The 49ers had been rolling along so well for so long that Thursday night’s loss to the Baltimore Ravens came as a bit of a shock.
Now they say they’ll use it as a learning experience.
As Steve Corkran of the Bay Area News Group wrote, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh often said he felt "uncomfortable having his team lavished with praise” during this turnaround season and doesn’t like “flowery things” said about the Niners when they win.
A day after the Thanksgiving blitzing delivered by the Ravens – who sacked Alex Smith nine times – there were no flowers in sight.
“We haven’t felt like this in a long time,” Smith told Matt Maiocco of Comcast Sports Net. “But we are 9-2. This was a very though game. Every guy in the locker room is hurting. No one is OK with this. That’s a big difference from previous years. We invested in each other so much and that’s why we are winning. This left a bad taste in our mouths.”
The Niners will try to rebound next Sunday against the Rams at Candlestick – and perhaps clinch the NFC West title – and the rest of their schedule looks soft. After the Rams, the 49ers play at Arizona, host Pittsburgh and then close out the season with road games in Seattle and St. Louis. Only the Steelers appear dangerous. It’s not unrealistic to believe San Francisco could finish 13-3.
So, Thursday night’s loss wasn’t a back-breaker. The Ravens, who lead the AFC North at 8-3, are a physical, well-coached and successful team and came into the game as 3½-point favorites.
Yet, as receiver Michael Crabtree told reporters, the Niners can learn from the Ravens how to cope better in certain situations, especially when faced with third-and-long. With so many sacks of Smith, the 49ers often needed to make long third-down plays, and couldn’t. They were 2-of-12 in converting on third down. Crabtree said when the 49ers review the film, they’ll see the plays that were there that they didn’t take advantage of.
“It’s good to be in these situations to learn from it,” he told Maiocco. “You know what I’m saying? If it’s third and so-and-so and you don’t convert, you can always go back and see what play would’ve worked. What would be easier? You can always get better.”
Left tackle Joe Staley echoed Crabtree’s theme. The offensive line – which lost guard Adam Snyder for much of the game – had trouble giving Smith the time he needed to throw.
“This will benefit us in the long run,” Staley said. “It will make us tougher. We will correct our mistakes and improve.”
Snyder had been a key to the line’s improvement since taking over for Chilo Rachal at right guard in the victory over Cincinnati in late September. Snyder, however, strained his left hamstring against Baltimore in the first quarter, and Rachal played much of the game.
Rachal also was part of a play on which the 49ers drew a flag that wiped out a 75-yard touchdown pass from Smith to Ted Ginn Jr. that would have broken an early 3-3 tie.
The flag was for running back Frank Gore’s chop block on safety Bernard Pollard, who was blitzing. The block would have been legal if Rachal had not also made contact with Pollard.
After the game, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh told Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group that he believed the call was a correct one.
“It was a bang-bang play for Chilo,” Harbaugh said. “He really just go this hands on (Pollard). I wish he could have seen that and not put his hands on him. It certainly was a chop block and it was a good call.”
Harbaugh acknowledged there had been a lot of attention on the game with a national TV audience and the storyline about the brothers facing each other as NFL head coaches.
Now, he says, it’s time to move on.
“We didn’t win,” he told USA Today. “But we’ll learn from it and use this game to make us stronger.”