Did you feel it?

It was quick, but it was there. There it was, just before kickoff. A sense of departure, but also a sense of arrival. We'd made it through the torture that preceded his hiring, seemingly a lifetime ago. We'd made it through the lockout that seemed to push us into infinity. We'd made it through the ups and downs (or, precisely, the downs and ups) of a free-agent frenzy that seemed to leave us who-knows-where.

And, at last, there we were. Out on a field, led by Walsh's final protégé. All the breathless debate about our ownership, our management, our stadium, our roster--indeed, all the damage done over a decade of disaster--all the noise just melted away.

There we were. Out on a field, led by Jim Harbaugh.

And, just for an instant, all was right in the Niners' world.

With that build-up, I couldn't help but raise my expectations. Sure, we'd had a skimpy dozen practices. And yeah, the Saints--entrenched among the league's elite--didn't even NEED to practice. But I had a feeling. With nothing to prove, the Saints would take it easy, just stay healthy and get off the field. The Niners, though--crackling with that same sense of renewal--would come out flying, eager to put the league on notice: the West Coast Offense is back, and so are we.

The feeling lived for exactly one play.

Alex Smith dropped back--all hail the pass-first WCO!--and the offensive line provided a pocket, which would become a most unusual perk. Yet Smith threw a pass--stop me if you've heard this one--right at the feet of an open receiver.

You may say, if you wish, that I'm overreacting. You may deem me unreasonable for demanding execution on the very first play. But that was all I needed to see. In that instant, after six years of this, I simply couldn't believe that Alex Smith was still our quarterback. Still our quarterback--at five million bucks--with no viable alternative.

Trent Baalke might've had a good week. But he's just got no excuse for this.

Much to Smith's benefit, however, the line went on to steal the show. Sure, the Saints DIDN'T take it easy; they sent the house on blitz after blitz. Schematically, we were understandably unprepared for such a breach of preseason ethics. But that doesn't explain why our starting linemen were so soundly beaten one-on-one, even by the Saints' reserves. Leaving aside the soon-to-be-demoted Adam Snyder, there was Joe Staley (or was it Mike Iupati?), nearly getting Smith killed. There was Anthony Davis, committing a false start and STILL getting beat. And there, as always, was Chilo Rachal, as generally awful as ever. Three very high picks--four if you count the increasingly stultifying trade-up for Davis--and still, it just never ends with these guys.

It thus must've been with some regret that Harbaugh sent in Colin Kaepernick. He showed us his drool-worthy physical skills, throwing a 20-yard rope and then later running for 30. But watching him suffer three straight sacks, I wanted him merely to get out alive.

Afterward, Harbaugh declared an open quarterback-competition. He also articulated the possibility--or maybe even the desperate hope--we still might add a seasoned vet to the mix. (If it's Daunte Culpepper, "desperate" is right.) But one thing seems abundantly clear: though of course the line will get better than this--at least a little--Kaepernick shouldn't get anywhere near it.

What makes the O's status quo so annoying is that the defense showed that it might be for real. We've been waiting years, for this D to go from good to great. And if this debut meant anything, its time could very well be now. The new additions in the secondary looked active and hawkish, and the OLB combo of Ahmad Brooks and Aldon Smith showed the potential for serious disruption.

But it won't be enough, not THIS year. Forget the lockout-lengthened learning curve. Forget the notion of the magical powers of an "offensive head coach," even one as gifted as Harbaugh. The essential issue is simply this: Harbaugh's got a pass-first O, but his line can't pass-block, and his QB can't pass. Not consistently, anyway.

These, my friends, are serious problems.

As hard as it was to watch our own illusions come crashing down, it was even harder to watch the collapse of Harbaugh's. Of course he didn't expect perfection, but, putting it mildly, he "thought we would be a little bit more effective on offense." His sideline demeanor spoke volumes more. As the game dragged on--with nearly every pass-play a mess--he looked increasingly out of his depth. Increasingly shocked, increasingly helpless.

Increasingly aware, of just how long this road will be.

Now lest you accuse me of "jumping the gun," please let me be clear. Naturally, this team will improve; by season's end, it might even be good. And I still can't wait to see Harbaugh at work. There isn't a shred of doubt in my mind: Harbaugh's the perfect coach for us, and I'm quite convinced he'll win us a Super Bowl.

But for a guy as optimistic as me--;)--Friday provided an unwelcome dose of reality. You see, in all the Harbaugh hysteria, I came to believe in a miracle. Baalke's performance was fun to debate, but really he was beside the point, a footnote to an inevitable revolution. We'd emerged from the darkness. We'd hired the savior. And right from the start, nothing would stop him.

Alas, though, it won't be that simple. Harbaugh's got a ways to go. Let's do our best to enjoy the ride, but understand that it won't be quick.

Make no mistake: the miracle is coming.

But, as any child knows, even miracles take a little time.