Inexcusable: Harbaugh's Decision to Pile On Costs 49ers More Than a Receiver

Sean GalushaCorrespondent IIOctober 15, 2011

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 09:  Head coach Jim Harbaugh of the San Francisco 49ers walks out on to the field to look at injured player Josh Morgan #84 of the San Francisco 49ers during their game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Candlestick Park on October 9, 2011 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

There are a lot of unwritten rules in football that when violated won’t cause the referee to toss out that dreaded yellow flag. But the repercussions can be a lot worse than a 15-yard penalty.

Jim Harbaugh found that out the hard way when he called a passing play on a 4th-and-3 in the fourth quarter of last week’s throttling of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Leading 41-3 with four minutes left in the game, the appropriate course of action was to either kick a field goal or run the ball for a first down.

Instead, Colin Kaepernick excitedly spotted Josh Morgan on a crossing pattern, who took the pass upfield before he was smacked hard diving for the end zone. Morgan, the team’s No. 2 leading receiver in yards and receptions, broke his ankle on the play and is now out for the remainder of the season.

The news didn’t do much to rattle the spirits of the franchise or the fans, still wrapped up in the euphoria of a 45-point blowout and the best start to a regular season in a decade. But you figure with the challenges that lie ahead, this kind of swagger won’t last for long.

The 49ers had all the momentum going into their Week 6 showdown with the 5-0 Detroit Lions, but now they have to worry about whether their dainty receiving tandem of Michael Crabtree and Ted Ginn Jr. will be enough to match the might of Megatron and all of his hidden gadgets: The rocket boots and the magnetic gloves are my personal favorites.

Whether the loss of Morgan will seriously hinder the offense is beside the point. The 49ers will likely go with a two tight end set and for the first time, Michael Crabtree will get his chance to prove that something good can come out of the Mike Singletary era.  You know, other than him leaving.

But Harbaugh blew an opportunity to show some sportsmanship last Sunday and it cost him and his team. Though several of the starters were removed from the game, it shouldn’t have been Joshua Morgan streaking down the pitch to catch a pass. Someone like Terrell Owens would have been much more appropriate. Didn’t Deion Sanders also use to be a receiver?

Harbaugh’s mission at that point shouldn’t have been to try to embarrass the Bucs further (though I admit, it was fun for the first three quarters) but to get everyone off the field healthy and focused for the greater challenge that lay ahead.

Only one thing should be going through Alex Smith’s brain right now: Ndamukong Suh, Ndamukong Suh.….

Instead, Alex will be missing for one of his favorite targets as he tries to silence 60,000 fans who've witnessed their team win 20 years' worth of games in five weeks.

As someone who wanted to be a coach growing up in Ohio, Harbaugh should understand that class is an integral part of the game . There’s a human element in football that exists on the sidelines away from the flashy end-zone celebrations and the players leaping into the stands after scoring a touchdown.

It’s kind of why was everyone outside of the state of Massachusetts was rooting for the Giants during Super Bowl 42. And who knows, if LeBron had quietly sneaked out the backdoor instead of hosting a party for himself on ESPN, someone on the North American continent might have actually wanted the Heat to win last year’s NBA Finals.  

Fans like to believe they’re rooting for the good guys. They prefer someone who doesn’t seem too distant when hitting a home run or making the decisive catch in a big game.   


Last year during the San Francisco Giants’ improbable postseason run, Bay Area fans had a lot to be excited about besides the fact that they were cheering on a potential world champion. Their team had character.

From clubhouse clowns like Freddy Sanchez and Aubrey Huff, to the shenanigans of their lumberjack closer Brian Wilson, there wasn’t anyone in the world who couldn’t possibly find this bunch likable.  

It was a refreshing change from 2002, when the national media spent the entire postseason sharpening the edges around Barry Bonds’ pitchfork.   

For a franchise still trying to find its identity after the glory days of the Eddie DeBartolo era, the last thing the 49ers need is their head coach to flick the ear of their opponent right before the postgame handshake at midfield.  

It’s the exact thing that caused Pete Carroll to get in his grill after Harbaugh had the audacity to call for a two-point conversion when Stanford was already up by four touchdowns. Up until that point, there wasn’t any team in college football that was more loathed than the Trojans.

Suddenly, USC found themselves with a few supporters, most of whom went back to hating them the second they turned off their televisions. 

With guys like Frank Gore, Patrick Willis and Justin Smith, these 49ers are too talented not to have a shot at success. They also have some schmuck named Alex Smith who spent seven years being drafted, released, re-signed, demoted and thrown under the bus by the local media and fans.

He’s now the third-rated quarterback in the league behind Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady (for some reason my spellchecker keeps highlighting this sentence.)

The 49ers are a proud organization. They seemed to understand that the frustration and disappointment they endured for 30 years would lead to something promising in the future. After five Super Bowl victories, is it so hard to believe that karma will strike again?

Some will say ”f*** karma, playing until the final snap is a part of football.”  To that I have no response, instead I’ll remind everyone that the one thing fans want more than anything is to see their team win.

Running up the score not only jeopardizes the health and well-being of your players, but it also builds an unwanted reputation and gives other teams an incentive to play even harder.

Who else wants to see Ndamukong Suh fall flat on his ass after he threatened to "come after the 49ers quarterback " this week?

Harbaugh clearly gets results, but he left his common sense in a garbage bag somewhere. Let's hope he finds it before tomorrow.