Faith No More

Nov 30, 2014 at 9:04 AM


I still believed. Despite what I saw, I truly believed.

Against the Giants' abysmal D, we'd scored 16 points despite 5 interceptions, only the last of which put it away. Against the Redskins' demoralized D, we'd scored 17 points, needing another near-miracle finish. And Seattle's D, having survived the first round of HGH testing, had quietly regained its place at the top of the league.

But damn it all, I still believed.

Because I believed in Jim Harbaugh.

I'd made a promise, you see. Nearly three years ago, we talked about faith. We talked about how certain figures—especially sports figures—have a superhuman aura about them, an aura that simply compels your belief. It's not that they truly do win all the time––which, of course, is impossible—it's that their losses don't seem to stick. They remain unbeatable, regardless of how many times they've been beaten. Naturally, that's unreasonable, but that of course is precisely the point. A confidence that's unshakable, even in the absence of reason—that's the very essence of faith.

During that first season, Harbaugh had already shown he was human. "But humanity aside," I boldly proclaimed, "he's still our new Superman, every bit the savior we'd hoped. [And] I won't lose faith in Superman."

And despite a slew of gut-wrenching tests, that faith didn't waver. After his second season, which ended in utter agony, I reiterated his coaching "genius" and proudly declared that I "wouldn't trade him for anyone else." And last New Year's Eve, despite a season of near-complete turmoil, I still just couldn't let it go. "You can ask your questions, lay out all your reasons for doubt. ... Yet no matter what, Harbaugh seems to come up with the answers. Of course I understand he might lose. But I'll never, ever, believe that he will."

And even this season, after asserting that Harbaugh's offensive schizophrenia was the spitting image of his pants-dropping predecessor's, I went on to predict, nevertheless, we'd be the league's best by the end of the year.

You're entitled to ask me what I was thinking, but that's just it: I wasn't really thinking at all. Faith, again, is the absence of thought, a state where the heart dismantles the mind. And no matter how much my mind was screaming, my heart remained in Harbaugh's hands.

And so, somehow, against Seattle on Thanksgiving night, I still believed.

But now, no more.

Naturally, I should've known. The method for beating Seattle is easy to design (if not necessarily easy to execute). Avoid their pass-rush, and avoid their corners. In other words, attack the middle of the field, and do it quickly. Increase your tempo to keep their D a half-step behind. And then use short passes, especially to your backs and tight ends. And once you've established a rhythm that way, then you can throw to receivers deep, but never, ever, outside the numbers.

That is to say, you run the West Coast frickin' Offense. Famously, Harbaugh promised to run it; but infamously, Harbaugh lied. So naturally, I should've known.

Despite our offense's recent woes, we didn't change a goddamn thing. We played at a slogging, mind-numbing pace, running the play-clock all the way down. And with rare exceptions, Colin Kaepernick threw deep into coverage, wasting play after play after play; each looked like it had been sketched on a napkin, and none had the slightest chance of success. And then, of course, just as he did in the title game—and because we never make the same mistake once—he challenged Richard Sherman outside the numbers, and did it with maybe his two worst throws ever, giving Sherman another chance to be the total Dick that he is.

Kaepernick has been destroyed. I'll never forget that Super Bowl run. I've never seen such a lethal blend of precision and power. He stood tall in the pocket, zipped through his progressions, found the open man, and delivered strikes all over the field. And every time he started to run, he simply took my breath away. And he did all this with a thrilling abandon, an absolute aversion to fear.

Now, thanks to Harbaugh, Kaepernick plays like a terrified rookie. Harbaugh's afraid of injury, so Kaepernick's afraid to run; the most awesome dual-threat in the history of the league now isn't a dual-threat at all. And because Harbaugh's passing scheme is basically all vertical—without what Alex Smith called "pressure-beaters"—Kaepernick can avoid the rush only by scrambling, and he's gotten so used to having to scramble, he's scrambling even when he can step up. And because he's scrambling (or thinking about scrambling), he isn't seeing the field anymore, and that, of course, leads to deadly mistakes.

