Shawn Clarke - NFL Contributor Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Jim Harbaugh has lost the team. Frank Gore can't carry the rushing load anymore. The natives are getting agitated and restless.
Those were a few storylines for the San Francisco 49ers before they escaped the Big Easy with Sunday's improbable victory over the New Orleans Saints.
The Saints rarely lose at the Superdome. The 49ers weren't intimidated by that and headed back to the Bay Area with a 27-24 overtime victory.
Is it fair to say the 49ers "stole" a win on the bayou? Sure, but there are no style points given in the NFL. You either win or lose. Simple enough.
For everyone who had the 49ers under the guillotine, back off for one hot minute. They lost back-to-back games after a 4-2 start and panic began to build like residue at the bottom of a grimy bathtub. Hope was lost more than a week ago after falling to what was supposed to be an inferior St. Louis Rams team. Forget about the blowout loss to the Denver Broncos two weeks before. That's understandable with Peyton Manning running the show.
Losing to the Rams isn't in the recipe for success in the NFC. It shouldn't happen. Yes, the Rams have given teams fits this season, but losing to them is like an older brother crying "uncle" to his younger sibling.
No offense, St. Louis.
San Francisco found a way to scrub the debris by laying down some A-Jax (or Comet) and wiping out the Saints, who had won 11 in a row at home and nearly came away with a victory at the end of regulation. Saints quarterback Drew Brees connected with tight end Jimmy Graham on what appeared to be a touchdown and a flag was thrown for offensive pass interference.
Graham, of course, disputed the call and 49ers defensive back Perrish Cox did his best Dikembe Mutombo flop act and fell to the ground.
"Definitely not a push off. I'm running down the field and I'm telling myself not to push off. Whatever you do, don't push off. Just go up and get it," Graham said. "It's interesting, you know, how guys grab me everywhere on the field and I put literally two fingers on somebody and you make that kind of call."
The 49ers will take it. They then took the ball from Brees in overtime to set up Phil Dawson's 35-yard field goal with 5:14 remaining in the game. Linebacker Ahmad Brooks sacked and stripped Brees and San Francisco closed it out on the leg of Dawson, keeping the team alive in the postseason hunt.
Former 49ers great and Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice made headlines when he said Harbaugh's days are numbered. Rice said there's a lot of questions that need to be answered and wondered if the coach has any interest in even staying with the 49ers. Rice said the rumors could be taking a toll on the locker room and difficult decisions have to be made to benefit the team.
A few decisions went their way on Sunday and now the race is heating up.
To take a line from Michael Corleone (Al Pacino, The Godfather: Part III), "Just when I thought I was out ... they pull me back in."
Harbaugh and the 49ers have pulled everyone back in. There's not much separation at the top in the NFC and the 49ers are right in the mix at 5-4. Arizona leads the NFC West with an NFL-best 8-1 record, and it appears the Cardinals will be without quarterback Carson Palmer for a while because of a knee injury. So a door opens there.
Seattle, the defending Super Bowl champion, is beatable. The Seahawks, who ran all over the New York Giants Sunday, are 6-3 and just a game ahead of San Francisco in the division. Even if the Cardinals ride QB Drew Stanton to a division title, a Wild Card berth is not a longshot for the 49ers.
In past seasons, the 49ers set their clocks to the legs of Gore. Gore had 81 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries against the Saints and recorded 107 yards over his previous three games. The 49ers ran for 144 yards on the afternoon and improved to 38-7-1 when Gore has 20 or more carries in a game. Let that statistic be a lesson to offensive coordinator Greg Roman.
"Thought Greg Roman called an outstanding game, as he always does," Harbaugh said. "He's a great coordinator, indispensable part of our team. Heck of a good game plan that was well-executed by our players."
San Francisco was 6-4 at one point last season and ripped off six straight wins to close out the regular season. History can repeat itself as long as the 49ers take it one game at a time and, as Rice indicated, the correct decisions are manufactured.
Wide receiver Anquan Boldin set the blueprint for the rest of the season and his coach echoed strong words.
"I don't know who said it on our team," Harbaugh said, "but I think it might have been Anquan Boldin who said, 'These are one-week seasons,' and that's the way we approached this week; that's the way we'll approach next week.
"Anything can happen. Everything happens all the time. This was one of those games."
For a team whose coach went by the moniker "Captain Comeback" in his playing days, anything is possible from here for the 'Niners.
The 49ers have to make a cross-country flight to face the Giants this week, then will play two straight at home versus Washington and Seattle. The 49ers say they'll treat the rest of the schedule as one-week seasons, something they should have thought about in Week 1 because that's how the NFL works.
Some reinforcements could be headed San Francisco's way in linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. Bowman is recovering from a devastating knee injury suffered in last season's playoffs and is gradually working his way back to the field. The 49ers have until the day after the conclusion of the Week 11 games to declare Bowman to return to practice.
Willis has been bothered by a toe injury and should be ready in New York. Linebacker Aldon Smith served his nine-game suspension and is expected to have an impact against the Giants.
There's a pulse in San Francisco. The defibrillator was necessary to resuscitate what was believed to be a dying season. Now all the 49ers have to do is exploit this new-found life.