Ailene Voisin

Opinion: Harbaugh upbeat as problems persist

Running back Carlos Hyde scores on the four-yard touchdown run that gave the 49ers the lead late in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s win over Washington.
Running back Carlos Hyde scores on the four-yard touchdown run that gave the 49ers the lead late in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s win over Washington. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

S Despite the snooze-fest feel of the 49ers’ squeaker of a victory Sunday over the dysfunctional Washington Redskins, Jim Harbaugh was seized by one of his rah-rah, hyperbole-driven, teasing, grinning, postgame moods. You know the look, the sounds, the words.

His team was valiant. His running back was on a mission. His quarterback was great. His defense was awesome.

To be fair, San Francisco’s defense during a 17-13 win at Levi’s Stadium might have been better than awesome; it might have harassed embattled Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III closer to a full-time job as Colt McCoy’s backup.

Harbaugh was the lucky one. His team scored late, and scored last, and his quarterback is Colin Kaepernick. But who knows what Redskins coach Jay Gruden will do after his starter was sacked five times, completed 11 of 19 passes for a meager 106 yards and in the closing moments displayed all the mobility of someone whose young career has been interrupted by surgery on two major knee ligaments and a serious ankle injury?

Gruden hasn’t exactly been shy about sharing his inner thoughts. Within the past few days he threw the struggling RG III under the bus … over the bus … in front of the bus … everywhere but in the driver’s seat. The rookie coach questioned Griffin’s grasp of fundamentals and his ability to cope with adversity and, in essence, sounded like someone searching for any justification to bench Griffin and start McCoy.

Yet here was the once-celebrated, confident young quarterback out of Baylor, managing his team to a 13-10 lead against the 49ers with 7:48 remaining. Here, too, was the Redskins defense stifling the 49ers rushing attack and accounting for three takeaways for the first time this season: an interception of a Kaepernick deep ball and fumbles by running backs Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde.

“We’ve been down this road before,” tight end Vernon Davis calmly reminded afterward. “We just have to change our mindset and get ready for Seattle.”

With the Seahawks coming to town Thursday, sleepless nights already are part of the plan. If the 49ers had succumbed to the slumping Redskins, failed to respond with a productive sequence that began with a Kaepernick sack but ended more than four more minutes later with Hyde busting for a 4-yard touchdown run, it’s fair to say Harbaugh wouldn’t have been so full of good cheer.

For most of the afternoon, in fact, the 49ers’ offense was in full-yawn mode. Again. The 49ers of late seem stuck somewhere in the teens. They lost to St. Louis 13-10, defeated the New York Giants 16-10 and overcame New Orleans 27-24 in overtime only after Kaepernick broke free on fourth and 10 and fired a 51-yard strike to Michael Crabtree that set up the tying field goal.

The final moments against the Redskins on Sunday were less dramatic but still ... After Davis caught a 5-yard pass from Kaepernick and came up just short of a first down, leaving the 49ers facing fourth and 1 on their own 37, and just over five minutes left, Gore plunged straight ahead for 3 of his 36 rushing yards. Kaepernick, who completed 20 of 29 pass attempts for 256 yards, followed with a 29-yard laser that Anquan Boldin grabbed while colliding with Ryan Clark. The Redskins safety was assessed a 15-yard penalty for what appeared to be a helmet-to-helmet hit, moving the ball to the 19, and setting up the inevitable finish.

Hyde drove up the middle for 5 more yards. Kaepernick connected with Boldin for another 10-yard reception. Then it was Gore’s young backup again, racing 4 yards into the end zone.

“It was really just big plays,” tackle Joe Staley said, musing about the ebb and flow of the afternoon. “Just guys making big plays is really what it is, and what it comes down to every single game. For some reason, we’re not doing that in the middle of the game.”

After his effusive comments in the opening moments of his postgame press conference, Harbaugh took note of the turnovers, the penalties, and the fact that Hyde’s 4-yard run was the first fourth-quarter touchdown scored by his club’s first-team offense this season.

“Do what you have to do to win the football game,” the coach said, “by any means necessary. It was a great effort. Under a lot of pressure. Team takes the ball and takes it the length of the field and scores the game-winning touchdown. That’s big-time stuff. It’s never going to be perfect. Most important thing is the way our guys play. They play their hearts out. Valiant effort, individual effort and team effort. What more could you want if you’re a coach?”

Call The Bee’s Ailene Voisin, (916) 321-1208.

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