Instead of doing a coach's most basic job—putting his players in position to succeed—Harbaugh's put them in position to fail. And having put them there, he's left them there. Call it stupid, or call it stubborn; either way, it's now become a total embarrassment. And, as Jed said, with a promise of change: it's totally unacceptable.

My illusions now shattered, everything looks different now. What do you call a coach who doesn't replace a punt-returner who's obviously a nightmare waiting to happen? A coach who can't get his team lined up on the first play of a Super Bowl? A coach who stands idly by while his young QB plays hero-ball with Lombardi on the line? A coach who entrusts his NFL offense to a coordinator whose experience in that position consists of a job at Holy Spirit High School in Absecon, New Jersey?

Not a "genius," that's for sure.

During Harbaugh's tenure—now coming to an end, without any doubt—I've endured a constant battle between what I was seeing and what I was willing myself to believe. A battle between the mind and the heart. At the very beginning, my mind took note of Stanford's bruising, run-first offense, yet my heart latched onto a totally different, romantic idea, the notion of Walsh's last disciple restoring his master's brilliant philosophy. After Harbaugh's first game—a game where we ran on seven third-downs—my mind cried out that something was wrong ("I think we've had a misunderstanding"), but then, of course, the wins piled up, and my heart couldn't resist the Walshian script ("It's Niners football, but Niners football 2.0 ... it's total genius just the same"). And ultimately, despite noting Harbaugh's "illogical" methods, I threw up my hands and took the leap: "faith is what Jim Harbaugh's earned." And despite three seasons, with three incredibly gruesome endings, my faith in Harbaugh remained intact.

Seeing aside, it simply felt so good to believe.

But at some point, if you're true to yourself, you've got to see it. And if you don't, your heart must yield, your hope consumed by hard experience. What you see trumps what you believe, and you wonder why you believed at all.

Sadly, with Harbaugh, that is what I'm wondering now.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


