SAN FRANCISCO - Jim Harbaugh looked annoyed. Or was it perplexed? It was after the game — a terrible 30-7 loss for the 49ers — and now he wanted to meet the media, just get that out of the way.
He had walked into the interview room, a dark cavern under the stadium, but no reporters were there. That's because they (we) were kept in a distant hallway. It was like lockdown in the big house. So when Harbaugh came in, expecting to get down to business about the Niners vs. The Houston Texans there was no one to do business with. This was unprecedented in all my years covering the 49ers, a coach waiting for the scribblers.
We entered and there he was pacing back and forth, agitated. He looked like someone waiting for a bus on a street corner, someone waiting for a late bus. And this wasn't right. He seemed unsure what to do. If you want to use his uncertainty as a metaphor — oh let's — he seemed like a coach unsure of his team, unsure which way it is headed. Certainly he never expected his team to be so incompetent in the third exhibition game of his rookie season, the third game being the most important game, the dress rehearsal, as everyone knows.
Or maybe he was feeling certain. That certainty would have been the scariest thing. Maybe he was certain his team is just no good. The Texans had handled the 49ers the whole game, especially when it counted in the first quarter — the good players from Houston against the good players from San Francisco. It was no contest and, if you want confirmation, just listen to Harbaugh after he found his bearings and climbed up to the podium and tried to make sense of what happened.
"It was a bitter pill to swallow that we were beaten that thoroughly pretty much in all phases," he said. "Defense wasn't as bad as special teams and special teams weren't quite as bad as offense."
That's what you call a thorough condemnation. And he was right. His offense did not score a single point on Saturday. His offensive line could not protect and his defense could not put pressure on Houston quarterback Matt Schaub, who carved up the 49er defense like a salami.
Let's take a break from this sad narrative for two key statistics. Alex Smith's quarterback rating in the game: 2.8. Colin Kaepernick's quarterback rating in the game: 20.8.
Let's return to the sad narrative.
"Are you confident you can have your team ready for the opener in a couple of weeks?" I asked Harbaugh.
He gave me the Harbaugh stare, part arctic ice, part equator fire.
"Yes," he elaborated. (Note to reader: This is a typical Harbaugh ploy. Answer the hard question in one word and leave the questioner dangling there like a real dope, and hope the dope doesn't have the nerve to keep going.)
"Why?" I followed up.
Another icy hot stare. A stare into the distance.
"Because we have to. It's not an option not to."
Do you find that answer reassuring?
To Harbaugh's credit he has not used the all-purpose 49er excuse that lots of others use — because there was a lockout and because Harbaugh's staff is new, the Niners haven't had time to prepare and are behind teams like the Texans.