49ers replay: Fade at finish all too familiar

Now comes Jim Harbaugh's first real test. He has to pick up his team after Sunday's brutal overtime loss to the Dallas Cowboys. Even though this is a new era with Harbaugh, the 49ers looked drearily the same as last year by losing a tight game to a good team they should have defeated, doing just about everything wrong in crunch time with the game on the line to allow Dallas to pull out the win.

In four of their first seven games last year, the 49ers lost by three points or fewer, including two-point losses to the Saints and Falcons. They finished 1-4 last season in games decided by three points or fewer on their way to a 6-10 record.

It happened again against Dallas with the 49ers allowing a 10-point lead to dissolve in the final 11 minutes or regulation.

The 49ers repeated the pattern of making horrendous defensive mistakes in crucial spots. It happened in overtime with former practice-squad wide receiver Jesse Holley getting loose for a 77-yard pass when safety Donte Whitner bit hard on a play fake and cornerback Carlos Rogers also froze at the snap instead of dropping back deep into coverage.

Harbaugh and his team stayed relentlessly positive despite the 27-24 overtime loss, which Harbaugh obviously hopes will carry over to the next two games.

' "I don't blame anybody," Harbaugh said. "I'm not blaming anybody right now. I don't play the blame game. (Dallas is) a good football team. They deserve credit for the victory."

Harbaugh impressed that upon his team as well. He told them and the media repeatedly after the game that the 49ers played well enough to win.

The challenge ahead is a stiff one. The 49ers' next two games are on the road against the Bengals and Eagles, and the 49ers will spend the intervening week in Youngstown, Ohio, instead of returning to their Santa Clara headquarters in California.

One area they need to shore up is their pass protection. A consistent problem through the preseason and stretching into last year, the 49ers gave up six sacks to Dallas, including two to sackmaster DeMarcus Ware.

The team also might want to figure out a bigger role for tight end Vernon Davis, who was held to two catches for 18 yards.

"In order for us to win everybody has to be involved," Davis said. He also said he has confidence the coaches will find a way to get him freed up.

According to running back Frank Gore, the 49ers need to play a complete game if they are going to change the landscape from last year.

"I give credit to us," Gore said. "We whupped their ass up and down the field. ... We didn't finish."

In going forward, the 49ers might want to rely more on their offense. In a crucial juncture in the fourth quarter, Harbaugh decided to keep the points on the board after David Akers nailed a 55-yard field goal – the third-longest in 49ers history and the longest ever in a game at Candlestick Park.

The Cowboys were called for leverage on the play, which would have handed the 49ers a first down at the Dallas 22. But Harbaugh, instead, kept the points instead of going for chewing more clock and possibly scoring a touchdown.

"The thinking behind it at the time was to have the two-score advantage at that point," Harbaugh said. "Felt that we would be able to get off the field and that would lead to a victory."

But the 49ers proved their new coach wrong, and the Niners blew a great opportunity for a signature win and 2-0 start by reverting to their form of previous losing seasons.

Lineup watch


--- Wide receiver Braylon Edwards left the game and never returned after catching a pass for 21 yards on San Francisco's third offensive play. Edwards suffered a knee injury on the play and underwent a MRI exam Monday to determine the extent of damage. Harbaugh said on Monday that the 49ers will "evaluate" whether to bring in another receiver this week depending on the status of Edwards and Michael Crabtree, another of San Francisco's top wideouts who missed Sunday's game with a sore left foot.

--- After the 49ers failed to contain tight end Jason Witten, who caught seven passes for 102 yards, safety Dashon Goldson will likely return to free safety this week. Goldson hasn't been active for San Francisco's first two games due to a foot injury. Goldson said he was ready to go last week, but he failed to get many reps in practice and the Niners opted not to dress him for the game.

Player notes


--- QB Alex Smith once again compiled a passer rating over 90 against the Cowboys, finishing with a fine 99.1 rating. Over the first two games, Smith has been efficient, but against Dallas he failed to make the big play to keep the ball away from the Cowboys in the fourth quarter. Smith is workman-like, but needs to be more dynamic.

--- WR Kyle Williams scored on a 12-yard pass, his first NFL touchdown on just his second career reception. Williams made a fine two-handed catch while extending in the corner of the end zone.

--- CB Tramaine Brock had an interception in his second consecutive game. It's the first time a 49ers player has done that since CB Dre' Bly in 2009.

--- S Reggie Smith, for the second game in a row, took a bad angle on a slant pattern to a receiver, allowing a receiver to break free for a long touchdown. Against Seattle, it resulted in a 55-yard touchdown by Doug Baldwin and against Dallas, Miles Austin eluded Smith for a 53-yard touchdown.

--- OG Adam Snyder substituted for Chilo Rachal for two series on Sunday. Against Seattle, Snyder came in for one series.


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