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SEATTLE -- And we're supposed to believe the 49ers are a Super Bowl Contender?

That 42-13 demolition by the Seahawks was as complete a meltdown as you'll see, a meltdown involving a fatal loss of composure, the wheels coming off, the team losing its cool, the full catastrophe.

A metaphor for the whole bad thing — not the cause, a metaphor — occurred near the end of the monstrosity. Offensive lineman Anthony Davis pointlessly went after a Seahawk and knocked him around and got called for a 15-yard penalty. When asked about it later, he resorted to profanity. That's the kind of day it was for the Niners.

It is hard to think this team is Super Bowl material. And please don't invoke the obvious excuses.

Obvious Excuse No. 1: Justin Smith was hurt. No dice on that one. Players get hurt. Next man up.

Limp Excuse No. 2: The Niners were tired after playing a tough game last week in New England. This one is really embarrassing. Teams are expected to be ready 16 times. It's not too much to ask.

To Jim Harbaugh's credit — and as you'll see in a moment I give him very little credit — he never copped those excuses.

A team with pretensions does not prep for the playoffs by losing like that, although "losing" is so insufficient to describe what happened. The Niners got murdered, they got exposed, and then they got run out of town.

There were many reasons for their defeat, although there was one big reason I'll get to soon. The many reasons include: A kicker who's hardly a kick, a phenom quarterback who wasn't exactly phenomenal. He threw a pick early in the fourth quarter on an end-zone pass to Randy Moss that was so obvious Richard Sherman couldn't help but intercept it. The Seahawks' Russell Wilson out-gunned and out-ran Kaepernick.

Additional causes for the loss: A running game that wouldn't run, a formerly crunching defense that lost its teeth and gummed its way to self-destruction. Conventional wisdom used to be that you can't run on the Niners. Well, you can and should.

The loss featured an offense that had trouble getting off plays in time and scored just one touchdown, an offense that didn't know how to fight back after falling behind. Sound familiar? There was all that and more, but I'll leave the gruesome details to the game story and focus elsewhere.

The 49ers have been falling apart since the second half in New England. They barely held on that time, but the fall had begun and they've been plummeting ever since. What is the cause of the big plummet from the sky? Actually, who is the root cause?

Harbaugh is. It is the coach's job to get his team ready for a big game, something Harbaugh is unable to do. In Seattle he continued his sorry pattern of following two wins with a not-win (there was that tie). He now has not won five times after two wins. Uug!

Afterward, Harbaugh had almost no answers for what happened. That wasn't surprising. He had no answers on the field, either. "We didn't win the down enough," he reasoned. "Didn't do good enough. Didn't coach well enough. Didn't play well enough."

That just about covered it.

Harbaugh didn't choose to be specific, but I do. If the Niners had beaten the Seahawks, they would have guaranteed themselves a playoff bye. Bye bye to the bye. That issue is still floating in the air. And that means Harbaugh did not prepare his team for the defining game in Seattle and the enormity of the spectacle.

Pete Carroll had the Seahawks prepared to win. They scored their first touchdown on a two-play drive. They beat up the Niners. They took out Vernon Davis and Mario Manningham, and were dead set on proving their dominance in the division. You'd have to say they proved it.

If you're Jim Harbaugh — and I know someone who is — and you're wondering why you lost so badly, just look in the mirror.

For his short, dramatic, tempestuous, successful tenure as Niners' head man, Harbaugh has conducted himself as someone who invented football. It's like no one ever thought about offense or defense until he applied his gray cells to the issue. Bill Walsh who?

Fans believed in him with a faith usually applied to the pope or Saint Francis of Assisi. Whatever he did was right even if it wasn't just because he did it. People believed in him because he succeeded poor Mike Singletary who possessed the football knowledge of a spoon. Compared to Singletary, Harbaugh was Vince Lombardi and Paul Brown rolled into one.

But reality has a way of sticking its ugly puss into every fantasy. Reality insisted on showing up Sunday. And it said Harbaugh had no idea what he was facing, had no answers once he faced what he faced.

That brings us to the questions of levels. What coaching level is Harbaugh on? I am not talking about Harbaugh the myth. I am talking about Harbaugh the Harbaugh.

He is not on the Tom Coughlin level or the Leslie Frazier level — Leslie Frazier? — and he sure isn't on the Jeff Fisher level. He couldn't beat Fisher in two tries this season despite having the better roster. We always assumed he was above the Pete Carroll level going back to college ball. Not anymore. After Sunday, he's lucky to be on the Pete Carroll level.

Harbaugh surely is a good coach who will get better in time. He currently suffers from an inflated reputation — you could hear the air gushing out of it in Seattle. He still needs an offensive coordinator who can coordinate. And he needs a better passing game. And, strangely, he needs a reawakened defense.

A season that once seemed so heroic, built on mighty men with humble hearts, really has become quite humble with all sorts of unknowns lurking in the night.

<cf103>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.</cf>