I guess we should start with The Decision, eh?

For the record, even without the benefit of hindsight, I would've taken the points off the board. The worst thing that could've happened--absent a ludicrous disaster, of course--was that we'd have scored the same three points after killing off a few precious minutes. And who knows? Alex Smith had thrown for two touchdowns already; maybe he would've thrown for a third, putting the game completely away.

But the opposite view had some semblance of reason. There's the unwritten rule against giving back points, though we'd violated that rule in week one. There's the fact that our D had largely suppressed an offense ravaged by injuries; we'd even inflicted a few of our own. And there's the fact that Smith had RETURNED one of those touchdowns by tossing a particularly Smithy pick. Indeed, if you're looking to avoid a ludicrous disaster, taking the ball away from our offense is never a totally worthless idea.

So when Jim Harbaugh chose to keep the three points, he wasn't wrong for playing dumb. He was wrong, again, for playing safe.

How many times, lo these countless miserable years? How many times have we settled for field goals, asking our D, having given so much, to give just a little bit more? How many times have we forgone the chance to kill our opponents, opting instead to give our opponents that one last chance to kill us themselves?

Harbaugh, we thought, was supposed to end this. But once again, just more of the same.

Mind you, this wasn't just on the offensive side, though it was plenty tough to watch another week of Frank Gore's up-the-gut rushes (with an average gain of 2.4) and Smith's ubiquitous dinks and dunks (for an efficient but paltry 179). Though effective early, the defense too was strangely passive, scarcely blitzing even as Tony Romo was completing pass after pass during his furious rally.

Playing safe on O. Playing safe on D. And THIS time, no Ted Ginn heroics to save us.

This isn't what we were promised at all. As we've already discussed, this is merely a shell of the West Coast Offense; leaving aside their advantages in personnel, just look at the SCHEMES of the Packers and Eagles, with ex-Niners, naturally, in charge of the plays. But wasn't Vic Fangio a Dom Capers guy? Sending blitzers from who-knows-where, bringing the heat again and again?

Where's the damned aggressiveness?

There are two possibilities. The first, of course, is that Harbaugh really is this timid, this conservative, that he's more Mike Nolan than Bill Walsh. And since I can't even stomach this possibility, let's just move along, shall we?

The OTHER possibility, and the one I choose to accept, is that Harbaugh is waiting. Thanks in part to the lockout, he doesn't know what his players can do, he doesn't know how much they can handle. (And to the extent he knows, he isn't impressed.) So he'll go vanilla as he watches and learns, striking at last when the iron is hot. Harbaugh said it himself: "These guys are just getting to know me. We're getting to know them. We are still in the process of forming [our] identity."

This theory is supported, of course, by the go-for-the-throat mentality that Harbaugh has shown since the day he was born. (It's also the theory that allows me to avoid a nearly total emotional breakdown.) But even if it's true, it doesn't explain why the waiting is necessary. I'm sure that Harbaugh's playbook has plenty of real WCO schemes, and I'm sure that Fangio has sketched out plenty of exotic blitzes. And I'm equally sure that if they were called, the players could run ‘em; they might not run ‘em WELL, but they could run ‘em.

So for cryin' out loud, Coach. Just call ‘em. If you play aggressively, you might lose. But if you play safely, more often than not, you WILL lose.

The issue here is that Harbaugh is letting the tail wag the dog. A team's identity should be a function of the coach's vision, not a function of the players' talent. On day one, Harbaugh should've announced the identity not only of THIS team but of EVERY team he'll ever coach: My teams will dictate to their opponents, on both offense and defense. My teams will play aggressively, from start to finish. My teams will never, ever let up.

This is the identity that wins, and it should be automatic.

Of course, not every roster can execute that vision, and Harbaugh is showing that he knows this one can't. Smith is proving himself as an efficient game-manager, but he doesn't strike any fear in a defense. (In fairness, the absence of his two best receivers doesn't help.) And without any fear of a deep passing-game, the defense is perfectly able to load up the box to squelch the run. Add to the mix an offensive line that's inconsistent--to say the least--and a dictating offense is no easy task.

Likewise, on D, aggressive blitzing is extremely risky when your secondary is unreliable. OUR secondary, especially missing two should-be starters, certainly qualifies as such.

But again, these are questions of talent, which shouldn't bear on the question of identity. The fact that your team might struggle to execute a winning vision is not a reason to adopt a LOSING one. You stick with what wins, and if you discover that your players can't handle it, you don't get rid of the vision. On the contrary, you get rid of the players.

My point is, our identity should be clear, constant, and nonnegotiable. Yet Harbaugh seems like he's simply confused. He says that he wants to be aggressive, but not at the cost of doing anything "negative for our ball club." He says that he wants to be a passing team--which, as we've discussed for YEARS now, is a team that wins--yet he wants just as much to be a running team, "darn near 50/50." Most disturbingly, he says that identity depends on "what you're good at and what you believe you can be good at." And that it takes time: "It takes the time that it takes and the main thing is that we all trust in the plan, we believe in each other. ... So, we'll stick with it. We'll stick to our guns on that approach."

Harbaugh must get this straight, immediately. He isn't here to scrounge around for some vague identity that won't embarrass his average roster. He's here to announce a bold vision, to tell his players that they'll either keep up or they'll be on the street. He's here to relieve us of the play-not-to-lose (and thus losing) mentality that's been our bane for year after year.

Ultimately, he's here for one reason, one reason alone: to restore the identity that once made us the envy of every franchise in professional sports.

Harbaugh must do this, and do it quickly. Or Sunday's game won't be all he'll lose.