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49ers Show No Quit in New England

Posted Dec 17, 2012

Twenty-eight unanswered points to tie the game at 31 certainly didn’t make Jim Harbaugh feel warm and tingly inside last night at Gillette Stadium.

A late Colin Kaepernick-to-Michael Crabtree touchdown for the second time of Sunday night’s nationally televised contest against the New England Patriots, plus two fourth-quarter defensive stops did enough to make the San Francisco 49ers head coach most pleased with his team’s 41-34 road win.

Toughness and mental fortitude was evident throughout.

“There’s never a time with the team you see the evidence that it’s getting to them or they’re pointing fingers at one another,” the 49ers coach said. “That’s not easy to do.”

To Harbaugh, the character in the face of adversity spoke volumes about his 10-3-1 football club, and was way more important than the four touchdown drives engineered by Tom Brady.

“It was tough playing in that stretch,” Harbaugh said on Monday, “but I’m proud of the character of the team, getting two stops at the end makes you feel good.”

The same can be said for rest on a long plane ride back from the Eastern seaboard.

“I realized they couldn’t have sent us any further and kept us in the United States,” Harbaugh joked.

The flight, however, was beneficial for the players and coaches.

Film review from Sunday’s win over the Patriots and early studying of the team’s Week 16 opponent, the Seattle Seahawks, dominated their attention on the flight – as opposed to in-flight movies.

“It’s like a work station in the back of the plane – not a lot of sleep going on,” Harbaugh detailed. “Really impressed with our guys and how they do that and our players, too.”

Once the players had examined the film, most enjoyed their rest. As Harbaugh pointed out, the defense was on the field for 96, including “60-something” snaps in the second half.

For those 96 plays, Harbaugh was pleased with his defense’s tenacity.

“For 2 1/2 quarters of football – it was pretty darn good defensively for us,” Harbaugh said.

Even when the Patriots rebounded from a 31-3 deficit to tie the game, Harbaugh noted that the defense had chances to get off the field and was not in a prevent defense.

Point-blank, New England has its own share of playmakers.

“It’s a very good offense,” Harbaugh said.

Because of the physicality involved in Sunday’s win, the team’s fifth primetime win of 2012, Harbaugh might consider lightening up the team’s workload as they prepare for Seattle.

“That’s something to look at and possibly implement,” he said.

It’s not known, however, if Justin Smith will be available for this Sunday’s sixth primetime game of the season for San Francisco. The All-Pro defensive tackle suffered an elbow injury in the second half against the Patriots and briefly left the field with team doctors to be evaluated.

Smith returned to action sparingly in the second half. On Monday, Harbaugh said Smith had an MRI on the elbow and the team will know more about his long-term status in the coming days.

Harbaugh also mentioned that it doesn’t appear to be as serious of an injury as the triceps injury that put outside linebacker Parys Haralson out for the year prior to the start of the regular season.

Smith’s playing time will be closely monitored this week.

The three-time Pro Bowler has 185 consecutive starts under his belt dating back to his rookie season in 2001. It’s also the third longest streak among active NFL players behind Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Ronde Barber (213) and Washington Redskins linebacker London Fletcher (197).

Harbaugh said he liked the way Ricky Jean Francois stepped in for Smith. The fourth-year reserve lineman registered his second-career sack on Brady at a critical juncture of the game.

“I thought the guys who stepped in did some really nice things,” Harbaugh said.

The 49ers coach doesn’t expect it to be easy keeping Smith out of action for long if he’s injured.

“There’s no truer football player than Justin Smith,” Harbaugh said.

San Francisco, however, still has a few things to clean up before Sunday night’s road game against the Seahawks.

Several fumbled snaps between Colin Kaepernick and center Jonathan Goodwin will need to be cleaned up between the two, especially if Week 16 turns out to be another weather game like the one the team experienced in New England.

But even after the miscues, Kaepernick found ways to move the team down the field. He completed a career-high four touchdown passes and had his best decision-making moment late in the game on his second touchdown to Crabtree.

With the Patriots defense showing a Cover-Zero look with heavy pressure in the box and one-on-one coverage on the perimeter, Kaepernick decided not to go to his primary receiver – tight end Vernon Davis on a crossing route.

Instead, the second-year passer threw a quick pass to Crabtree, who scooped the ball up by his laces, made Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington miss a tackle, and proceeded to run down the home sideline for a 38-yard score, his career-high seventh of the season.

The points put the 49ers at 41 for the game, the most the team has had on the road since a 45-point performance against the San Deigo Chargers in 2000.

Such performances like the one Sunday in New England will only make the team stronger as it heads into the postseason, currently as the NFC’s No. 2 seed.

A playoff berth might have been clinched, but there’s still plenty to play for – division titles and homefield advantage.

Good thing there’s no quit in this team.

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