It looks like an emotional hangover following a big win eluded Jim Harbaugh Tuesday. The day after NaVorro Bowman's historic interception, San Francisco's head coach was all smiles and giggles typical of a child on Christmas morning.
"Happier than a pig in slop," Harbaugh echoed twice during his nearly 18-minute media session on Christmas Eve.
The dramatic win not only closed out one of the game's historic venues with a bang, but it clinched a playoff berth for the third straight season with Harbaugh at the helm. With a win in Arizona Sunday, the 49ers will clinch at least the No. 5 seed, but still have a chance for one of the top-two seeds depending on what happens to Carolina and Seattle Sunday. With a loss, the 49ers would need Tampa Bay to beat New Orleans on the road to stay out of the No. 6 seed.
With a short week and Christmas coming on Wednesday, Harbaugh said the team will likely have a lighter week of practice than normal. The team is off on Tuesday and will have the morning to enjoy the holiday before coming in for meetings at 2 p.m. Wednesday, Harbaugh said. The team will resume its normal practice schedule Thursday and Friday in preparation for the Cardinals.
Harkening Back to a Huge Play in 2011
Harbaugh doesn't like to make comparisons, but Tuesday he likened Bowman's interception to a season-altering play that came early in his first season as 49ers coach.
In Week 4 of 2011, the Phildelphia Eagles were driving into San Francisco's territory down 24-23 with 2:15 remaining. Michael Vick threw a screen pass to Jeremy Maclin that he ran into field goal range to take a late lead, but Justin Smith tackled him from behind and forced a fumble that was recovered by Dashon Goldson to seal the 20-point comeback win. It was a huge play early in the season that helped catapult a team that finished 6-10 the previous year to 13-3.
"I'd equate this to play to that," Harbaugh said. "These are two football plays, just remarkable and 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 instincts, whether it was Justin or NaVorro in this case, the instincts that he could go get it on that play when it's 10 or 15 yards away.
"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 a coach has like that in his career. Probably so few that you're just going to remember them your entire coaching career. That was one of those memorable plays," he said.
Bowman started the play lined up over center apart of an all-out blitz. When he saw the slant go to his right, he pursued the play and wound up in position to make the play of the night.
"He ran to the ball to make a tackle. And then (Tramaine) 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 ball pops up like a lollipop to NaVorro," Harbaugh said.
The Fullback Tandem
With Bruce Miller done for the year with a broken shoulder blade, many (including us here) believed Anthony Dixon would be the team's primary fullback going forward. But the newly re-signed Will Tukuafu saw 12 snaps while Dixon played 11.
"They both did well," Harbaugh said. "Anthony was in on some of the really big runs that we had. Kendall (Hunter's) run, also Frank (Gore) 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. You can use both those guys. They both did very well. We can build. We can build, add to what each does going forward."
With Miller out, the 49ers now have two altering styles at fullback that can allow coordinator Greg Roman to be more multiple in his formations. Harbaugh said he anticipates a similar rotation between the two going forward.
No Comment on Whitner's Hit
Following Ahmad Brooks' controversial hit on Drew Brees in the team's 23-20 loss Nov. 17, Harbaugh said he did not give Brooks a negative grade for the play when evaluating the tape. He would not divulge his grade for Donte Whitner's hit on Steven Jackson in the second quarter of Monday's game, but it's pretty clear he wasn't a fan of the personal foul call.
"Everybody saw it. It was nationally televised, it was played back and forth many times. I'm not going to comment on the grade," said Harbaugh.
Whitner received two flags for the play, one for the hit and one for choice words to the referee, he said following the game. Whitner, a pending free agent, will be one of the 49ers' toughest decisions in the offseason. His knack for big hits, both legal and illegal, will factor into whether or not the team elects to bring him back next season and beyond.
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