Jim Harbaugh has never been described as a football conservative.
His Stanford teams were more full-throttle Boise State than the plodding, three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust Ohio State teams of Woody Hayes or those of his mentor, Michigan’s Bo Schembechler.
Even as an NFL quarterback, Harbaugh was an offensive gambler who led the “Cardiac Colts” to an AFC Championship Game.
But in his debut as an NFL head coach Sunday, Harbaugh proved he’ll do whatever he needs to do to win football games – even if it means being Mr. Conservative. This, after all, is the son of a football coach. He knows his X’s, his O’s and how to get those W’s.
Nowhere was that more apparent than late in Sunday’s 33-17 win over Seattle when the 49ers – leading just 16-10 – ran the ball three straight times on a first-and-goal situation before finally settling for a field goal.
The fans booed, but the Niners extended their lead to 19-10 while running more than two minutes off the clock.
In his first game as 49ers head coach, Harbaugh showed he’s content to 1) play conservative, mistake-free offense, 2) rely on a defense that played exceptionally well most of the game and 3) use the clock to his advantage.
Harbaugh credited his offense, saying it had a “blue-collar day.” Alex Smith was efficient as a quarterback, completing 15-of-20 throws without an interception, and the Niners didn’t turn the ball over once.
“The main goal is to win and our guys did a great job,” Harbaugh said at Sunday’s post-game news conference. “It’s never easy to get a win in the National Football League.”
Harbaugh said Smith was “playing winning football,” which allowed San Francisco to play conservatively “due to the flow of the game.”
“Playing field position at times. Making sure that we got points," Harbaugh said. "Our defense was playing very well. Special teams was playing very well. … We were playing to win. More that than anything else.”
As longtime Bay Area columnist Ray Ratto noted, Harbaugh coached to his talent Sunday – his own and Seattle’s. And the Seahawks, on this day, were lacking.
In six days, the Niners will take on a very different opponent, Dallas, which showed it could move the ball – but make big mistakes (three turnovers) – in a 27-24 opening loss to the Jets Sunday night.
Harbaugh now has a week to prepare. If it’s anything like last week, in preparing for the Seahawks, he’ll be sweating under that blue collar.
“Slept like a baby last night,” he said after Sunday’s game. “Woke up every hour crying making sure these guys were prepared in every way.”