After happy flight, 49ers' focus turns to Carolina
Published: Monday, January 6, 2014 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 6, 2014 at 9:22 p.m.
SANTA CLARA — The 49ers' trip to Green Bay must have been a bit tense, fraught with big-game pressure and visions of an icy Wisconsin runway. The trip home? Pure bliss for head coach Jim Harbaugh.
“Everybody's experienced a happy flight in their own way,” Harbaugh said at a press conference Monday. “For me, it's talking to the players and having some conversations on the plane. Then I sit there on my seat and I'm watching the video of the game. Also, our planes have televisions, so I'm watching some of the highlights of the other games.
“So a highlight comes up that I want to see, I press the pause on my video. And just sitting there, just me, all I need now is a cup of coffee and I'm just as happy as I can possibly be doing those things.”
Harbaugh has already experienced some memorable victories in his three seasons here, but Sunday's 23-20 win over the Packers in Arctic conditions seemed to have stoked him in a way that others haven't. Disturbing reports from Green Bay indicated that he hugged one 49ers beat reporter and kissed another in the moments following Phil Dawson's game-winning 33-yard field goal as time expired.
Back in the balmy Bay Area on Monday, Harbaugh still hadn't completely descended from his mental orbit.
“I haven't found anything that makes you feel more like a man than to go — not only beat your opponent, but you're beating their crowd, and then the elements in a playoff game,” he said.
California teams aren't supposed to hold up when the thermometer goes south of zero, but the 49ers outplayed the Packers for most of the game at Lambeau Field. Practically everyone on this team downplayed the weather leading up to the playoff game; afterward, they could admit to their discomfort.
“Thanking God for a great win and sideline heaters,” injured fullback Bruce Miller wrote on Twitter.
“Every time I took my mouthpiece out it would have ice on it when I put it back in,” center Jonathan Goodwin tweeted.
The victory in the wild-card round propels San Francisco to a divisional playoff game at Carolina next Sunday. The Niners are the hottest team in the NFL, currently riding a seven-game winning streak, but they lost at home to the Panthers in Week 10.
The NFC South champions ranked second in the NFL in both total defense (301.2 yards per game) and rushing defense (86.9) this season. Looks like another tough assignment for the road-bound 49ers. Which is why Harbaugh's dreamy description of his flight home eventually took a serious turn.
“When I run out of video to watch, I start watching Carolina tape and then my mood starts to change as we start to land,” he said. “And then we start focusing on the Carolina Panthers.”
Courting the coaches
One byproduct of the 49ers' recent success — Harbaugh is the only head coach since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger to win at least 13 games, including the postseason, in each of his first three years — is outside interest in the team's assistants.
The Washington Redskins and the Minnesota Vikings reportedly are looking at offensive coordinator Greg Roman as a head coaching candidate — the Washington Post reported that its hometown team has asked for permission to speak to him — and Washington is also said to be researching defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.
Harbaugh confirmed interest (without naming teams), and added defensive line coach Jim Tomsula to the mix. CBS reporter Jason La Canfora later wrote that the Houston Texans had been keen on Tomsula before hiring Bill O'Brien.
“You wonder sometimes why it's taken maybe this long,” Harbaugh said. “People are looking for coaches. If you want the one-year flash, sometimes it seems like people hire that. But here, when you look at Greg Roman, Vic Fangio, (assistant head coach and special teams coordinator) Brad Seely, Jim Tomsula and others that we have on our staff, they're consistently good year after year. That's special. ... It would be a surprise if somebody is not hired as a head coach.”
Don't forget the holder
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick headed the 49ers' list of heroes after running and passing his team to a thrilling victory over Green Bay for the third time in about a year. Wide receiver Michael Crabtree, who caught eight passes for 125 yards, was right behind him.
Harbaugh added another name to the list: punter Andy Lee, who doubles as the Niners' holder on placekicks.
“I've been a holder in NFL games in cold, snowy, windy conditions — and it's not a great feeling when you're sitting there as the holder wondering how the ball is going to come back,” Harbaugh said. “There are a couple that came back a little wobbly, or hot, that he had to reach for or reach back for. I thought he did an excellent job, and that saved us.” Dawson connected on all three of his field-goal attempts Sunday.
Store the cold-weather gear
After a week dominated by weather reports, the 49ers should be able to stick to football this week. The extended forecast for Charlotte, N.C., calls for a 40 percent chance of rain and a high of 59 degrees next Sunday.
You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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