85 Comments

  • acbasa
    JIM HARBAUGH AND HIS COACHING STAFF HAVE FINALLY SUCCESSFULLY SABOTAGED OUR SEASON. ONLY THING I COULD SAY IS "I TOLD U SO!!!" I SAW THIS COMING WAY BACK SINCE THE PRE-SEASON BASED ON EVENTS THAT TOOK PLACE BEGINNING BACK IN JULY. TIME FOR A NEW REGIME.
    Dec 7, 2014 at 5:33 PM
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  • Terry B.
    Chris P. You don't post here? Then what is all this drivel I keep reading? Chris, do me a favor and read what you just posted. Is there any conclusion a reasonable person can reach other than that you are a first class knucklehead? "You say that to Singletary's face, hurkuh durrh..." It's hard to say something to someone's face when he drops his trousers and turns his back to you.
    Dec 5, 2014 at 1:31 PM
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  • Chris P.
    Fortunately for you Terry I don't post here anyways. This was the first and now last article I've read all season by Kaplan because...well he's Kaplan. Secondly...and more good news for you...I could care less what you think about my credibility. I just love how you guys trash people on here. Kaplan digs at Singletary every chance he gets and then people like you jump in on the trashing. To me, that's what's pathetic. People with no clue about coaching in the NFL act like they know everything about it. If it weren't for Singletary where would Vernon be right now? He injected some life into this team when we needed it and helped pass the baton to where we are right now. He left Harbaugh with a really good team. I'd love to see you guys say some of the stuff you say in here Singletary's face. It's one thing to criticize a coach or a player, but there is a way to go about it. You and Kaplan have no class and neither does 95 percent of Niner Nation so I'm not worried if I don't seem credible to you and yours. Cheers.
    Dec 3, 2014 at 3:24 PM
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  • Dallas Niner Fan
    Just to clarify: I wasn't directing the comments about winning and losing at you, I was referring to Niners upper management. As far as what I think about the Niners being the preferred destination of potential coaches I would respond, not now. Yes, of course there are some coaches out there who could coach the Niners successfully, but do you think the dysfunctional front office could land them? Terry, who do you think would be a good replacement for Harbaugh? Gruden probably won't leave the booth.
    Dec 3, 2014 at 9:27 AM
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  • Lucky Phil
    I hear the Raiders are interested in Jim Harbaugh's sperm count. And The Niners are interested in trading it away. Any truth to this?
    Dec 3, 2014 at 8:39 AM
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  • Terry B.
    Chris P. You have now destroyed your credibility forever. You might as well just stop posting, because no one will ever take you seriously. Did you really utter the words "Singletary was a damn good coach"? Did you actually say that?? What was it that did it for you? The atrocious record? The blank stare as the game passed by in front of him? Dropping his pants and mooning the players? The schemes from the1940s? For God's sake, no other team will even allow him to be a defensive coordinator, let alone a head coach. All he can do is act tough, yell at people, and do his tough love routine. But he's not qualified to be an NFL head coach or defensive coordinator, and no team is dumb enough to hire him for those positions. (Only Jed York is that dumb.) On top of that, you bring out the tired, ridiculous, "you never played football" line. Really? Good grief, that's pathetic. And where have I trashed or blamed Harbaugh in these posts? I haven't. I simply have a functioning brain and can see what's in front of my face, so I'm admitting what should be obvious to anyone: Harbaugh is gone after this year.
    Dec 3, 2014 at 8:37 AM
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  • Terry B.
    Dallas. Of the teams that are likely to be looking for new coaches next year, you don't think that the 49ers are going to be the most desirable location? Whatever. As for the "wins and losses" comment, I'm merely pointing out that the relationships here have deteriorated to the point that it can't go on. Harbaugh is gone. And, unlike a lot of the morons who post here, I'm fully confident that another coach can win with this roster. And, yes, Jed sucks as an owner. Anyone who would hire Mike Singletary as head coach is unfit to own an NFL team. Be that as it may, Harbaugh is gone after this year, and it's time we all admitted it.
    Dec 3, 2014 at 8:27 AM
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  • Chris P.
    Terry, you're not acknowledging anything, you're trashing Harbaugh...and Singletary again. Enough already. If the goal each season is to win, then how can anybody blame Harbaugh for anything? How do you go to three consecutive NFC Championships and a Super Bowl and tell me he needs to go? Your pissy because he only won one of those? You're another spoiled Niner fan who fails to looks at anything objectively. Your offering me land in Florida and yet your the dude that is believing everything the media feeds you. No wonder you and Kaplan get along so well. You like these sportswriters that trash players and people because they don't win the Super Bowl every single year. You trash Singletary who was a damn good coach and guys like Alex Smith who was the classiest 49er that we've had in quite some time and a good QB. And yet you've never played a snap...and neither has Kaplan or 99% of sportswriters who just print garbage. I feel like a ten year old writes these articles because he isn't getting his way.
