49ers spent too much time lifting Smith off carpet
The rugged defense of the Baltimore Ravens is difficult enough to prepare for during a normal week. Give a team just three days of film study, and it barely stands a chance. That was hardly enough time for the 49ers and quarterback Alex Smith, who was repeatedly victimized by Baltimore's stunts and blitzes Thursday as the Niners saw their eight-game winning streak come to an unceremonious end.
Smith was sacked a season-high nine times – a franchise record for the Ravens – and the Niners couldn’t prevail this time on a short-week trip to the Eastern time zone. Baltimore never trailed and pulled away at the end of a game that was tied midway through the third quarter, scoring the final 10 points to come away with a 16-6 victory in the much-hyped “Harbaugh Bowl.”
In the end, it was Ravens coach John Harbaugh – the elder of the Harbaugh brothers – who got the better of his younger brother Jim, who is one of just three coaches in franchise history ever to take the 49ers to a 9-1 start in his rookie season as their head coach.
The 49ers stand 9-2 today because they were out-played by a Baltimore team that beat them to the punch on defense.
John Harbaugh could have gloated. He could have bragged. Instead, he played the gracious big brother after he bested Jim in the first game in NFL history to feature brothers as opposing head coaches.
''To the 49ers and to my brother, I can't tell you enough how proud I am of him and the job he's done building that football team,'' John said after his Ravens improved to 8-3 and probably will pass the Niners near the top of most NFL power polls at the end of this week. “That’s a football team. The way they're built, it's pretty hard to figure out a way to beat them.''
The Ravens did a pretty good job figuring it out Thursday night in the third of three Thanksgiving Day games.
Smith was harassed throughout the game and never had much time to set up and pass, completing only 15 of 24 passes for 140 yards and throwing an end zone interception at the end of the first half. Take away 44 yards in sacks, and the 49ers produced fewer than 100 yards passing.
San Francisco finished with just 170 yards of net total offense – San Francisco’s lowest total of the past two seasons.
''It's tough to get ready for a defense like that in a short week,'' Smith said. ''They do so many things.''
The loss dropped the 49ers two games behind Green Bay in the race for the best record in the NFC. The defending Super Bowl champion Packers dropped the Detroit Lions on the road 27-15 earlier Thursday to remain undefeated at 11-0.
John Harbaugh, 49, and Jim, 47, grew up dueling each other in all sorts of games. This, however, was the first time their sibling rivalry was displayed on a national stage.
During the final minute, John got a Gatorade bath from his players - twice. After the game ended, the brothers hugged at midfield.
''There's a saying that says, `As iron sharpens iron, so does one man sharpen another,''' Jim said. ''And I have to say my brother John is the sharpest iron I've ever encountered in my life. 'I was proud to be part of it, proud to be part of the family. I was thankful on Thanksgiving. It was a wonderful thing.''
Jim probably would have had more fun if San Francisco better handled the relentless pass rush of the Ravens, who were again without injured middle linebacker Ray Lewis, who sat out his second consecutive game with a foot injury.
Not that the Ravens needed the 12-time Pro Bowler.
''There was a lot of pressure. That's obvious,'' Jim Harbaugh said. ''We didn't pick up the pressure. That's also obvious.''
The 49ers were held without a touchdown for the first time this season and failed to score at least 13 points for the first time since last December. Smith never could get into a rhythm against an aggressive defense that rarely let him set up in the pocket.
''They're a great front,” Smith said. “At home with the crowd noise, they were teeing off. We knew what type of defense they were. They're aggressive and come after you. I really thought they were getting the jump on us.''
Terrell Suggs had three sacks for first-place Baltimore, which moved a half-game ahead of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC North.
''That's always the game plan, to get after the quarterback, but I think the No. 1 game plan was to win the Harbaugh Bowl,'' Suggs said. ''Coach tried to downplay it – act like it's not me against my brother, this is the Ravens vs. the 49ers and let's get win No. 8 and make sure our destiny is in our own hands – but it was really important to him. We as a team went out there and really wanted to win for him.''
Baltimore broke a 6-6 tie with a 76-yard, 16-play drive that lasted more than 7½ minutes and ended with an 8-yard touchdown pass from Joe Flacco to tight end Dennis Pitta with 14:56 left in the fourth quarter. Flacco went 4 for 4 for 34 yards and a touchdown on third down during the drive.
The Ravens finished 7 of 15 converting third-down plays. The 49ers were only 2 of 12 in such situations.
''When you have that kind of game plan – your line being so efficient on third downs – you have to come through,'' Flacco said.
Billy Cundiff wrapped up the scoring with his third field goal, a 39-yarder with 4:16 remaining.
In a game dominated by both defenses, Flacco finished 15 for 23 for 161 yards and Ray Rice ran for 59 yards on 21 carries.
The 49ers began the third quarter with a 13-play drive that lasted 7½ minutes and produced a 52-yard field goal by David Akers for a 6-6 tie. The key play was an 18-yard completion from Smith to Michael Crabtree on a third-and-17 from the San Francisco 26.
The Ravens responded with the lone touchdown drive of the game.
Baltimore sacked Smith four times in the first half and picked off a pass in taking a 6-3 lead. The pick came on the next-to-last play of the second quarter when Smith threw deep into the end zone on a first down play from his own 35-yard line as the Niners were attempting to go ahead or get in position for a tying field goal in the final seconds before halftime.
The Ravens took the opening kickoff and moved 55 yards – 38 of them on a pair of Flacco-to-Anquan Boldin completions – before Cundiff kicked a 39-yard field goal.
Late in the first quarter, a 20-yard completion from Smith to tight end Vernon Davis set up a 45-yard field goal by Akers.
The 49ers blew a chance to take the lead when Frank Gore was penalized for a chop block on a 75-yard touchdown pass from Smith to Ted Ginn, who got behind Cary Williams deep down the middle.
Gore, the NFL’s seventh-leading rusher entering the game, wasn’t much of a factor. He was limited to 39 yards rushing on 14 carries and caught one pass for nine yards.
Neither team had much luck moving the ball until San Francisco's Tarell Brown was called for pass interference on a long pass to Torrey Smith. The 50-yard penalty put the ball at the 15, and although the Ravens turned it into a first-and-goal at the 4, they had to settle for a 23-yard field goal with 2:51 left in the half, putting them ahead by three points at the intermission.
The Ravens then took command in the second half, limiting the 49ers to just six offensive points over a 19-minute span during which Baltimore scored the game’s final 10 points.