49ers gearing up for heavyweight battle in Baltimore

Posted Nov. 21, 2011 @ 6:56 p.m.
Posted By Dan Arkush

Facing a short work week, it couldn't have been clearer that Jim Harbaugh had every intention of working longer and harder than he already does with the Niners-Ravens "Harbaugh Bowl" on Turkey Day only three days away.

"We are coming off a very physical game," Harbaugh said in a national teleconference Monday afternoon less than 24 hours after his team's 23-7 dismantling of the division-rival Cardinals at Candlestick Park. "Our guys are going to have to use all of their powers of recovery to get ready for what figures to be another very emotional game."

Rather than dwelling on how special it will be playing in the first NFL matchup featuring head coaches who also happen to be brothers, Harbaugh chose to focus on the fact that his Niners also would be the first team in NFL history to travel across three time zones to play on a Thursday night three days after its last game.

"There's no doubt we got the short end of the straw, but we'll see if we can make history," said Harbaugh, articulating the feisty "us against them" mindset that has served his surprising team so well on the way to racking up a 9-1 record and a whopping five-game lead in the NFC West. "We feel we will be playing the best team we have played all season, maybe the best team we'll play all year, and we know what a huge challenge that will be."

Harbaugh could hardly wait to finish his mandated media address. "I think part of the plan is to see just how long you can distract me," he said before signing off, presumably in jest. "And you guys have done a marvelous job."

The PFW Spin

Who's Harbaugh kidding? 

It's highly unlikely his 15 minutes spent gabbing with the national media will actually impede him and his finely tuned coaching staff in the process of preparing for a game between a pair of heavyweight contenders that figures to provide particular punch for pro-football-loving couch potatoes far and wide on Thanksgiving night.

As for the Niners' latest victory, saying that it was one-sided would be a major understatement. In improving to 9-1 for the first time since 1997, San Francisco literally toyed with an Arizona team that was outgained 431-229 and had a 44:16-15:44 possession disadvantage. Had the Niners done a better job of smelling blood in the red zone — only two TDs and two FGs on six trips inside the 20 — and PK David Akers avoided an uncharacteristic off day (3-of-6 field goals, including two blocked), the final score on Sunday might have been 50-6.

On offense, the passing game took center stage for a change, with WR Michael Crabtree and TE Vernon Davis spearheading an efficient aerial attack (combined 12 catches for 187 yards and a TD).

The defense, meanwhile, continued its opportunistic ways, forcing five turnovers, including interceptions by ILB Patrick Willis, who also had a forced fumble, a pass breakup and a team-leading seven tackles, and S Dashon Goldson, who was ejected after getting a little too carried away after getting punched in the head by Cardinals WR Early Doucet.

After Sunday's game, Willis talked about how much he was looking forward to hopefully going up against the Ravens' Ray Lewis, who sets the standard when it comes to modern-day middle linebackers.

"Ray Lewis is a guy that I've watched play and looked up to for a long time," Willis said. "There's only been one other time that I've gotten to play on the same field as him — when they came here about three or four years ago. I would love for him to be out there on Thursday. If he is, he is. If not, football goes on."

Harbaugh mentioned the similarities he sees in Willis and Lewis Monday afternoon.

"They are both great players," Harbaugh said. "Like Ray, Patrick is the consummate team player and consummate, great five-tool linebacker. Ray does it all. Patrick does it all. He can play downhill between the tackles. He is great in pass coverage. He is a tremendous tackler and an excellent blitzer. I have said many times that, if Patrick can continue to be consistent year in and year out like Ray has been, I believe he will become the Willie Mays of linebackers, he's that good."

Harbaugh also talked about the biggest keys to success for his team up to now.

"We have a bunch of tremendous character guys. Hardworking guys," he explained. "They take a lot of pride and have fun in what they're doing. People like Justin Smith organizing workouts 5-6 days a week during the offseason. When we came to training camp, our guys hit the ground running and didn't miss a beat.

"It's a group that's highly intelligent and studies really hard."

Just like their no-nonsense head coach, who quite possibly could be a little more than halfway through a storybook season for the ages.