DETROIT -- This is what I know about the San Francisco 49ers: They're a vastly underrated team that knows how to close games, can suffocate you with their defense and will win the NFC West. This is what I know about the 49ers' head coach: He's a guy who knows how to pull off unexpected victories but hasn't learned how to celebrate them.
It happened at Stanford, and it happened again here.
Rewind the videotape to the aftermath of San Francisco's 25-19 upset of previously unbeaten Detroit, and you'll see a delirious Harbaugh running onto the field, both arms raised, before engaging losing coach Jim Schwartz in a handshake and back slap at midfield. Then he turns to run to the locker room, and that's where the plot thickens.
Schwartz runs after him, confronting Harbaugh after he chases him down from behind, only to be restrained by 49ers offensive tackle Anthony Davis. By then, other players get involved, as well as San Francisco public relations director Bob Lange, and the two are separated -- with Harbaugh leaving to join his players in a jubilant locker room.
End of story, right? Not exactly. According to Harbaugh, the problem was that he was overly enthusiastic with his postgame handshake ("I was just really revved up," he said) and apologized to Schwartz underneath the stands afterward.
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"It's totally on me," Harbaugh said. "I shook his hand too hard."
Only Schwartz's version didn't exactly correspond with Harbaugh's. He said that when he went to congratulate Harbaugh he "got shoved out of the way." He didn't say by whom, but he did say that wasn't all.
"I didn't expect an obscenity at that point," Schwartz continued. "So it was a surprise to me at the end of the game. I'll just leave it right there. I'm sure it's on video."
It is, but it's unclear what was said ... or if anything was said ... and it's also unclear what exactly set Schwartz off -- other, that is, than a disappointing defeat.
"After the game" Schwartz said, "[I] went to shake an opposing coach's hand. Obviously, you win a game like that, you're excited and things like that, but I think there's a protocol that goes with this league."
Well, there is. But there's also a protocol that goes with college football, and that didn't prevent Harbaugh from mixing it up with then-Southern California coach Pete Carroll after Stanford surprised the Trojans -- with the two engaging in a game of "What's your deal?" afterward.
It seemed semi-comical then, just as this does. But if nobody intervened Sunday, I wonder what would've happened. I guess we can thank Anthony Davis for running interference for his head coach so we won't know.
Anyway, the point is: Harbaugh is an excitable guy, and that passion has been picked up by a team that is playing way, way, way beyond expectations and already establishing itself as a legitimate playoff contender.
But it's one thing to be emotional and impassioned; it's another to be a bad winner, and Harbaugh's behavior will get him that reputation if he doesn't ramp things down. I mean, look what it did for Josh McDaniels in Denver, when he chest-bumped players en route to a 6-0 start in 2009.
People don't forget, and it can be harder going down than it is going up.
I'm not saying that happens here. But I am saying that Harbaugh needs to appreciate something -- namely, that he's not the first guy to resurrect a franchise or squash an unbeaten opponent. But he is one of the first to turn a team's signature win -- something the 49ers had been seeking for years -- into a dissection of ... and I can't believe I'm saying this ... a postgame handshake.
If you want people to pay attention to your team, don't become the distraction. Coaches preach that all the time, right? So Harbaugh should pay attention.
|San Francisco 49ers|
|Frank Gore's big-play ability -- and a breakout performance from Michael Crabtree -- helped the 49ers overcome 15 penalties and two costly turnovers for a mistake-filled win. San Francisco's veteran LB corps rendered Detroit's potent offense largely ineffective. Jim Harbaugh's team proved they're capable of the ugly wins playoff teams must have.|
|Red-zone penalties that cost them points, and an inability to stop the run cost Detroit a game they should've won. After outscoring opponents 109-23 in the second half of its first five games, Detroit's out-of-sync offense could manage just ten second-half points Sunday. San Francisco gave Detroit plenty of opportunities to remain undefeated. The Lions simply didn't take them.|
|By John Kreger|
I know, that may be too old-school for some people, but I've seen this happen too many times to guys who just started coaching in the NFL. In fact, I remember when Steve Spurrier was burying opponents in his first preseason as Washington's head coach, and one NFC coach promised to hammer him if he ever got the chance.
Well, he did. And he did.
But enough about decorum. The 49ers just pulled out their third straight road win by coming from behind in the fourth quarter and playing what Harbaugh later described as "the best defensive performance" of coordinator Vic Fangio's career. They flummoxed Matthew Stafford. They checked Calvin Johnson. They overcame a raft of stupid penalties and still ... still ... won. That's not how the 49ers used to play, but that's how they play now.
"There's no quit, and it shows up on game day," quarterback Alex Smith said. "I've never been part of something like this."
I'm not sure what he was talking about -- the game or the handshake.
In any case, there's a different atmosphere around this year's San Francisco 49ers, and I would pay attention. Players say they're a reflection of their coach's personality, and after watching them beat down Detroit it's hard to argue. They never wavered, even after the Lions went ahead in the fourth quarter, and scored the deciding touchdown in the final two minutes -- repeating a scenario from their last road trip, a stunning 24-23 defeat of Philadelphia.
"You can see that Jim Harbaugh attitude [in us]," said tight end Delanie Walker, who scored the winning touchdown. "The way we talk to the media, the way we finish games and the way we go out there and fight. He's a fighter, and it just surrounds the team the same way.
"I heard about what happened [afterward], but this is an emotional game. And you come into a house where they're 5-0, and we're 4-1, and you take a win away from them? Things can get very emotional. Jim Harbaugh is one of those guys. I think he still feels like he's a player. Things got emotional and out of hand a little bit, but at the end they're coaches. Things happen."
But that's just it. They're coaches, and things are not supposed to happen. They can happen in the locker room or on the practice field. But they're not supposed to happen at the 50-yard line after a stirring upset.
I agree with what Harbaugh said afterward, namely that "we've got something special going on here." For too many years the 49ers were an easy out, destined to blow another game with an interception, fumble, missed tackle or just a stupid play. Not anymore. This team is legit, and this team must be watched.
But not its head coach. Let him coach. Let them mix it up. And let's leave it at that.
"I don't think I'm that emotional," Harbaugh said afterward. "I will say I was very emotional about outcome and the way our players played. I'm really proud of them. Hopefully, you can understand that.
"When you're with a group of guys, and you're trying to do something special, to see your guys go out there and perform that way ... yeah, I do get emotional. It fires me up. It fires me up a lot. I don't apologize for that. If that offends you or anybody else, so be it."
I guess that means Jim Harbaugh won't change. Well, the San Francisco 49ers have, and hallelujah.