Jim Harbagh was asked (by some handsome, intrepid reporter) about WWL this week. To the uninitiated, WWL is the distinct pattern the 49ers have established this season in which they win two games and lose (or tie) the third. What's more, the game that precedes the loss has been either a national game, such as the Monday Night Football game against Arizon, or a blowout win like the 45-3 victory over Buffalo.
Do the 49ers get too self-satisfied (See: Wilson, Owen; Vaughn, Vince)? Do they get too comfy? Is there an explanation?
"No," said Harbaugh. "Probably quite a few teams that would want that pattern. We'd like to break that this week."
Is is difficult to come off an emotional win and get back up the following week?
Said Harbaugh: "I think it's always a big, emotional game every single week. We've always taken that approach that the next game is the biggest game at least of the season."
All of the elements of WWL come into play this week. The 49ers are coming off two wins, the second of which was an emotional victory on the road against an excellent opponent. The game was in prime time, and the 49ers took the longest trip they could possibly take to another NFL team's home stadium.
What's more, it's as if they played a game and half. In a normal contest, an every-down defensive player can expect to play about 55 snaps. The 49ers defense was on the field for 92 plays Sunday with 60 of them coming in the second half. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio didn't try to minimize the effect of the most recent game.
"Well, there's no doubt they ended that game a little more tired than a normal game," Fangio said Thursday. "... So they were more tired than usual, particularly when you have that many passes thrown against you. Pass rush is very taxing on the big guys. But I feel like we're back to normal now. I think we were a little tired yesterday, but today, I think we're fine."
Fangio said he slowed the tempo of Wednesday's practice to help the defenders recover a bit. By Thursday, practice was back to normal.
One more obstacle going into Sunday's game: The 49ers may not have their indispensable man, Justin Smith, who missed the last two practices with an arm injury. If Smith misses his first start since 2001, Ricky Jean Francois would start in his place.
"He played well," Fangio said of Jean Francois, who is scheduled to be a free agent in March. "He had a critical sack there late in the fourth quarter when we finally got them stopped in the last two drives they had prior to us kicking a field goal, which were critical drives, obviously, in the game. He had a big sack on third down which forced them to punt and he played well."
- Matt Barrows