    Dec 3, 2014 at 12:01 AM
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  • Dallas Niner Fan
    Terry B. A couple of things: First I said in my response that the probability of the Niners winning out is unlikely, I was just giving you a hypothetical to make a point. I disagree that the team would have their pick of coaches. As you pointed out Harbaugh was not happy about York's tweet you don't think other coaches are not going to look at that and think twice about working for York? All I am saying is that nothing is 100% in the NFL. I put Harbaugh leaving at about 60% and yes York is concerned about how the fans feel, or he should be since he still has to continue to fill a new stadium. At any rate I think that most would agree with me that Jed sucks as an owner. He's the problem not Harbaugh. Maybe your right that in this case its not about wins and losses but anyone who thinks that its not about that in the NFL is delusional and you know who I am talking about.
    Dec 2, 2014 at 3:30 PM
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  • Terry B.
    Dallas. Win it all? See below for my offer to get money out of a Nigerian bank. But, yes, I do think Harbaugh is gone no matter what. How many stories do you have to read before you believe it? Every day there's another story in the Webzone news feed. They were ready to unload him last offseason for two third rounders, and he was in an even stronger position then. And now it's gotten to the point that Jed is calling him out on Twitter and Baalke's daughter is publicly demanding Roman's head. This kind of dysfunction will not be allowed to go on any longer. It's not about wins or losses. The front office and York can no longer coexist with Harbaugh. And, knowing Harbaugh's personality, do you really think he'll play another season for an owner who calls him out on Twitter? It's over. Just accept it. And, no, the fans would not mutiny and burn the stadium. People would scream on talk radio and write angry columns on the internet. Jed doesn't give a crap about any of that. The team would have their pick of the hottest head coaching names on the market. They would pick the best of the bunch, and the fans would get on board with the new head coach.
    Dec 2, 2014 at 2:04 PM
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  • Dallas Niner Fan
    Terry B. Suppose although probably unlikely that the Niners win out and either go deep in the playoffs or win it all. Do you still think that Harbaugh would be gone? All I am saying is that it is not 100% certain that he is gone and if the above should happen the fans would mutiny and burn the new stadium down in effigy.
    Dec 2, 2014 at 1:18 PM
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  • Terry B.
    Chris, first stop lying. One NFC Championship and one Super Bowl loss. If you've deluded yourself into believing that Harbaugh won three consecutive NFC championships and one Super Bowl, I don't know what to tell you. Second, please read what I wrote. All I'm doing is acknowledging the reality that Harbaugh is gone. If you don't believe that, then I need to talk to you about some land I have in Florida. (Also, can you help me get some money out of a Nigerian bank?) Thus, since we KNOW Harbaugh is gone, why are we setting up a false choice between Nolan/Singletary and Harbaugh's "close, but no cigar" (except in your fertile imagination where Harbaugh won 3 NFC championships and a Super Bowl)? Why shouldn't we believe that there's a coach out there who can win it all with this roster?
    Dec 2, 2014 at 12:40 PM
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  • Chris P.
    Three consecutive NFC Championships and one Super bowl and apparently that's not " good enough" for Terry B. I'm glad you and Kaplan aren't the GM.
    Dec 2, 2014 at 12:25 PM
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  • Terry B.
    All of this debate about who is to blame--Kaepernick or Harbaugh/Roman--is largely irrelevant because we know who's out of here. It's not Kaepernick. This is as good a time as any to point out that Jeff said all the way back in September that this was Harbaugh's final season in S.F., and he was flamed mercilessly for it: http://www.49erswebzone.com/commentary/1324-good-first-step-harbaughs-last-stand/ It should have been obvious to everyone--ever since the clumsy attempt to trade him in the offseason--that he was gone, but at this point, only the most willfully blind could believe that Harbaugh will be back next year. It's time we turn our attention to who the next coach is going to be. And can we please, please stop with this false choice that it's between Harbaugh's "good enough" and Singletary's pathetic record? Can't we be open to the possibility that there is a coach out there who could actually win it all with this very deep and talented roster?
    Dec 2, 2014 at 12:00 PM
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  • Lucky Phil
    Injury Status Update: Week 14. A.J. Bolino - Done For The Year. The Rabbit aka Jack Hammer (because it sounds tough) - Good to Go. Jeff Kaplan - Frontal Lobe Injury - Playing Thru. Sidney Mayhew - Missing In Action. Lucky Phil - Day to Day.
