The crazy thing about football as opposed to baseball is the urgency of EVERY game. In baseball, you can go on a 6 game losing streak, and still come out of it fine. In baseball, there’s always tomorrow. In football, you drop 2 games in a row, and 3 teams can pass you up on the way to the playoffs. Parity being what it is in the NFL these days, there is NO room for error. If you look at last year’s games, there were maybe 3 plays that kept the team from being 9-7 instead of 6-10. Look at Sunday’s Eagles win. There were missed FGs all over the place, fumbles, and drive-killing penalties. But the game hinged on the pursuit of Justin Smith to strip the ball from Jeremy Maclin, and Dashon Goldson having the wherewithall to simply fall on the football and not try to do too much and be the highlight hero (hello Nate Clements).
So, here we sit, atop the NFC West with a 2 game lead 4 weeks into the season. I sure as hell didn’t think we’ll have a lead like this at this point in the season. I knew the other teams were weak, but I figured it would take the 49ers time to get acclimated to the new systems and schemes they are all learning. I guess we should all be thanking the scheduling Gods, because the Rams, on paper at least, the best team in the west, has a brutal schedule, and looks like they’ll end up 0-7, with Green Bay, Dallas, and NO as their next 3 games. Seattle and AZ certainly aren’t doing very well, and all my thoughts on getting Kevin Kolb (talk about Checkdown Charlie. AZ fans are blasting his signing now) were unfounded and silly.
TB is one of those fair to middling teams that, when on can be scary, but watching that game last night, they spent 3 quarters shooting themselves in the feeet repeatedly. They must have had around 10 holding penalties. Freeney was unstaoppable, but Curtis Painter kept Indy from doing much offensively. But, as the thread says, this is a big test for your 49ers. And one where the head coach has to REALLY stress the importance of staying focussed. They are coming home after their best road trip in probably 15 years. They are getting press (albeit it’s more of the ‘how the fuck did the Iggles give it away?’), but Harbaugh is already getting praise from the talking heads around the media-sphere. The threat is very real that these guys come in with swelled heads, and thoughtsw of prime-time glory. This is where your coach HAS to beat on these guys to remond them that it’s all about hunger. All about not reveling in the recent past. It’s about pushing forward and not believing the hype. Matt Maiocco interviewed Harbaugh after returning from Philly, and it gives me a good feeling regarding just this fact. The gist of the interview is:
Is part of your task this week to sort of gauge the pulse of the team and make sure they don’t get too high after this win?
Harbaugh: “Yeah, that’s one. It comes back to – you’re getting better or you’re getting worse, you never remain the same. We’ll keep that blue-collar mentality.”
His experience as a head coach at Stanford defintely gives him an edge that the previous head coaches didn’t have. Even more so, when you consider that keeping college football players from going to the moon after big wins (say beating USC in LA), is tougher than doing that with professional football players. Still and all, these guys, as a team, are winning games that they had previously lost. The difference is the coaches back then would praise the team for close losses (GB, Minn, Atl, NO, Colts, Titans, ring a bell in the last couple years?), and then come up short down the road becasue they would rest on their laurels and fall flat. I can’t count how many times the Niners had (to steal a phrase from Skeebs) GPS games. Statement games. Ones that would show the team’s mettle. Invariably they’d fall flat, lick their wounds, and have to rebuild themselves from scratch. The problem came from the coaches building up the team needlessly and not putting in the work. Nolan would regularly give the team Monday off if the team won the previous Sunday. While that may sound good from a player standpoint, it doesn’t drive hiome the point that you need to keep working to get better, not take time off. There plenty of time to rest in the offseason.
Here’s the entire interview with Harbaugh. It is an excellent study in motivation techniques, self-deprecation, and the ‘us-vs-them’ mentality that Bill Walsh always drove into his players.
Harbaugh understands what to do to keep these guys moving forward and not looking back. Well, the proof will be in the pudding this weekend, but he seems to have a much better grip on this than his predecessors.