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Lowell Cohn: Can't beef about 49ers' clutch drive


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.

Then a 49ers miracle happened. Fitzgerald fumbled the ball, Fitzgerald of all people. Eric Reid recovered and the 49ers had the ball at their own 11.

Now we get to the meat of the matter, to the killer drive.

Kaepernick, who earlier had thrown an interception and lost a fumble, hit wide receivers on three passes, two to Anquan Boldin, one to Kyle Williams. Two of the passes were for first downs — until then the 49ers had been challenged converting third downs. Until then, the 49ers could not incorporate wideouts in their passing game. And then, when they needed wide receivers, Kaepernick found them.

In this drive the 49ers ran the ball 12 times, eight in a row at the end culminating in a TD by Kendall Hunter, culminating in meat. And not just The Whopper, more like a slab of filet mignon bathed in garlic butter with home fries on the side.

We're talking beef.

I am saying the 49ers' offense was no big deal until that drive. I am saying the offense may — probably will — struggle in future games and Kaepernick almost surely will look young and indecisive and even a little scared. It's not like this stuff just goes away.

I'm also saying when they had to be perfect, the 49ers executed a perfect drive, a flawless drive that started way back in their own territory. It was what they needed and it was as good as a drive can be — eating up clock, demoralizing the opposing defense, winning game.

On that drive, the coaching staff and players came together — offensive coordinator Greg Roman is at his best designing and calling run plays. If a team has only one good drive in it, let it be a drive near the end that, well, ends the game. A drive like this defines an elite team.

Someone should present Harbaugh with a side of Angus beef and his own personalized 14-karat gold meat grinder. In case he gets an urge to grind the meat.

For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn@pressdemocrat.com.