NEW ORLEANS — After congratulating his older brother, John, on winning Super Bowl XLVII as confetti rained down inside the Superdome on Sunday night, Jim Harbaugh complained about how he thought several key calls went against his 49ers team in their 34-31 loss to the Ravens.
Harbaugh quickly deflected any questions about the play-calling down the stretch, or about how falling behind in the third straight playoff game finally caught up with the 49ers.
“I really want to handle this with class and with grace,” said Harbaugh, himself a former quarterback for the Ravens. “There were several . . . we had several opportunities in the game; we didn’t play our best game, the Ravens made a lot of plays but our guys battled back and competed and battled to win it.”
And then Harbaugh went on to critique the officiating that he obviously found fault with during the game, with several more instances of his outlandish and boorish sideline behavior.
The most controversial play — one that will likely be debated for some time — was when the 49ers had fourth and goal at the Ravens’ 5-yard line with 1:50 left in the game. The Ravens called a blitz and quarterback Colin Kaepernick floated a pass into the right corner of the end zone to receiver Michael Crabtree. The ball landed out of bounds, but we’ll never know if Crabtree could have made a leaping catch because cornerback Jimmy Smith was engaged with Crabtree the entire time, with safety Ed Reed lurking.
No flag. Ballgame for the Ravens.
Two plays earlier, Harbaugh also wanted pass interference against the Ravens when Corey Graham broke up a pass to Crabtree from behind.
“Yes, there’s no question in my mind that there was pass interference and then a hold [against] Crabtree on the last one,” Harbaugh said in remarks that are sure to be looked at the league, which has made criticism of officials a fineable offense. “On the second-down play, I thought the defender played through [Crabtree]. Early contact, before the ball got to Michael. And then on fourth down, felt like he was grabbed and held.
“There was no explanation [from the officials].”
Of course, Harbaugh was much more measured in his comments when he was asked about the play choices on the final four downs. The only run that was called for Kaepernick — who rushed for 62 yards and a score on seven carries — was going to be on third down, but the 49ers had botched their sequence so badly that Harbaugh had to call a timeout.
The play looked similar to Frank Gore’s touchdown that made it 28-20 in the third quarter when the left guard pulled on a counter play. This time, the 49ers switched it so the right guard pulled and Kaepernick was the ball carrier with Gore in front of him.
But they never got a chance to run it. Harbaugh called a timeout as an official was throwing a delay-of-game penalty.
“Felt the clock was grinding down and weren’t going to get it off,” Harbaugh said.
Instead, at the end, the four-play sequence from the Baltimore 7-yard line was a run by rookie LaMichael James (three carries for 10 yards, one fumble) for 2 yards, a poor run/pass option where Crabtree was shut down and Randy Moss was open on the back side, a quick pass in the flat to Crabtree, who was belted 3 yards shy of the end zone (with tight end Delanie Walker open 1 yard beyond the goal line), and the low-percentage fade to Crabtree while tight end Vernon Davis was posting up safety Bernard Pollard inside.
Not one touch for Gore, who had a game-high 110 yards and a touchdow
n on 19 carries. Gore had eight carries for 81 yards in the second half as the Ravens got tired and were weakened when hulking defensive tackle Haloti Ngata was lost with a knee injury.
None of the tough-to-defend, read-option plays involving Kaepernick and Gore that had keyed the 49ers’ dash to the Super Bowl were used in the final four-play sequence.
“We had other plays called,” is all Harbaugh could muster.
There were other calls, though, that Harbaugh complained about: the non-call on Ravens receiver Torrey Smith when cornerback Chris Culliver appeared to be in position to intercept a pass, and the pass interference on Culliver on third and 9 that extended the Ravens’ drive to a final field goal.
“I didn’t think that was interference on Chris,” Harbaugh said. “Yes I did [think there should have been offensive pass interference]. The two plays were very similar.
“I realize I’m the coach of the 49ers. I probably have some bias there. I wouldn’t be bringing it up if in my mind I thought it was obvious. But that’s not the way they saw it. But that’s the only reason I bring it up.”
Harbaugh should have spent more time talking about his defense that allowed the Ravens to convert 56 percent of their third downs, while the 49ers only hit on 22 percent. Or how the Ravens had five possessions with at least nine plays while his defense exhibited shoddy tackling and breakdowns in the secondary.
Or how his offense came out with jitters and couldn’t even get lined up on the first play they had practiced all week. Or how Kaepernick missed Crabtree and Moss on an earlier pass inside the 10 when both were wide open.
“I thought he made good throws the entire game,” Harbaugh said. “One that got a little high. He just led a fourth-quarter comeback. In my opinion, that series should have continued.”
He delivered that shot at the officials with a sarcastic laugh.
No talk about how his team fell behind, 28-6, after also trailing the Packers and Falcons in earlier playoff wins.
“It caught up with us because we lost,” said safety Donte Whitner. “We had an opportunity to win this football game, and punch it in and go up 2 or 3 with less than two minutes left. And I bet you if we come out on defense, we stop them. But it went the other way. You have to give them credit. Three or four stops from the 5-yard line is tough, especially against a mobile quarterback. You have to give them credit.”
Harbaugh should have followed the lead of his players. They got beat, and the officiating didn’t have much to do with it.Greg A. Bedard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @gregabedard.
Correction: Because of a reporting error, this story mistakenly referred to John Harbaugh as Jim Harbaugh’s younger brother in an earlier version.