Unsportsmanlike conduct a learning experience for 49ers’ Harbaugh

rbonnell@charlotteobserver.comJanuary 12, 2014 

49ers Panthers Football

San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh reacts to a a call at the end of the first half against the Carolina Panthers during the first half on Sunday. Harbaugh said he was questioning the clock operator, not the call on the field, when he got an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

JOHN BAZEMORE — AP

San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh readily admits he was wrong to run so far out on the field late in the first half that he was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct.

But Harbaugh wanted to clarify that his intent was to get the timekeeping right, not to argue about the initial ruling, which was that tight end Vernon Davis hadn’t established a catch in the end zone.

Harbaugh said the clock kept ticking after Davis was ruled no-catch. He was trying to get an official’s attention, because if the no-catch ruling stood up, every remaining second would be precious in pursuing a touchdown.

“There were 10 seconds on the scoreboard. I watched it go to nine, eight, and then I ran out to call for them just to see the scoreboard. Then it was ticked seven, six, five, as he was throwing the flag on me, but I was just trying to get somebody’s attention to look at the scoreboard.”

For the 49ers it was all’s well that ends well: The no-catch was reversed on review, giving San Francisco a 13-10 halftime lead, so the 15-yard penalty against Harbaugh – enforced on the kickoff – did no damage.

Still, it became a teaching moment with player admonishing coach.

“In that moment we just have to keep our heads,” said veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin. “I had to grab and tell him, ‘Don’t cost us!’ He understood.”

Harbaugh seemed a bit embarrassed by it all.

“I dodged a bullet,” Harbaugh said. “A couple of players told me to get my butt off the field, we can’t have that – so they were right.”

PERSONAL FOULS: The Panthers’ secondary was called for three personal fouls: Unnecessary roughness by safety Mike Mike Mitchell and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and an unsportsmanlike conduct against cornerback Josh Thomas.

It was clear the 49ers felt those penalties reflected a relative lack of experience and poise by the Panthers in a playoff setting.

“It’s huge, man,” said 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman. “In the playoffs, you give up 15-yard penalties and keep the drive going, it’s going to hurt you. You don’t have next week to play, you have one game (to advance). That’s why the coaches harped on it so much this week: No post-snap (and) no pre-snap penalties and we’ll be all right.”

Added fellow linebacker Patrick Willis: “Our guys did a great job understanding that. I think for the most part it was their guys getting the flags. My hat goes off to our guys for just being smart and understanding that a crazy penalty like that could hurt us.”

BOLDIN’S BIG DAY: Much of the talk pre-game was about the presence of tight end Davis and wide receiver Michael Crabtree, who missed the regular-season game against the Panthers. That actually opened up the game for Boldin, as the Panthers frequently double-teamed Crabtree on the other side of the formation.

Boldin finished the day with eight catches for 136 yards.

A former star for the Arizona Cardinals and Baltimore Ravens, Boldin might be past his prime. But he’s still capable of the occasional spectacular game.

“Believe it or not, the stuff ya’ll see on Sunday we see him do that (regularly) at practice,” Willis said of Boldin. “He’s a big part of our offense and we’re very fortunate to have gotten a guy like him on our team.”

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