Here is a link to my column about the 49ers’ win over the Seahawks. The full column appears below.
SAN FRANCISCO –Sunday’s 49ers’ 19-17 win against the rival Seahawks was a Jim Harbaugh kind of win. Pure Harbaugh.
Before I explain that, I’ll set the scene.
It was a few minutes after the game ended. Harbaugh walked into the dungeon below Candlestick that serves as an interview room. He hopped onto the stage and stood behind the lectern. I asked how he would describe the play of his defense which, frankly, won the game for the Niners. Harbaugh stared at me.
Then he said, “Boy, just running and hitting, Lowell. Hitting and running. Competing.”
I thought he might start running around the room looking for something to hit or at least compete with. Or maybe he would start to fly. His eyes were wide with pure euphoria.
Because, really, this was a Harbaugh win. Harbaugh played quarterback like a strong safety.
He liked the hit-and-be-hit part of football. And he teaches his team to hit hard within the rules and to beat up and beat the other team. He wants a defense that makes the other team — Seattle — stop and wonder and worry.
Someone asked Harbaugh if he gave words of encouragement to Kaepernick after he threw an interception. The question went through the various synapses in Harbaugh’s brain. You could see him thinking.
He said, “Just similar things I told various players throughout the game. ‘Just keep fighting. It’s going to be a long game. Just keep fighting.’ Kept reiterating that to several guys. But they didn’t need to hear that. There was very little talk, very little motivational-type of talk. They didn’t need to hear anything about how to play.”
That quote expresses the very essence of Harbaugh football. Don’t stop. Don’t even stop to talk. Keep playing.
His defense frustrated and controlled the Seahawks, the same Seahawks who had murdered the Saints six days earlier, who murdered the Niners Week 2. Sunday’s game was grim the way close games are grim between two good teams, grim the way a serious contest is grim.
In this context, you could say grim equals glorious.
This is what the 49ers’ defense did to the Seattle offense. They muted the running game with Marshawn Lynch, hard to do considering Lynch approaches the line of scrimmage like a runaway Bekins van. The 49ers’ pass rush bothered Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. The defense didn’t beat him up, but it worried him, troubled him and raised the degree of difficulty of throwing good passes.
You could see Wilson was bothered, could see him want to pass and then pull down the ball or slide in the pocket buying time because receivers weren’t open or he was in a bad position to throw — a fleeing position. You saw this is lot.
The Niners’ defense was superb. And it won the game.
It also made a statement. The whole team made a statement. Here is the statement:
The 49ers won the game they absolutely had to win. This win will not give the 49ers the division title. That ship has sailed. But they needed to win, anyway. Needed to show their pedigree. Their pride. They refused to let Seattle clinch on the Niners’ home field which will not be their home field much longer. And they projected themselves as a dangerous force in the playoffs wherever their journey takes them.
Harbaugh would not say it was a statement game. He doesn’t like defining things. But Donte Whitner, the team orator, sure does.
“We didn’t get any turnovers today,” Whitner said, “but we were being extremely physical with the team people call the most physical team in football. We felt it was a statement game. We felt it wasn’t an ordinary game because it’s not. That’s our rival. They’re on top of the division. We feel like this is our division. We felt like we had to make a statement today. We believe it will come down to us and them, probably in their place. We have to go there where we haven’t won.
“It’s going to be a loud environment. It’s going to be for the big one. We understand that we go up there, we play good defense. We don’t turn the ball over. We can beat them in their house.”
Here’s what he said about Russell Wilson: “In the last game, we understand what they were trying to do. They wanted to break him out of contain and play playground football. Our guys did a good job of holding their lanes.”
So, the defense kept Wilson out of the playground and on the field.
NaVorro Bowman, slow talking, intense, serious, got asked the “statement” question. “You guys kind of counted us out already,” he said, “felt like Seattle had our number. So, I think it’s a statement game to the world just to let you guys know this is still our division. Until a team takes it from us, we will continue to rep this division the right way.”
Bowman’s words were brave and forthright. I, in particular, counted out the Niners. If in some small way I helped motivate them on Sunday, I’m pleased. I don’t want part of Bowman’s salary — there are conflict of interest issues. A simple atta boy will suffice.
Bowman had some other good quotes. Like how the defense controlled Wilson. “He requires a lot of attention,” Bowman said. “The focus was on Wilson, to keep him in the cage. And I think we did that today.
And here is Bowman on the rivalry: “I love it. I love it. Some games you win or you get up early, teams fold. But this game it requires the full 60 minutes.”
Can we talk a little reality?
The 49ers have improved from earlier in the season, apparently improved. Their offense is still the ugly cousin to the handsome defense, the cousin the defense wants to lock in the broom closet out of sheer embarrassment. The offense must improve for the playoffs.
Because, make no mistake, the 49ers and Seahawks aren’t done with each other. They will meet one day soon at the crossroads and the crossroads are in Seattle.
And the Niners must do it all over again.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at firstname.lastname@example.org.