In the wake of Sunday's 34-31 Super Bowl XVLII loss to the Baltimore Ravens, San Francisco 49ers Coach Jim Harbaugh was uncharacteristically contrite during Tuesday's season-ending press conference at the team's Santa Clara headquarters.
Harbaugh mostly engaged rather than eluded the media for a change as he addressed the difficult public post mortem of a disappointing end to a sensational season.
Among Harbaugh's comments:
-- The 49ers didn't have a play called to handle Baltimore's all-out blitz on the final offensive play of the game, and he will second guess the calls in that series. In fact, Harbaugh already wishes he had done something different.
-- Despite the ending, Harbaugh says the 49ers proved they were special by coming back from a 22-point deficit when "90 percent of the teams in that situation will lose by 40."
-- Former starting quarterback Alex Smith, who will be a free agent, hasn't necessarily earned the right to pick his next team and there will be a discussion at an unnamed date.
-- Quarterback Colin Kaepernick threw a bad pass over Randy Moss' head on the interception, but was otherwise "fantastic" for the whole game and the whole season.
-- Citing that the game is "played and coached by emotional people," Harbaugh doesn't expect to alter his melodramatic sideline demeanor.
-- Free agency will be a challenge because "it's not like the national debt where you can print money. There will be some big decisions..."
Harbaugh's overriding feeling was that the end just came too soon, especially after the 49ers' rally and, when trailing 34-29, had a first and goal on the seven-yard-line with 2:39 left. And they came up empty.
"My thoughts now are we came up five yards short," Harbaugh said. "I know how it ended up, we didn't get the ball in ... so I would like to have done something different, at least tried it. ... "Would've, could've, should've. ... is undefeated. That's never failed."
In the 49ers' locker room, Kaepernick said he audibled to the final pass, which went over the head of wide receiver Michael Crabtree in the right side of the end zone.
"They were in coverage zero," Kaepernick said, indicating the Ravens had an all-out blitz up front with man coverage on the receivers. "We didn't have a play called for that, so I went to a fade to Crab. I will always take Crab one-on-one with anybody."
Harbaugh agreed, saying "it was cover zero, they were bringing the house and we thought the best way was to throw..."
While most of the postgame feelings were bad, Harbaugh said there was also something learned that was good.
"There is definitely going to be a what can we do better, was it our best performance so ... we'll have regret there," he said. "It was a tough loss.
"But in a game when you are down by 22 points, it's 28 to 6, ninety percent of the teams in that situation will lose by 40. Our team clawed and competed almost all the way back and didn't lose their will to compete. That's something you couldn't live with if that happened. So...forever proud of our guys. Somehow found a way to overcome and overcome again and overcome."
As the 49ers confront the offseason, beginning with the status of Smith, the displaced veteran starting quarterback, Harbaugh agreed there are many difficult issues to address.
When asked if Smith had earned the right to look for his own team, Harbaugh seemed incredulous, repeated the whole question and then implied that it's not how contracts work.
"He earned the right to decide his own future regardless of being under contract?" Harbaugh echoed. "I have great respect for Alex, great personal friendship, togetherness with Alex, with the team, we feel great about our quarterback situation."
"I don't think any player has those wishes granted on their own contract. Every scenario is unique. ... Well, the next step is to have a discussion at some point."
Harbaugh seemed amused when asked if he has considered altering his dramatic sideline behavior.
"In terms of what?," he said. "Is this an etiquette question? We fight, we win. If you are asking if my personal etiquette needs to change, to be catatonic on the sidelines, I don't anticipate that happening.
"I think coaches and players are emotional people. There is no strategy there," he added, mentioning something about unprofessionalism that may have been directed at officials.
"I'm asking questions. Yes, sometimes I get emotional. The game is played and coached by emotional people, as I said. People do that within their own personalities."
On the subject of conduct, Harbaugh exuded praise for Kaepernick, whose only notable sin was a high pass that was intercepted.
"I think the ball was thrown too high on that particular play," Harbaugh said, when asked if wide receiver Randy Moss didn't show enough effort to go after the pass. Harbaugh changed direction and made his response about Kaepernick.
"Colin was fantastic. He was fantastic all season," Harbaugh said. "From the beginning he played extremely well. Right out of the box, with that first throw (a completion nullified by a penalty). It was not too big for him. He showed a lot of poise, a lot of leadership throughout the game."
In an interesting contrast to his own personal behavior, the coach pointed out that Kaepernick always shows self-control.
"With Colin, it is always appropriate. He's got the appropriate amount of competitive fire when you need competitive fire. He has the appropriate amount of happy, joy when it is the right time to have that. He does that with his own personality and I believe that is how people should play the game."