“The thing I didn’t envision, really even going into the game,” he said, “and I didn’t envision when we drafted Colin [Kaepernick] was just how unbelievably effective he would be on a bad field. He was running like a gazelle. At times just looked like he was running and having fun like he was the only one on the field.”
It also helped that Michael Crabtree had his biggest game of his short season so far. The fifth-year wideout had 125 yards on eight catches after breaking 100 yards only once in five regular-season games after returning from a torn Achilles suffered during the offseason.
Never shy about heaping superlative praise on his players, Harbaugh said he’d never seen anybody catch the football as well as Crabtree, pointing out that it’s just as important as the oft-cited speed numbers.
“He’s a highly-competitive individual,” Harbaugh said of Crabtree. “It’s important for him to be good. It’s important for him to make plays. He’s got a lot of pride about his own personal performance and the team’s performance. And he’s one of those guys that can really get his engine revved up for games and big games.”
Having Kaepernick’s three favorite targets all clicking at the same time should make a difference in the next round. Crabtree was three weeks away from returning when the 49ers last met the Carolina Panthers, a 10-9 Panthers win on Nov. 10, and his presence has already made an impact. Kaepernick’s completion percentage has dropped below 60 percent only twice in six games with Crabtree in the lineup compared to six times in the first 10 games of the year.
Though the 49ers’ past seven games have all had a playoff feel to them, and the team now holds the longest active winning streak in the league at seven games, Harbaugh cautioned against getting too comfortable with the raised intensity of the situation.
“Comfortable is never a word I would use in football,” he said. “It’s a confusing word to me. There is no comfortable, or comfort. I think our team is very confident that they have the players that are going to make the plays.”
Harbaugh said his preparations for the next game began on the plane ride home, when he began studying film of the Panthers before the plane even hit the ground.
The 49ers will be looking to reach the NFC Championship for the third straight year if they can get past the Panthers on Sunday. San Francisco previously went to three straight NFC title games from 1988-90 and 1992-94.