49ers vs. Panthers: Can your heart handle another close one?

Ronald Martinez

It was another wild finish for the 49ers. Coach Harbaugh doesn't mind close games, but how much more can we handle as fans?

The San Francisco 49ers travel to face the Carolina Panthers this weekend, and it's a safe bet that this will be a close game. I know some folks have predicted the 49ers will roll (just as I'm sure some Panthers fans think Carolina will handle San Francisco), but these are two very evenly matched teams. I like the 49ers advantages over the Panthers, but mix in the travel, the recovery from the Packers game, and the 10 a.m. PT start, and I just feel this game will go down to the wire.

As 49ers fans, we've had to "get used to" playing such thrillers in the playoffs. Through 2+ postseasons, the 49ers have played six games under Jim Harbaugh. They beat the Saints and lost to the Giants in 2012. They beat the Packers and Falcons, then lost to the Ravens in 2013. This year, they've beaten the Packers, and will next face the Panthers.

Of the six games played, only one (last year's Packers divisional round matchup) has been decided by more than four points. And of those five close games, all five could be described as coming down to the wire. Here's a quick rundown:

  • 2012: The 49ers beat the Saints 36-32 on a touchdown pass from Alex Smith to Vernon Davis with 9 seconds left
  • 2012: The 49ers lose to the Giants 20-17 on a field goal in overtime
  • 2013: The 49ers overcome a 17-0 deficit to defeat the Falcons 28-24. The game was effectively decided when the 49ers put together a red zone stand with 1:09 left in the fourth quarter
  • 2013: The 49ers lose to the Ravens 34-31 when they can't convert a fourth and goal at the Ravens 5 with 1:46 remaining
  • 2014: The 49ers defeat the Packers 23-20 on a field goal as time expires

Although the 49ers beat the Packers 45-31 in last year's divisional round, even that game got off to a rocky start when Colin Kaepernick threw an early pick-six. It was nothing like the other four games, but it had some early dramatics.

At times it seems like this team is built for these kinds of games with the grinding defense, run game and special teams. At other teams, it seems like this team should be blowing teams out of the water. We saw that Sunday when the 49ers failed to convert touchdowns on goal to go situations at the end of their first two drives. It is frustrating, and something that needs to be improved upon.

On Monday, Coach Harbaugh was asked about the close games the 49ers have dealt with late this season. The 49ers have won by single digits in four of their last five games over the Seahawks, Falcons, Cardinals and now Packers. Someone actually asked him if he liked those kind of games, or if it "irritated" him:

"Winning's never an irritant to me. Never, never, never. I would think the TV audience would be highly tuned into the 49er games. They don't turn off their sets when they're watching the San Francisco 49ers. Must be very entertaining. But, no, I'm never irritated by a win. It's never an irritant to me."

It is indeed some entertaining football, and the TV audience does not turn off their sets when watching our 49ers. Sunday's 49ers-Packers Wild Card game got the highest overnight rating in Wild Card history. It was the most watched television program since Super Bowl XLVII. It was an interesting, historical matchup coming into the game, and I imagine plenty of people tuned in as the game developed and it was looking like it would come down to the wire.

The real question though is if our hearts can handle this as many as three more times? I'm willing to roll the dice and see what happens, but it's going to be rough on this man's heart. It makes for an interesting run, but the emotional highs and lows can be absolutely draining.

Speaking of those emotional highs, following the game, Jim Harbaugh was definitely up there. First, check out his locker room speech to the team. He is really fired up. Next, check out his post-game media session. Finally, I absolutely love this quotation during his Monday media session. He was asked about his post-game giddiness, and what made him so happy (video here):

People may disagree, but personally, as a player and what that meant for the players, I was happy and ecstatic for them because I haven't found anything that makes you feel more like a man than to go, not only beat your opponent, but you're beating their crowd, and then, the elements, in a playoff game. And both teams have to beat the elements. But, in a playoff game, to beat the elements, to beat the opposing team, to beat the opposing crowd, just nothing quite makes you feel like a man like that, that I've found.

Opposing fans get annoyed with Jim Harbaugh, but I guarantee you the NFL would be less interesting if he was not coaching the San Francisco 49ers. That's for sure.

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