    Dec 2, 2014 at 8:56 AM
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  • Webzone Commenter
    Why can't we get some real colunmists back at this sight? Whatever happened to A.J. Bolino, Rabbit DelBarge, and Syndey Mayhem? Is it too much to ask to have columnists who know their rectems from a whole in the ground?
    Dec 2, 2014 at 7:44 AM
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  • Dallas Niner Fan
    Fire Balkee, hire Lombardi. keep Harbaugh. York would never do it, because he is incompetent. Totally agree with you Tom.
    Dec 2, 2014 at 7:29 AM
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  • Phil C.
    People who think Eddie DeBartolo is some kind of genius who hired Bill Walsh at the beginning (Walsh only won 2 and 6 games his first two seasons, BTW), Eddie D hired Joe Thomas, who apparently was a complete a-hole. To Eddie D's credit, he let Thomas go after 2 years, but if you think the Erickson/Nolan/Singletary years were bad, Eddie D's first couple of years were a nightmare.
    Dec 2, 2014 at 2:24 AM
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  • pokerjohn
    So to the clowns who like to blame Kap instead of Harbaugh and Roman here...Kap has his problems but in case you didnt know it is the coaches job to put players in position to win, period. How can Kap scan a defense pre-snap if he doesn't get under center until 3 seconds before the play clock runs down? Because Roman is so incompetent we dont get to the line until 10 seconds and then for some reason EVERY play we have to be cute and shift 4 or 5 different players around as if it's fooling anyone at all. Now 3 seconds on the clock when we are set to go what should Kap do if the D is lined up perfectly to stop the called play? He doesn't have time to change the play if he wanted to. His only options are timeout or run the play that was called. He makes his share of mistakes dont get me wrong but Harbaugh and Roman haven't done anything to help him. One last point, nobody is upset with success. It's awesome that we have been to 3 straight NFCCGs. The problem is how frustratingly close we were to 3 straight SBs instead we are left with nothing. A few different small decisions and we win at least one of those. We have been successful thus far DESPITE coaching not because of it.
    Dec 2, 2014 at 12:32 AM
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  • Niner 4 Life
    Remember the Chargers success under Marty Schottenheimer and they blamed him for their losses in the playoffs - The owner chose the GM over their coach and fired Marty - 5 years of losing and down hill slide they finally fired the GM (AJ Smith) learn from history - Harbough brought the team from lousy to good again - granted we have not held the trophy but after 5 championships - unless we get the sixth we are unsatisfied - I do not want to revert back to lousy coaches - 3 years of NFC championships is not failure
    Dec 1, 2014 at 10:30 PM
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  • Niner
    Yeah Harbaugh is a arrogant pain in the az boisterous lousy offensive coach. But the yorks are the clowns who fired mooch and turned from the wco ( see Green Bay Ravens, Kansas city etc...) to the 3 stooges. Erickson and sing were bad but we could have had McCarthy and Rodgers for that dufus nolan. Maybe Harbaugh can't turn kap into a real qb, instead of the latest mike Vick clone, but it sure beats going on the cheap with tomsula . We have a offense problem with seifret ( remember having to hire mooch) to Harbaugh, and you want to hire a dl coach? Maybe we can fix flat tires with oil changes. Honestly I trust the goofiness of Harbaugh over the amateur incompetence of the yorks! New ownership turned it around for the Giants , Warriors and Seahawks. Please someone buy this team from the yorks please!!!
    Dec 1, 2014 at 6:58 PM
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  • tom
    Anyone calling for JH head is an idiot and void of any long term memory. JH is the best thing that has happen to Jed York. JH made the 49ers a legitimate team again. Jed York is a dork and a child for throwing his own team under the buss as if he had nothing to do with selecting the folks running the team. If Jed York does not do everything he can to keep JH including letting the GM go then I will no longer be a 49er faithful cuz I can no longer support a kid in York that has no clue in what he has. Coaches like JH don't come along but once in a blue moon.
    Dec 1, 2014 at 6:56 PM
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  • Lucky Phil
    Hey Webzone, lets give Kap a little credit that was a thirty yard strike he threw Dick Sherman.
    Dec 1, 2014 at 2:58 PM
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  • Webzone Commenter
