Programming Alert: Watch Jim Harbaugh's press conference from Santa Clara Monday at noon streaming live here on the 49ers Pulse page!
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The San Francisco 49ers had every opportunity to break ranks Sunday and forget who they are, where they were playing and where they need to get. They could have taken the bait from the Carolina Panthers, gotten all chippy and skirmish-y, and forgotten their duty to get to 23 points first.
But of course they didn’t; they’ve been at this stage thrice now, and they know that nobody is above the central mandate of maintaining equilibrium. Not even the man who issues playing time and therefore is He Who Must Be Obeyed – J. Joseph Harbaugh.
Yes, of all the 49ers who had to navigate the chippiness of Sunday’s 23-10 division playoff win at Bank Of America Stadium, the one who actually did cross the line and came closest to upsetting the works was The Khaki Avenger, who watched Vernon Davis’ go-ahead touchdown with five second left in the first half, watched that the ball was called incomplete and then snapped as he watched the clock continue to tick down.
[RELATED: Gore worked with Davis on his nifty footwork]
“I saw the officials say incomplete, there were 10 seconds on the scoreboard, I watched it go 9 . . . 8 . . .and then I ran out to call, for them just to see the scoreboard and it ticked 7 . . . 6 . . . 5 as he was throwing the flag on me,” Harbaugh said with as close to a sheepish smile as he can manage in his drumhead-tight state. “I was just trying to get someone’s attention to look at the scoreboard.”
Well, he did. Referee Carl Cheffers noted the tantrumstastic TKA and threw the flag before wide receiver Anquan Boldin could prevent it.
“Yeah, he was trying to get the referee to reset the clock,” Boldin said, “but in that moment, we just have to keep our heads. I had to grab and tell him, ‘Don’t cost us.’ He understood.”
As it turned out, the Davis touchdown ruling was overturned, the 49ers got the score that changed the game, the Panthers never rallied, and the 49ers now speed on to Seattle for the ninth running of the What’s Your Deal Bowl, also known as the NFC Championship.
Of Sunday’s game itself, there isn’t a lot to say that Comrade Maiocco won’t be handling in almost soul-crushing detail. The rocky start, the two stalled drives that required Phil Dawson’s intervention, Carolina’s early brazenness even in the face of three damaging penalties and a goal-line stand by San Francisco . . . and that was only the bad 26 minutes. The good 34 were the 49ers at their most orthodox, between the defense that figuratively strangled the Panthers (130 yards, no points in 28 plays after their last points) and the attack that slowly but comprehensively swallowed the fearsome Carolina defenders.
The list of standout players is a list of the usual suspects – NaVorro Bowman, Patrick Willis, Ahmad Brooks, Colin Kaepernick, Frank Gore, the offensive line as a unit and Boldin. Most of all Boldin, who had his most dominant game since Week 1. Targeted 12 times, he had catches that went for 20, 12, 14, 15, 17, 52, five and nine yards, all but the last one for first downs, plus a play in which he was manhandled by Carolina nickelback Drayton Florence that helped extend the drive that produced the Davis touchdown.
Those were his best moments. His most unique moments came when he asked Kaepernick in the interview room afterward, “Why didn’t you throw to Anquan more?” (Kaepernick broke programming by joking back, “Because he was talking about my mama”), and when he restrained Harbaugh from turning a 15-yard penalty on the ensuing kickoff into something worse . . . maybe one of the team’s patented lost challenges, followed by a penalty that could have added to the degree of difficulty on Dawson’s likely field goal, maybe a second personal foul for persistent Harbaughitude, or even (ick) a woodshedding from Commissioner Roger Goodell, who was at the game.
Instead, it all fell nicely into place. The 49ers established tardy but sure control of the game before the half ended, made sure the uppity Panthers didn’t regain their own momentum, and handled the upstarts as a team of San Francisco’s pedigree should. Seattle is next, and it will be the far more compelling conference title game, between the league’s two best teams.
But as well as the players delivered, the coach had better step up his game. Not only did he get himself penalized for the first time all year (and become the first coach of the year to get flagged), he never got the five seconds back he was yowling about. That is not A-plus-plus work, and the team, organization and geographical area is rightly ashamed of him.
In other words, Harbaugh owes Boldin a debt of gratitude . . . and maybe a couple of gassers for good measure.