Harbaugh moved his hand around and around. Grinding. He smiled. He is a man who likes words, although sometimes you wouldn't know it.
So, grinding meat was about being tough, wearing down the defense, grinding it out.
Allow me to interject that grinding the meat (pork? veal? chicken?) in this circumstance was the essence of good. With the game on the line, a team needs to become meat eaters — er, meat grinders. More on that grinding in a minute.
Another reporter asked, "Is it accurate to say that along with grinding meat you rattle molars? Is that part of the phrase or not?"
Harbaugh eyeballed the reporter. A look of surprise took hold of his face. "That's a different phrase. It's not rattling molars. There's nothing with molars," he said, confused.
"I talked to your dad," the unfortunate reported said. "I believe there's molars in there."
"No, you're referring to rattling fillings," Harbaugh said, straightening him out.
I apologize for this brief excursion into the land of mixed metaphors. Molars indeed. We are talking meat grinding and nothing else.
After the Harbaugh news conference, I walked into the 49ers' locker room looking for a cheeseburger. Not really. I was looking for offensive linemen, the meatiest men on any NFL roster. I wanted to ask them about Harbaugh's grind-the-meat metaphor, get their take on it.
Center Jonathan Goodwin: "I understand what he means. Almost running into a brick wall. Just seeing what you can get. That's the best way I can sum it up."
Nice try, Jonathan, but no cigar. Well, no Quarter Pounder with Cheese. Running into a wall, indeed.
Joe Staley: "Grinding the meat? It means running downhill, throwing power stuff at them. We're talking physical."
Nice try, Joe, but no Jumbo Jack for you.
Before we can get to the meat and potatoes (curly fries) of that drive, we need to get the words straight. Whether or not they knew it, Harbaugh and Goodwin and Staley meant they were grinding up the Cardinals' defense. They were running meat through a grinder (hence the circular arm motion). They were making sausage out of the Cards.
Until that drive, the 49ers were almost meatless, verging on full vegan. I have nothing against vegans. I'm merely using "vegan" as a compare-and-contrast with meat.
Any win is good, so we congratulate the 49ers on beating Arizona even though Arizona is no good. Congratulations, 49ers. But, the Niners allowed the Cardinals to stay in the game way too long. Until that drive, the game had the makings of a bad loss for the 49ers.
Colin Kaepernick was tense and tentative and distracted — you know, like Alex Smith used to be. Was he trying to be Alex Smith? And Frank Gore had some good runs but also some flops.
And there was this. In the first half, Kaepernick had completed just two passes to wide receivers. Very bad. Inexcusable.
Two seasons ago, when the 49ers lost to the Giants in the NFC championship game, they (Smith) completed just one pass to a wide receiver the entire game. Very bad. Inexcusable.
So, in the first half, the 49ers had reverted. They were back to a team with a no-wide-receiver game, and they were vulnerable. They were vulnerable until just about a minute remained in the third quarter. The 49ers led by a mere two points. Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer completed a pass to the great Larry Fitzgerald and that took Arizona to the 49ers' 23, fantastic position for the go-ahead field goal or more.