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49ers' all-out performance has Harbaugh gushing


GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Let's start with a blunt statement. The 49ers played a beautiful game against the Packers, a work of art. The score was close, 30-22, but the game wasn't close.

The 49ers had their way with the Packers, a good team with a great quarterback. And the Niners, blunt facts being what they are, never were in danger of losing.

Because this was the 49ers' first game of the season, the marquee game on Sunday, let's use it as a primer of Niner football, and review what we learned on a lovely late-summer Green Bay afternoon.

What we learned about Jim Harbaugh: He really is one heck of a coach, no one-season wonder, if this game, admittedly a small sample, is a true indicator. Every play, especially on offense, had a purpose and the right personnel. Textbook.

He and his coordinators and assistant coaches game-planned better than the Green Bay guys. They really did. Packers coach Mike McCarthy is supposed to be the bee's knees, but he seemed like the common housefly in comparison to Harbaugh.

The Packers offense was predictable and cautious and, frankly, ragged. And for much of the game, Aaron Rodgers slumped around the field with bad body language in the throes of frustration. He was frustrated because the 49ers did brilliant things to make him grumpy in the extreme.

The 49ers knew the Packers couldn't run worth anything — like, "Cedric Benson, get the ball and fall down." Because the Packers couldn't run, the Niners committed football heresy. They often took Patrick Willis out of the game — Patrick Freaking Willis? — so they could beef up their pass coverage. They played their dime package, six defensive backs. And that meant the field was clogged with DBs, and that blew Rodgers' mind.

The Green Bay defense, for its part, wasn't so hot at understanding the Niner offense which used all kinds of sets and different wide receivers, wide receivers coming at the Packers from all over the place. You felt the Packers' defense wanted to fall on the ground and weep.

So, yes, Harbaugh game-planned the pants off the Packers — if you can make sense of that metaphor. After Harbaugh ducked the requisite number of questions in his postgame presser, he darted out of the room saying, "That was sure fun to watch, wasn't it?"

At his best, Harbaugh is a baller. And he had fun on Sunday. He put Colin Kaepernick in for one play at the end of the first half and called a quarterback draw, Kaepernick dashing up the middle for 17, setting up David Akers for a 63-yard field goal which tied the league record. It wasn't a mere field goal. It was a missile strike.

I repeat, Harbaugh, the baller, was having fun.

Here is some postgame Harbaugh. As you read these quotes, imagine him as a verbal gusher, the words pouring out of him: "Sixty minutes all out, physically fit team. I would just say this. The fight for 60 minutes was there. We played our best game with our minds we've ever played out there today."

Could he explain the mind remark?

"Everything those young men were called on to do today, the complexities, they were just tremendously on it."

To summarize: The 49ers were mentally superior to the Packers, mentally superior to themselves if you compare this team to last season. That's what we learned about Harbaugh and his ability to plan.

What we learned about the 49ers defense: It murdered the Packers offense, simply would not allow Green Bay to run. When a team cannot run, even a passing team like the Packers, it is in serious trouble, it is predictable, and it is cooked. The 49ers defense is as good as last season's, which was the best in the league. It may even be better this season. That's what we learned.

Alex Smith: Here is Harbaugh on Smith, Harbaugh in full gusher mode.

"I thought he was great, I thought he was just great. All game he used his legs, used his arm, used his mind, used his toughness, really accurate, the touchdown pass to Vernon (Davis) was a great throw put in the only spot it could be."

He said Smith used his mind all day — is that called playing mind games?

I asked Harbaugh how Smith used his mind.

"Voice was great all day," Harbaugh said, "just playing the quarterback position, going through his reads, seeing throws, seeing lanes, knowing where to go with the ball. We feel like he does what he always does. He's a football player."

I never have known Harbaugh to use such long sentences, all those clauses. He's usually as monosyllabic as Gary Cooper in "High Noon."

Enter Alex Smith. He stood at the podium in the interview room. No gusher Alex.

What we learned about Smith: I asked Smith what Harbaugh meant when he said he used his mind.

Smith: "It's a good question. I mean, I hope I use my mind. I don't know. For me, it's making good decisions, being smart with the football."

Me: "Does it mean calling audibles at the line of scrimmage when you see pressure coming and calling a run away from it? Note: Smith, brilliantly did that all game when the Packers blitzed.

Smith: "Sometimes, depending on the week."

Me: "This week?"

"Ahh."

Me: "You don't want to tell me because you'll get in trouble."

Smith looked away.

Allow me to speak for Smith. Against Green Bay, he was everything Harbaugh wants in a quarterback. The Packers could not stop his short and medium passes. Boom. Boom. He was efficient and precise and poised. He may have grown — we'll know more as this season's story unfolds.

Smith, who avoided talking about his mind, was articulate about the nature of the Niners offense.

"We take pride in the fact that we're going to be balanced. We take pride in the fact that we're not going to be one-dimensional. We've got a lot of different guys who do a lot of different things and we're going to use them and make you defend everything."

That's what we learned about Alex Smith and his offense.

Let's conclude with Harbaugh, the gusher. He deserves the last word, he really does. "It was all out all the time from our football team today," he gushed.

All out all the time is what it took to win. It's what the 49ers do. That's something else we learned.

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.