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Coach's Notebook: Dec. 24

Posted Dec 24, 2013

On Christmas Eve, Jim Harbaugh relived and relished his team's narrow victory less than 24 hours earlier.

So, what was last night like after the game? How long did it take you to kind of come down from that emotional win?
“Happy. Happy. Great thrill of winning. Wonderful feeling of victory. I was, and still am, happier than a pig in slop.”

How did you guys come out of the game health-wise? Did you have anybody of note get hurt?
“I think pretty good. It was a physical game though.”

Is CB Tarell Brown OK?
“Yes. I believe so. He got hit in the ribs again.”

You guys wrapped up a playoff spot, it’s Christmas week, you’re on the road. How do you motivate the team this week? What’s your message to your guys when they come back into the building on Thursday?
“I don’t know yet. The message.”

Do you see that as an obstacle, just all the emotion that went into this last game and where things stand in the season, getting them motivated?
“We’ll be tremendously motivated. Next game. Biggest game of the year. Most important game of the year.”

What’s your plan as far as what you do this week, as far as getting the team back out there on the field for practice? Is it a lighter week for you?
“Yes, in some respects it will be.”

In what respects?
“Playing the Monday Night game, they’ll be off today, tomorrow they’ll be able to enjoy Christmas during the morning and then we’ll bring them in at two o’clock for meetings and that’ll be meetings only.”

This was one of FB Will Tukuafu’s first games for this season as fullback. How do you feel he did in his first game?
“I thought he did well. I thought he came in, he had fresh legs, fresh mind. Was really good with his assignments. I thought he played well. I think we can build on that.”

You clinched a playoff berth and yet you say that next week’s game, the upcoming game, is the most important game of the season, how so?
“That’s just a mindset we have, mantra. The next game’s the most important game.”

Will you be watching the scores? What happens around the league with that 1:25 kickoff for other teams? Does that have any bearing on how you guys are going to play your game on Sunday?
“No. No, it doesn’t. Too much at stake. Too big of a game. I think somebody from the media asked me that last week, about would we approach Monday night’s game differently, and said no at that time. As you know, too many things can happen and there’s too much at stake.”

Have you already started looking at the Cardinals and maybe any differences from when you saw them earlier this season?
“Continuing to play very well. Very aggressive defense. Very stingy defense, attacking defense. Offensively, playing very well. Improving, ascending team.”

TE Vernon Davis said he got poked in the eye. Obviously, he came out for a little bit. Did that affect him? Were you able to talk to him and did that affect him during the game?
“Well, it affected him because he missed some plays.”

Right. Once he came back, his vision or anything?
“We made sure that, talking to him, that things cleared up before he went in.”

Why isn’t WR Michael Crabtree on your hands team for onside kicks?
“I think that’s probably someone that we could add, yeah.”

I know LB NaVorro Bowman was back in that same spot that WR Anquan Boldin was on on the other side. Has Bowman obviously demonstrated his hands?
“That ball took a bounce like it sometimes does being the oblong, spheroid that it is, it took a bounce away from him.”

When you watch the film of S Donte Whitner’s hit, what was the grade that he got for that play?
“What was the grade he got? Everyone saw it. It’s nationally televised. Was clicked back-and-forth many times.”

So he didn’t receive a negative grade for it?
“I’m not going to comment on the grade. I think everybody’s commented on it, everybody’s seen it across the country. No need for me to comment on it.”

Frank had said that he actually changed the play on his 1-yard touchdown run. How many veterans or how many players on the offense have that leeway or do you trust them all, that if they see something?
“Well, [QB Colin Kaepernick] Kap trusted Frank enough to change the play and as long as it works, then they’re right. So, how many have that influence with Kap, Frank Gore does.”

Do you encourage that kind of ownership?
“I like it when it works, definitely. And I think when a player feels strongly about something, we tend to agree with them unless we have evidence to the contrary. As a player, former player, I realize that when you put your opinion on the line like that, that you also make it work and they did again last night.”

I guess in similar terms, that was an all-out blitz. NaVorro said that he aborted the blitz. Can you explain what he was doing in that spot?
“Yeah, he was rushing. He was occupying the center and saw the ball released and then he tracked it and ran to the ball and made the play. In terms of football plays being made in a game, I think back to [DT] Justin Smith’s play that he made against the Philadelphia Eagles in 2011, where he was rushing the passer, they threw a receiver screen, receiver’s 15, 20 yards downfield. Justin is tracking the ball, running to the ball and then clubbed it out and secured a victory for us on the road against the Eagles in that game. I would equate this play to that. Now these are two football plays, just remarkable. It’s just so, so good that what makes a football player. Sometimes you see the ball released and you make a couple steps, but what makes him think in his in instincts, whether it was Justin or NaVorro in this case, his instincts that he can go get in on that play when it’s 10, 15 yards away. But, his training, his instincts, just makes him go. And he ran to the ball to make a tackle and then [CB Tramaine] T. Brock had snapped on that slant route and you couldn’t make a better play than what Tramaine made in breaking up that pass. And then the ball pops up like a lollipop to Navorro, but it’s the instinct and the training that he has to see the ball released and then track it to go get in on the tackle. I don’t know what the percentage of athletes that can do that or would do that, to have that kind of instinct and ability, but Navorro Bowman does and Justin Smith did a couple years ago. I don’t know how many kind of plays like that a coach has in his career. Probably so few that you’re going to remember them your entire coaching career. But that was one of those memorable plays.”

