Friday night's game was rough, Jim Harbaugh acknowledged this afternoon. But if the 49ers had played it a week ago, it would have been even uglier.
That was the theme Harbaugh hit upon in a number of ways after a 24-3 loss to the Saints. He's only had 12 practices with his team. There hasn't been enough time for the offensive line - the root of team's offensive breakdowns Friday - to jell properly. And it hasn't allowed him to declare a clear-cut winner in the quarterback competition -- if you can call it a competition -- between Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick.
"There's a level of confidence in working together," Harbaugh said. "That'll grow, that'll get better. It got better last week. Had we played that game a week ago, it would have been messier than it was the other night. ... We'll look for that same kind of improvement this week."
Harbaugh praised both of his quarterbacks for maintaining poise despite constant pressure from the Saints' blitzing defense. Smith was hit hard three times and was sacked twice. Harbaugh said the six-year veteran handled the situation as well as anyone could have. "I didn't feel like with the reps he was in there that he had an opportunity to handle it any differently than he did," Harbaugh said.
Kaepernick, meanwhile, was sacked four times, including on three consecutive plays in the second quarter. Harbaugh had wanted to give fellow rookies Jeremiah Masoli and McLeod Bethel-Thompson a chance to play in the game. Instead, Kaepernick took most of the second-quarter snaps and all of the second-half snaps.
"He got himself into many situations," Harbaugh said. "Coming out after the half, a two-minute drive, out of the huddle - so many things that are going to be teachable moments from the game, darn near every aspect of quarterback play."
Asked whether Smith was the starting quarterback, Harbaugh was non-committal. But, again, he said it was because the competition had only just begun. "There hasn't really been an opportunity to have a clear-cut definitive winner of the quarterback competition," he said. "So we'll forge ahead."
Whether there is, in fact, a true competition is debatable. Smith has taken all of the first-team repetitions in training camp since he was permitted to practice. He also started Friday's game and handled the 49ers' first five offensive series. During the draft, Harbaugh said that if he were to bet on who would win the job, he'd place his money on Smith because he is the veteran. He said today that's still his mindset.
"Yeah, it would be right now," he said. "It's letting that play out. I know as a quarterback when you're competing for a starting job, you like to make it clear-cut. So far, it hasn't had a chance to be clear-cut. So we'll continue to practice. I don't want those guys worried about it. I want them practicing and working and not worrying, and it'll unfold."
In light of Smith taking so many hits last night, Harbaugh was asked if he was thinking harder about bringing in a veteran backup. "I think that's a possibility," he said. What needs to happen for the team to bring that veteran in? "The right person available," Harbaugh said.
Obviously, that person is not available at the moment.
-- Matt Barrows