49ers look for answers after loss at Baltimore
AP Sports Writer
SAN FRANCISCO – So much for that popular Harbaugh family catchphrase, “Who’s got it better than us? Nobody!”
It had a different ring for Jim Harbaugh on Friday.
John Harbaugh and the Baltimore Ravens absolutely had it best Thursday night. No cross-country travel to play on three days’ rest. No meetings or film sessions on an airplane. No hostile environment against them in prime time.
Still, Jim Harbaugh accepts the fact his San Francisco 49ers (9-2) might have lost to his big brother regardless – even had it been a Sunday game in Candlestick Park with a full week to prepare.
“The fact that we were the road team and we had to travel across country, that put us at a competitive disadvantage,” Harbaugh said Friday of the 16-6 defeat. “I’m not whining, I’m not making excuses, it’s just the truth. We knew it, we had to overcome it and we weren’t able to. And that was a good football team. I think it will make us stronger going forward.”
The Harbaugh brothers typically speak on the phone once a week to rehash their respective games. Sometimes it’s Sunday night, or perhaps Monday because of the time difference, and occasionally not until Tuesday.
Jim is unsure when that conversation might take place after Baltimore snapped San Francisco’s eight-game winning streak in the hyped-up game that marked the first time in NFL history siblings opposed each other as head coaches.
“I don’t have a plan,” the first-year NFL coach said.
There are more pressing matters at the moment than friendly family chats. Such as figuring out what happened with an overmatched offensive line that allowed nine sacks of Alex Smith. The NFC West-leading 49ers made their share of mistakes to miss key opportunities.
Harbaugh insists his team will learn from it. He knows the loss stung for his players, who are closing in on the franchise’s first playoff berth and winning record since 2002.
They hadn’t lost since a 27-24 overtime defeat to the Dallas Cowboys in Week 2, so that had to feel a little strange. And San Francisco had won its initial four road games, all on the East Coast.
“Not everybody feels the same. Everybody’s different,” Harbaugh said of the reaction. “I’m not a psychologist and wasn’t going around checking the whites of everybody’s eyes to see how bad they felt or didn’t feel. The men put a lot into it. They were disappointed. That I could see. They’ll bounce back. This is a team that’s a resilient team and we’ll learn from it. …
“It’s easy to second-guess. We felt like we were playing pretty darn good.”
Harbaugh acknowledged in this case there were multiple problems that led to the sacks on Smith. The offensive line took its lumps – and plenty of criticism – in the early weeks of the season, but made significant strides since to more consistently protect Smith and give him ample time to make plays.
“To put it frankly, we played bad today on the offensive line,” left tackle Joe Staley said in Baltimore. “Guys didn’t come to play today. Disappointing effort. I feel like we let our team down.”
Harbaugh broke it down this way: three sacks resulted from being beaten on protection calls, three in which the 49ers were outplayed physically, and the others cases where Smith held the ball too long.
“There were probably three or four of them where Alex was slippery as heck and got out of there, avoided the pressure, avoided the sack, picked up yardage with his feet or got the ball thrown away,” Harbaugh said. “You go back and you look at what we could have exploited better, what we can learn from it in terms of scheme and play-calling, etc., so they’re all good learning experiences.”
The 49ers play four of their final five games within the division, starting with next Sunday’s home matchup with St. Louis. There’s also a Monday night game at Candlestick on Dec. 19 against the Steelers. The three road games are against each division opponent: the Rams, Seahawks and Cardinals.
Harbaugh gave players the weekend off. They will get back to work Monday.
Right guard Adam Snyder’s status for the game against the Rams is unclear after he strained his left hamstring in the first quarter Thursday. Chilo Rachal replaced Snyder the rest of the way.
“We believe in Chilo Rachal,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t know exactly where it stands at this moment. But, no, I don’t fear it. Adam’s a guy who bounces back quick and Chilo’s up and ready to go.”