Was that an NFL Defensive Player of the Year kind of plays?
“It was a great play. I’ve said it before, I think he’s, it’s sure not going to hurt him.”

Did he feel a sense of redemption after the game?
“I think you could talk to him about that. But, he made a tremendous play and I’ll remember that until the day I die. I got it at 50. Couldn’t have had a better birthday present. Right at the halfway point. I’m shooting for 100, so I got it right at the halfway point. Happier than a pig in slop.”

When you talk about the Cardinals ascending, did you get to look at game film of them in Seattle at all?
“Yes.”

What struck you about that game? Cardinals QB Carson Palmer throws 4 interceptions, like you said with the defense, anything in particular about that game because everyone knows how hard it is to play in Seattle?
“Great fight by them. Great football fight by them. They fought right until the final gun, much like our team, what we’re most pleased by our team in this game. The fight that they had to win. The importance to give great attention to every snap and fight to the end.”

LB Patrick Willis had 18 tackles. He’d been dealing with the hand and the groin. Was that the healthiest you think he’s looked all season?
“Could be. Could be, yeah. He had a great game. Some big plays, some hard, rough tackling. Really good in coverage. Would say s typical Patrick Willis-type of game. Outstanding.”

Do you know if those numbers went up after the film review?
“I don’t know that. I don’t know. What else? What else we got? There’s other stuff it seems.”

I’ve got some other great questions.
“Oh good.”

Will Tukuafu and RB Anthony Dixon had a pretty much even split. Is that how you would maybe envision this going forward as far as a shared responsibility with fullback duties?
“Yes, they both did well. Anthony was in on some of the really big runs that we had, [RB] Kendall’s [Hunter] run, also Frank a couple times there. He did a great job adjusting, using his athleticism when he was in space to block linebackers. I thought Will was very good and physical and you can use both those guys. They both did very well and we can build. Now we can build, add to what each does going forward.”

Are they very different fullbacks?
“Yeah, one’s 290 and the other’s like 245. They’re different.”

Do they match the style of the running back? Does Anthony match Kendall’s style? Or Will the power fullback kind of matches more of Frank’s running style?
“No, I don’t think so. I think they both run similar plays. They both block similar plays. And then Anthony was in on a couple of Frank’s really good runs.”

You mentioned the Justin Smith play from a couple years ago. I remember defensive coordinator Vic Fangio after that. He likened that to the defensive version of “The Catch” play. That to him was one of the best plays he had ever seen. Did you talk to Vic last night? And did you talk to the other coaches? And what were you guys talking about after the game?
“Everybody, high fives and all that. I think that’s appropriate. That’s the defensive equivalent to as good as it gets in a football game. Probably the best thing I’ve ever been associated with that happened to my team in a football game, that particular play. So, I liken it to anything that’s the best thing that’s ever happened to a team I’ve been associated with.”

Can you compare what happened to the opposing team that you thought, “if I was on that team that would have been pretty special?”
“Yeah, still, I was thinking about it a little bit this morning, ‘what else that’s ever happened that’s been that good.’ I can’t think of something that’s been that bad either. But, the situation in the game, you really have to imagine that, who knows how many people out there were rooting for us to lose the ball game. Rooting for the underdog or the team that gets redemption after last year’s NFC Championship. Or, teams that that affected their playoff implications. I’m sure that there were high fives at different grills across the country when that onside kick sneaked through there and then they hit a couple passes, and then all of a sudden T. Brock and NaVorro Bowman make that play.”

It seems like you could talk about this all day.
“We’ve got to get back onto the—onward! Moving onward to the Cardinals.”

This rates above Vernon Davis’ catch there, just to clarify? This does you’re saying?
“I’m not ranking anything, no there’s no ranking. I do compare it though to Justin Smith’s play in 2011. Great instincts, great determination and athleticism. To think that they could go make that play. I just don’t know the percentage of athletes that would first make that effort, believe that they could make the play, and then pull it off. I think that would be a rare pool you’d be drawing on.”

Is there anything about the first half that, you only had three points scored and I know that the team wants to start fast, but when you look at the first two quarters, just what strikes you about that?
“We had one possession in the first quarter and drove it for a field goal. Atlanta had two, a three and out and I think another, or not a three and out, they had a first down or two there. And we got the ball back to start the driving it again. And then we didn’t convert on the third and one, we tried to take a shot. Thought we had a play there that we could change the tendency and hit a big pass play. But, it didn’t work out and we had to punt. Then we had a couple series where we didn’t convert, and then we had four that did, all four that were long drives and scoring plays. So, first half, that first quarter, first quarter had the one possession, got a field goal. Second time we had the ball in the second quarter, drove the ball and didn’t convert a third and one. And then a couple were in misfire and that was the end of the half. Three or four possessions.”

There were so many ex-49ers at the game. Did you have time to talk to any of them afterward, beforehand or anything like that?
“No, just [former 49ers owner Edward J. DeBartolo Jr.] Eddie D. Talked to him a little bit before the game. And after the game everybody was kind of doing their thing. Would have loved to have seen [former San Francisco Giant Hall of Fame baseball player] Willie Mays. I did catch his interview and thought that was wonderful, wonderful. He looked great and had great things to say. ‘Hell, that was 40 years ago.’ I loved it. Would have liked to seen him.”

Does it make the 50th birthday better, one of your idols there watching your team win?
“Oh, yeah. A plus, plus. Good to have that one at the halfway point. Gives me something to look forward to the next 50.”