Welcome to chance No. 3 for Alex Smith and the 49ers’ offensive unit to earn the trust of their new coach.
They clearly don’t have it yet, and, unfortunately, going into this morning’s game in Cincinnati against the Bengals, that fact has already cost this team one victory.
Chalk it up to the short preseason. Or the fact that Jim Harbaugh is still getting to know his players in person. Or Alex Smith’s history.
Regardless, as the 49ers coach, Harbaugh has come out very careful, playing things by the book. And even though every coach in the world will tell you Harbaugh’s approach is correct, that book bit him a week ago.
The book says Harbaugh’s decision to decline a 15-yard penalty that would have erased a 55-yard David Akers field goal and given the 49ers a first down on the Dallas Cowboys’ 22-yard line with 11:12 to go last week was the way to go.
Don’t take points off the board. That’s what the book of conventional wisdom tells NFL coaches.
I think that book is old, and not up to speed with how fast things change in the league in 2011. A few generations back, when it was a run-run-run league and the clock kept moving, maybe that kind of decision made sense.
However, in today’s wide-open version of professional football, 11:12 is an eternity.
I understand that the last thing the 49ers need this early in the season is another episode of reckless machismo courtesy of another coach. So I see how fans would say Harbaugh did the right thing. It just didn’t work out.
The only thing that could have turned negative about the decision to accept the penalty would have been for the 49ers to commit a turnover. Smith’s background? This offensive line?
If the 49ers hold onto the football, at worst, three running plays and a 40-yard field-goal attempt would have eaten two minutes off the clock before Akers connected again.
What the decision showed is that the offense has yet to earn Harbaugh’s trust. Unfortunately, the decision just came at the wrong moment in the development of this team, and it gave the Cowboys their chance to come back and win.
Smith, regardless of a passer rating of 95.1, played a little bolder last week, but he threw an interception and the offense clearly struggled to protect him. He still looks like he knows he is on a short leash.
Against the Bengals today, the Smith and 49ers have to show Harbaugh — and the rest of the league — that the offense can be trusted to keep negative plays from biting this team.
Like the book of conventional wisdom did a week ago.
Tim Liotta is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to The Examiner. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.