Of course it was. The NFL just demanded too much. Hoping to guarantee a Thanksgiving feast for their fledgling network, the schedule-makers laid claim to the Har-Bowl. Understandable. But having us play at home on Sunday, limiting us to one day of practice, making us take our fifth trip to the east, and matching us up with a top contender on Thursday night? Diabolical, and insurmountable. Jim Harbaugh might've mixed his metaphors when he complained that we "drew the short end of the straw," but he was undeniably right. For the NFL Network, it was mission accomplished; the ratings indeed were its highest ever. For the Niners, though, it was an inescapable defeat, and thus it shouldn't trouble you. It was, in almost every sense, meaningless.

No. No it wasn't. Good grief, stop whining about the schedule. Our game on Sunday was against the Cardinals, who should be demoted to the lingerie league. Certainly, we could plan for John Skelton while taking a peek at the Ravens too. Oh, sure, we let the Cards hang around for a while, but putting ‘em away seemed hardly exhausting. And as for the travel, just give me a break. We flew to Baltimore, not East Timor; and a 5 p.m. kickoff was a whole lot better than our usual road start at 10 in the morning. Watching Harbaugh deploy these excuses while denying that he was doing so--"it's not making excuses, it's just the truth"--was embarrassing. So enough of the woe-is-us routine. The Ravens had lost to Jacksonville and Seattle, they'd beaten those lowly Cardinals by 3, and their supposedly fierce defense had given the Bengals nearly 500 yards. If you're as good as you think you are, you win that game. I mean, do you really think that beating the Packers at Lambeau will be easier?

Your expectations are insane. Fine, leave the schedule out of it. We hadn't lost in more than two months. We hadn't lost in regulation at all! Did you truly expect that we'd go the whole year without laying an egg? This is life in the NFL; aside from those Packers, nobody's perfect. The Saints can lose to the Rams. The Patriots can lose to the Bills. Weird, out-of-character losses just happen, and I'd rather take one against a contender like the Ravens. The point is, we were bound to hit a bump in the road, and ours was more understandable than most. We still can win the Super Bowl. Or have you forgotten 40-to-8?

You're just begging the question. The issue is whether this loss indeed was "out-of-character," and you're just assuming that it was. But was it? Ignore for a moment our lofty "power rankings," and think back to the preseason. Remember all your concerns? An offensive line that couldn't pass-block. A quarterback who was slow to decide under stress. A receiving corps without a reliable playmaker. And a D that generated an inconsistent rush and spotty coverage. The Ravens exposed each one of these. Nine sacks--a franchise record both ways--and nearly every pass-play a mess. Most were the fault of the line, which went back to sucking, but some were the fault of Alex Smith, who often seemed paralyzed. Not that he got much help outside, with Braylon Edwards living down to his reputation and Ted Ginn continuing to repel passes like a trampoline. Meanwhile, our pass-rush was nonexistent, and our secondary gave up more third-down completions than I care to recall. Sure, Harbaugh's smoke and mirrors worked for a while, but this was every bit the team we expected. This is who the Niners are, and if we make it to Lambeau--though that's a big if--we'll be lucky to lose only 40-to-8.

Logic, anyone? So let me get this straight. The Niners go nine-and-one. Our offensive line holds up beautifully against some of the league's most ferocious pass-rushes. Smith, in turn, blossoms into one of the league's best decision-makers. Meanwhile, our D becomes the league's best, period: impervious to the run and unbreakable by the pass. Yet the real Niners are the ones who lost to Baltimore, instead of the ones who are nine-and-one against everyone else? That's just absurd. Don't forget: as bad as we looked, we were still in the game. One marginal call gave the Ravens 3 points, another took away 7 from us, and there's your 10-point spread. So just relax, will ya? Next week, we'll get back to our nine-and-one ways, and the only thing we'll remember about Thanksgiving will be the indigestion.

You're just burying your head in the sand. See, this is why the Ravens game was so important. Four of our last five games are against the dregs of our division, and the fifth, with the Steelers, is at home. We should win out, and look good doing it. (Though Chilo Rachal, whom Harbaugh jaw-droppingly professed to "believe in," might have something to say about that.) The Ravens game was our last tough road game between now and January. It was our last chance to show how we respond to tough conditions, and we responded with our worst game of the year. Now we'll doubt ourselves all the way to Lambeau, no matter how badly we blow out the Rams.

Doubt?! C'mon. Harbaugh doesn't know the meaning of the word. You and all the naysayers might doubt, but our coaches and players will use it as fuel. Harbaugh wants your doubt. He feeds off it. As he said earlier, "The more against us the better." Well, there's plenty more against us now. And when Harbaugh says this loss will make us stronger, that's exactly why.

Oh please. Spare me your motivational mumbo-jumbo. We've been through that with coaches past. It doesn't amount to anything. What matters instead is planning and execution, and though Harbaugh still will be Coach of the Year, he was absolutely pantsed on Thursday. The Ravens didn't send extra rushers on every play; they just disguised their rushers brilliantly. That was enough to overrun our offensive line, and Harbaugh, perhaps doubting Smith's ability to make accurate throws on one- or three-step drops, simply made no adjustments at all. Make no mistake: our future opponents will copy this. They might not do it quite as well, and Harbaugh will be better prepared. (The Steelers game should provide a good test.) But we'll win only with better planning and execution, not with better motivation.

In the end, though, Harbaugh will not let a bad loss derail us. A lot of ink has been spilled on comparisons between this season and that magical year of 1981. In ‘81, you might recall, a hotshot ex-Stanford coach with an innovative offense shocked the league by going all the way with a band of misfits who had gone 6-and-10 the year before. Those similarities are eerie enough, but there's another one too. Going into our eleventh game in ‘81, we were eight-and-two, riding a seven-game winning streak. We played the Browns, who were four-and-six, and we played ‘em at home. Four field-goals were enough for us to take a 12-5 lead into the fourth quarter. But then we gave up 10, including a late field-goal by Matt Bahr (yes, that Matt Bahr), and we lost.

Afterward, the critics predictably questioned whether the coach's team had been exposed. Whether the league had caught on to the coach's maneuvers. Whether the coach's innovations could make up for his roster's average talent. Many were ready to jump off the wagon, and some just went ahead and did.

And the Niners didn't lose again.

What's happening here is much, much bigger than a bad showing against a strong opponent, on the road after a short week. Harbaugh will learn from it--he's too smart not to--and he'll make his team even better than before. And from this point on, nothing will stop him. The Niners still will win it all.

You know something...?

I think you're right.