    Are you f'n nuts?? Why o why do I keep reading you?? Boy you sure hate winning don't you? The only thing you hate more than winning is NFC championships! I guess we just have too many of those for you so you want to go back to coaching legends like Steve Maritucci and MIke NOlen!! I knew it would come to this. You and your friends in the liberal media wouldn't stop until you ran our coach out of town. Glenn Dickey, Tim Kamawaki, Kevan Lynch, Mike Triplittletit, Lowell Cone, Jeff Kaplan, you guys are all the same! You just think that if we don't win the Super Bowl every year we have to fire a good man whose our coach! When will you see whats right in front of your eyes and realise that the problem is your boyfriend Colin Kaepernick?!? HE cant play at all! God, if only we had Alex Smith back. Some people liked to be jerks and call him Alice but he was a real quarterback who knew how to go through his progressions and zip the ball three yards downfield like no one else who has ever played the game. Did you see how awesome he looked against Denver last night, oh sure he might have lost but he stood in there like a man and took a beating and kept on getting back up. That's the kind of leadaer we need. Not someone who just drops back and throes the ball right to Richard Sherman every single time. Harbaugh has the unwavering support of Greg Roman, do you read the front page of WebZone. He's a lot smarter man than you, and I trust him. Maybe if instead of getting rid of Harbaugh and Roman we could send you and Kaepernick packing and finally get back to winning championships. Just don't jump back on the band wagon when that happens loser.
    Dec 1, 2014 at 2:13 PM
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  • Bilal
    Listen guys, Our problem is poor QB play. From reading defenses, going through progressions, mechanics and accuracy. Every QB at the NFL level should be a pocket passer! I kills me when people say Harbaugh is trying to make Kap a pocket passer. Kap is being paid to be a QB, he must throw the damn ball to guys who make millions. Kap is a one season wonder with the read option. Has anyone here noticed that since kap signed his new deal he has been playing like old money. Im tired of hearing about the OC and HC, Kaps inability to beat teams as a QB is the reason teams defenses gameplan play to stop Gore, that's why his numbers are horrific, not because he is 31. and the defense as of 11/27 was top 2!!!!!!!!!!!! Kap dazzled us all as a runner but when teams take that away, he has all of you screaming for a new coaching staff when he's forced to play QB! Lets face it Kap is just mediocre and by the way, why does he only look for Bolden 75% of the time, and still throws it to him when he's completely covered! I know Crabby won't be back and I'm glad because he deservers more from a QB, Davis too. It will be hard to bring in quality receivers because of Kap. Now it maybe hard to fathom but, I am a diehard 9er fan and watching all of our offensive talent go to wasted is sickening. We need better production from the QB position , our staff is fine.
    Dec 1, 2014 at 1:53 PM
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  • acbasa
    Lol, everyone is blaming Kap when, in actuality, it was Harbaugh's regime who drafted him. It was JH who made the conscious decision to bench Alex Smith, a QB he acquired from previous regimes, and, instead, made the decision to start Kap, HIS QB, to the SB in 2012. Also...of course he's gonna stand by Roman! That's his OC at Stanford! JH brought Roman to SF in 2011; they share the SAME offensive philosophy!!
    Dec 1, 2014 at 1:50 PM
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  • Lucky Phil
    I smell shit. I smell a big pile of fresh bull shit. And since I am at work right now, that would not be a surprise. But I am at lunch and reading the latest "Unwavering support of Roman" coming from JH. Now, I have heard enough BS from JH to know when he is just piling on more shit. And this is one of those occasions when he spreading the shit on toast and serving brunch. So, I am going to take this like a grain of salt, pass on the crap, before my blood pressure spikes.
    Dec 1, 2014 at 1:37 PM
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  • tom
    Your problem is the same as it has always been. You failed to realize what it was that made the team successful in the first year and a half of Harbaugh's tenure. You wanted something brighter and flashier and you got it but now you're finding out that your boy crush can't read defenses has accuracy issues and generates almost as many negative plays as positive ones, and somehow this is all Harbaugh and Roman's fault. Not saying they are blameless but the real culprit in this scenario wears #7
    Dec 1, 2014 at 12:05 PM
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  • Lucky Phil
    Everything is going to shit.
    Dec 1, 2014 at 10:55 AM
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  • 49er4Life
    A coaching staff that has been to 3 straight NFC Championships with a Super Bowl appearance, four thousand yard receivers, arguably one of the best running backs in the game, one of the best OLines,a perennial top defense, and a helluva Special Teams. There's only one question mark in this equation, and it wears #7! Any decent QB would look like an All-Star with this team. Don't even think about what we would look like with a Brady, Manning, Rodgers, or any other QB of that caliber! Come on Folks, pay attention to the obvious! So many people fell in love with Kap the athlete, but what about Kap the QB? We wouldn't even be having this conversation, if we still had Alex Smith. He might not have been flashy, but he didn't lose games, Kap does! BTW, I'm speaking on Alex Smith with our current coaching staff and front office, not that crap we had before.
    Dec 1, 2014 at 9:49 AM
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