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My editor asked me to write a wrap-up column on the Niners' season. Wrap-up is a synonym for post mortem.

The 49ers' turnaround was incredible, as in beyond belief. Many people, me included, thought six to eight wins would be commendable, and here was a team that made it to the NFC Championship and almost to the Super Bowl. It shows what good coaching can do, and what bad coaching cannot do.

Mike Singletary had the same players with a few exceptions and couldn't deliver. Jim Harbaugh is an optimistic, fiery, demanding coach who knows the ABCs of football, not to mention the Xs and Os. Without much of a preseason, he made the 49ers an elite team in the NFL, a team that will be elite for many years.

Harbaugh is not afraid to surround himself with good coaches. Singletary was — remember Jimmy Raye? A good coach wants to hear strong, creative voices in coaches' meetings. Sometimes he wants opposing voices. Harbaugh has a flat-out great coaching staff, to his credit.

Under defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, the 49ers had the best defense in football, a fast, mobile, punishing defense.

The offense was serviceable, certainly good enough to win 14 games. And this combination of great defense and good offense reminds us a football team, finally, is not two teams — defense and offense. It is one team, and the Niners won as a team, and eventually lost as a team.

Harbaugh's daring paid off with bringing back Alex Smith. More on that in a moment.

This season, the 49ers became a national story and they became the No. 1 sports story in the Bay Area, as they used to be. They were the subject of a passionate ongoing conversation, which will continue through the offseason. But the final game, that painful overtime loss to the Giants, was different from what came before. It serves as a diagnostic of what the team and coaches need to do as they approach next season.

Harbaugh, after all, was a rookie coach and against the Giants he had big-time game-management issues. Harbaugh was not such a good game manager in the championship game.

People blame poor Kyle Williams for fumbling the overtime punt, which eventually led to the Giants' win. Blame Harbaugh. A coach must know whom to put in the game and when. Williams never should have been in the game fielding punts. By overtime, Harbaugh should have seen enough. He should have acted. He should have replaced Williams with someone else. He did not.

In the third quarter, Williams had to dive on his stomach to field a punt. Big red flag right there for a coach. Harbaugh should have replaced Williams as the punt returner then. When a punt hit Williams in the fourth quarter — something that never should have happened — Williams froze and didn't run after it, allowing the Giants to get it. He made two egregious mistakes on one play.

Hey, Jim, get someone else to catch punts. But Jim didn't do that. He had Williams on the field in overtime, where he mangled yet another punt, setting up the Giants game-winning field goal. Put the blame on Harbaugh, who was thinking run-back when he should have been thinking, "Just catch the ball."

Williams was overwhelmed by the enormity of the game and the coach should have seen that. The coach didn't see it because he, too, was overwhelmed by the enormity of the game.

Harbaugh allowed offensive coordinator Greg Roman to install trick plays for the Giants game. No. In a game of that magnitude, you run your basic stuff from various formations, something the Niners had done all season until then. But there was Smith running two option plays, like Tim Tebow.

In the first quarter, the 49ers tried a gadget reverse and loused up the exchange and they lost 10 yards. They were playing on a wet field with a wet ball. Why try something so slick?

The exchange on a reverse always has potential for error, even in good conditions.

Everyone is knocking Michael Crabtree these days — and the consensus is he was over-drafted. No quarrel here. But Harbaugh/Roman did not give the guy a chance. Crabtree struggles to separate from defenders. This is known. The Niners should have put him in the slot and in motion so he could be moving left or right at the snap. Why? Then the corner could not drill him as he came off the line.

The 49ers' wide receivers were not well-coached. The 49ers went a whole season and did not develop wide receivers.

Smith completed just two of seven passes in the first half.

The 49ers have a glorious history of offense and this was the offense they presented in the title game?

Even the defense shares blame for the loss. There were all those third-down conversions they allowed Eli Manning. Now, I'm going to write something controversial. They abetted in the final Giants' field goal that sealed the deal. Williams had lost the punt and the Giants got the ball at the San Francisco 24-yard line.

The game was not over at that point and the ending was not predetermined. It is a defense's job to put up resistance, to stop the opponent. Defenders don't think, "Oh, we're screwed because Kyle dropped the ball." They think, "We will stop the Giants."

If the 49ers' defense stopped the Giants, the field-goal attempt would have been 42 yards, fairly routine but not guaranteed, especially on a field like that. But the 49ers defense let the Giants advance to the 8-yard line — a delay of game penalty put New York back to the 13.

That was a guaranteed field goal and a game-ender.

Harbaugh has been compared to Bill Walsh, with good reason. Some say he's done better than Walsh because he got his team to the championship game his first season and it took Walsh three seasons.

Slow down. At first, Walsh didn't have the talent Harbaugh has, certainly not on defense. And when Walsh got to the championship game, he won it and then he won the Super Bowl. Harbaugh has room to grow.

Harbaugh needs better wide receivers. And, through his choice, he will keep Smith, who played poorly against the Giants, who often did not throw to open receivers, who threw several grounders.

If you thought the Alex Smith conversation was over — is he good enough? — you're mistaken. It carries on. Harbaugh made it that way.

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.