just so many questions that we're asking. Just no time to be answering questions right now."

One real specific thing for you. When Alex ran in the touchdown at the end of the game, there was some discussion that maybe it would have been better if he stopped before the goal line, run more clock, kick the field goal. Would you have preferred that if you could have done it that way or are you more take the touchdown when you can get it?

"That's a great question. Now you're going to get some debate here because there would be two schools of thought on this one. First of all, we didn't ‘heads up him' to do that. Because it was a third-and-eight play and we were back there at the 30-yard line. We're trying to get thefirst down. You certainly wouldn't put any thought in his mind of that at that point. The other thing was, he scores and you're still outside the two minute warning. You're still up there around 2:10, 2:15, 2:20. With them having one timeout, you kick that field goal at about 1:20 and that gives the Saints or the opposing team 1:20, only needing a field goal to beat you. I think you weigh out all the percentages and odds and you'd rather have the touchdown at that point. I think, right decision by Alex. Made the battlefield decision and took it into the end zone. I think it was the right one."

Can you talk a little about confidence and how that plays into everything you're talking about here? Really when you think about the beginning of the season until now how that's evolved with this team? You do something and you do it again, you're in a situation and you come through, where does that fit?

"It's one of those words. Confidence is a funny thing. Love is a funny thing. I think with these players, you've got to darn sure be confident. You just don't stand a chance if you're not. I think all these men are. They're those kinds of guys that play professional football. They're confident, strong-willed men. That confidence can grow. We've seen that. We've seen evidence of that on this team. I think it comes from the belief that they have in themselves, but also they see how other guys are working, preparing, playing. That confidence has the ability to grow that way."

What about the fact that you actually get something done and it's tested. Does that add to that resolve, add to that confidence?

"I think it definitely grows that way. You see evidence. You see that the training, the hard work, the study pays off for yourself and that's evidence. Or you see that in somebody else, like ‘look at the way he's doing things, look at the way he comes in here every morning at 6:15.' T. Brown's on the treadmill every single day until about 6:45, 6:50. Just using him specifically as an example, but there's other guys like [CB] Tarell Brown that do that. Then he goes into the meetings and studies. Then you watch him on the practice field work. Then you see him in games having success. Then the other player, the younger player perhaps, sees that and, ‘that's the way to do it.' It's just a matter of pushing each other. Each confidence has the ability to go up that way."

It's a very fundamental skill, tackling. You guys seem to do it extremely well. Have you been associated with a better tackling team as far as defense?

"I can't think of a team that I've been associated with that's a better tackling team than this."

Is there some secret to it or is just the talent you inherited here?

"Probably both. There are some secrets and there's a lot of talent here."

You're not going to tell me the secrets are you?

"No, no, no. No questions on the weather?"

Are you taking any special precautions because of the weather?

"Interesting you'd ask that. I know I was standing on my balcony today at about 6:20, 6:30 that area. Looked out and saw a very red sky. That means that ‘red sky at night, sailors' delight. Red sky in morning, sailors take warning.' I anticipate that we'll have some precipitation today. Some weather. That'll be a great thing for us. Admiral Bull Halsey once said, ‘If you're going to fight in the North Atlantic, then you've got to prepare in the North Atlantic.' They're anticipating some rain on Sunday. We won't know until Sunday morning when we can check the sky. Excited that we may get some rain today at practice. Might help us to prepare for the ball game on Sunday."

This might be too technical of a question, but if it rains today or rains tomorrow can you simulate what Candlestick is going to be like? Do you have the same grass here as Candlestick?

"It's a matter of, it's not just today or tomorrow. This team is built for just about any weather conditions. You simulate that through the months, through the years."

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