Neither a $2 steak nor rumors of his ouster will deter Jim Harbaugh from the task at hand.
That was the message from the 49ers’ head coach, who appeared at his Monday press conference with a front tooth that was chipped in half while biting into a tough piece of meat Saturday night. Harbaugh said the front, left tooth originally was damaged when, while quarterbacking the Colts in 1996, he absorbed a big hit from the Steelers defense early in a playoff game. The blow also left him with 15 stitches above his chin.
The image Monday was an apt one for a man who is going through his roughest season as a head coach and whose arch nemeses, Pete Carroll and the Seahawks, can effectively end the 49ers’ playoff hopes Sunday in the NFL’s most challenging venue.
Still, Harbaugh struck a steady, workmanlike tone. He said he would not make any changes to his staff and that Colin Kaepernick, despite having his two worst outings of the season the last last two weeks, would remain his quarterback.
“It’s hit a rough patch the last couple games,” Harbaugh said of Kaepernick and the 49ers offense. “There are definitely things to improve and correct.”
Kaepernick threw two interceptions in Week 13 against the Seahawks and two more against the Raiders on Sunday. It was only the fourth time in his career he has thrown multiple interceptions in a game, and the first time it has happened in back-to-back contests.
Harbaugh, however, said Kaepernick has “given every ounce of energy that he has” and still has the coach’s support. Harbaugh also dismissed the notion that the team is putting too much on the quarterback’s shoulders. The 49ers attempted 33 passes in Oakland and, despite averaging 5.4 yards a carry, ran it only 18 times.
“When I looked at the film I didn’t feel like we went away from the running game even into the third and fourth quarter,” Harbaugh said.
The 49ers are still alive in the NFC playoff hunt, but a loss in Seattle – where they haven’t won since 2011 – would all but eliminate the team from the postseason for the first time under Harbaugh.
Asked if he was humbled by a season that began with such high expectations, Harbaugh had a ready answer.
“I can’t remember when I found humility,” he said. “It was a very long time ago. But I know I found it. That doesn’t take away any true pride or love I have for the game and the job that I do. But as far as being humbled, it’s been many times and I can’t remember when it was so long ago.”
Harbaugh’s job hasn’t been made an easier by persistent reports – using anonymous sources – that he is either losing the 49ers’ locker room or that his tenure with the 49ers will end when the season is over. Harbaugh has another year remaining on his contract.
He said he didn’t know where those reports are originating, he isn’t worried about his future and he and the 49ers would continue to soldier on over the remaining three games.
“I get this from the Marines: ‘leaders eat last,’” he said. “My No. 1 priority is winning football games. The second priority is the welfare of our players, the coaches, all our staff – for the welfare of our team. And lastly is my own, personal, professional future.”
▪ Harbaugh said the 49ers would make a decision on whether to activate linebacker NaVorro Bowman (ACL) by Tuesday. Bowman has not even practiced with the 49ers this season, which makes it unlikely he will be placed on the 53-man roster. Harbaugh said the decision will be a medical one – what is best for Bowman’s career and future
▪ He said preliminary results on injured 49ers Marcus Martin (knee) and Chris Culliver (knee) were positive but that the team was awaiting more tests.
▪ Harbaugh declined to address a weekend report by the NFL Network that he had indicated to his alma mater, the University of Michigan, that he is only interested in remaining in the NFL. “As I’ve said, as a principle I don’t talk about any other jobs than the one I have,” he said.
▪ Harbaugh said he didn’t get the sense that the 49ers run-pass ration was out of balance. Told that the ratio Sunday was nearly 2 to 1 in favor of the pass, Harbaugh said it’s because the team fell behind in the final quarter.
▪ Asked about his brief chat with Raiders owner Mark Davis before the game, Harbaugh noted he got to know Davis “a little bit” when he was an assistant with Oakland in 2002-03.
Read Matt Barrows’ blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers.