Late in Sunday's game against the Panthers, Colin Kaepernick escaped the pocket and took off down field for a 16-yard gain. When a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty on the Panthers was tacked on, it seemed like the spark the 49ers bedraggled offense needed to topple Carolina once and for all.
But on the next play, receiver Anquan Boldin was called for a false start, one of numerous first-down mistakes the 49ers were unable to overcome in the 10-9 loss. Four sacks of Colin Kaepernick also occurred on first down, one of the reasons the 49ers only were able to convert two, third-down scenarios during the game.
"Too many negative plays -- loss of yardage plays, penalties, sack, turnover -- that we've got to get better at," Jim Harbaugh said Monday. "We didn't do a good enough job."
That, however, was as far as Harbaugh was willing to go when it came to laying blame. The 49ers coach never criticizes a player or an assistant and refused to do so whether it was backup tight end Vance McDonald failing to haul in a deep pass or offensive coordinator Greg Roman's play selection.
"Not going to go through, dissect position by position, raking anybody over the coals," Harbaugh said. "I don't think that's the best thing for us. We have a tough game coming up. We're not going to wallow in it. We're going to move on to New Orleans."
Harbaugh specifically was asked about Kaepernick, who had perhaps his roughest outing as a 49er starter. He was sacked a career-high six times total, completed just half of his passes and his longest completion of the day was a modest 14 yards. The 16-yard scramble, combined with the 15-yard penalty, at the end of the third quarter was the 49ers' longest play of the game.
After the contest, former 49ers quarterback Trent Dilfer, now an ESPN analyst, said that Kaepernick turns into a "remedial" passer when defenses take away his first target. Harbaugh, however, refused to engage in any discussion about Kaepernick and his ability to go through progressions when he drops back.
"I understand what you're doing," Harbaugh said. "What you're trying to do: Glomming on to somebody's opinion that thinks whatever they think. The main thing is we'll look at it and talk about it with our players and see the areas that we can improve."
One point that Harbaugh did not dance around was Vernon Davis' importance to the offense, both in the running game and the passing attack. The tight end left Sunday's game in the second quarter after suffering a concussion and, like safety Eric Reid who also had a concussion, Davis must pass the league-mandated concussion protocol to be cleared to play against the Saints.
Davis now has missed all or a portion of three games. All three were losses and the 49ers managed to score just one touchdown in those contests.
"I think that definitely contributed to ... the rhythm of the offense, and, no I'm not going to use any excuses or is anybody going to (use an) alibi," Harbaugh said. "But we did lose two tight ends in the game."
Davis' absence, as well as that of blocking tight end Garret Celek, who suffered a hamstring strain, convinced Harbaugh not to go for a fourth-and-one conversion attempt at the goal line late in the second quarter. Harbaugh said the team will consider adding another tight end - perhaps elevating Derek Carrier from the practice squad - but will hold off until getting a better indication about Davis' and Celek's availability for Sunday's game.
"We're looking at some options right now and there's some decisions to be made," Harbaugh said. "You wait until you get the medical results back and then have more evidence to make those decisions."
-- Matt Barrows