The elation was real. Jim Harbaugh couldn’t hold back his excitement and emotion when he stepped up to the podium after last Sunday’s Wild-Card Round win at Lambeau Field.
“You didn’t think we were going to pull that out, did you?” the 49ers coach asked as he stepped up to the microphone, a smile plastered across his face. Harbaugh followed his question with one of the loudest in-public laughs he has had since taking over in San Francisco three seasons ago.
Harbaugh talked about the poise, grit and toughness his players showed in their 23-20 win in Green Bay. He called out almost the entire roster by name for their performance as he heaped praise all around. Harbaugh had the most to say about his quarterback.
“Just clutch,” he said. “Colin Kaepenick, I think we can all agree it was a clutch performance.”
But when Harbaugh met with the Bay Area media on Wednesday, he had a different tone. The excitement was gone. The laughter was replaced with a serious sentiment. Harbaugh was all business.
“It’s not our first time coming off of a big win and getting ready for an even bigger game the next week,” he said with a straight face.
And that was exactly the tone Harbaugh needed. He sent the right message because he knows excitement in the NFL has to be short-lived, especially in the postseason. If a team basks in its glory too long this time of year, its season will be over the following week.
Harbaugh knows that, so after his un-Harbaugh-like press conference last Sunday, he was right back to business as usual.
“He’s always the same,” running back Frank Gore said of his coach on Wednesday. “He’s always the same guy with us.”
Now that same guy has a lot of work to do, because the Panthers are the last team to earn an undisputed win over the 49ers. San Francisco lost to Carolina 10-9 in Week 10 then dropped the following week’s game in New Orleans, but that Saints loss can be attributed to a late roughing-the-passer penalty on linebacker Ahmad Brooks that many said was a case of the referees overprotecting Drew Brees.
But the Carolina loss was no fluke. The Panthers went into Candlestick Park and out forty-ninered the 49ers. Carolina was the more physical team that afternoon and did what it needed to eke out the win. The 49ers haven’t forgotten that, but they can’t let the emotions of the rematch against the Panthers or last week’s win over the Packers come into play.
If history tells us anything, they won’t.
This season’s Week 10 and 11 aside, San Francisco has only lost back-to-back games once since Harbaugh took over. He knows how to help his players move on and focus on the upcoming opponent. It goes back to maintaining steady emotions and preparing for anything.
“I’ve always tended to worry about things before something happens rather than wait until you’re in the moment and something happens,” Harbaugh said. “It starts with, ‘what’s the worst possible thing that can happen?’… Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen.”
It takes a level head to prepare for the worst, and that is what Harbaugh brings to the table this week. It’s what he’s brought to the table every week he’s been at the helm in San Francisco.
So while Harbaugh’s elation and excitement couldn’t be contained after an emotional win over the Packers last week, it will be his ability to squelch those feelings that puts his team in a position to avenge Week 10’s loss this Sunday. All signs say he is doing just that.