SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Jim Harbaugh called his players together Thursday and talked to them about writing a new story.
This isn’t the dramatic Super Bowl return of a year ago. It’s not the tale of Harbaugh’s remarkable turnaround first season as a head coach when the San Francisco 49ers snapped an eight-year playoff drought in 2011.
Harbaugh is doing his best to motivate his players in the midst of a tough stretch, while running back Frank Gore is calling on his offensive teammates to do their part to help save San Francisco’s season before it’s too late.
Gore acknowledged what must happen the rest of the way — winning — for the reigning NFC champion Niners (6-4) to return to the playoffs let alone be in position to chase another Super Bowl berth.
San Francisco has lost two straight for the second time this season after a home loss to Carolina, then a last-second 23-20 loss at New Orleans last Sunday. A Monday night game at Washington looms, and Gore and Co. realize they cannot afford to let another game get away.
“We’ve lost two in a row. I know Monday night, Washington’s going to be pumped and we’re trying to get back on track to get where we want to be, and that’s to get to the playoffs,” Gore said. “Everybody’s got to be on board. Everybody’s got to make a play when it’s there. ... They’ve lost close games back-to-back and I know they’re desperate for a win. We’re trying to get back on track.”
Just four total points have decided the past two games for San Francisco, which came out of its bye week riding a five-game winning streak during which quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the offense had scored 31 or more points in each of those victories.
“There’s a fine line between winning and losing,” fullback Bruce Miller said. “In the past, I think more so we’ve been on the other side of that, the ball bounced our way and we’ve made plays. Now, Coach Harbaugh just talked about it. This is a different story, a different season. And we’re still writing it. We’re in the run, we just have to be more opportunistic.”
San Francisco has managed only 347 yards and Kaepernick has been sacked nine times while throwing a pair of interceptions during the losing streak.
“There’s a lot of things this offense has to do and it’s expected of us,” Kaepernick said.
Harbaugh is standing by Kaepernick each week, regardless of the result. It’s been a year since the coach chose to promote the then-second-year pro over Alex Smith, now with the Chiefs.
In respect to Kaepernick’s lower production the past two games, Harbaugh questions why critics would say Kaepernick is struggling.
“I think he’s doing a heck of a job. I’d be puzzled why people would think that,” Harbaugh said. “What’s most important is what we see.”
And, now, the 49ers will be mixing in a new face on the offensive line. Adam Snyder is expected to start at left guard in place of Mike Iupati, who confirmed Thursday he won’t play because of a sprained left knee. While the injury isn’t considered season-ending, he doesn’t know how much time he might miss and is still undergoing evaluations. Iupati, the 17th overall pick in the 2010 draft who hasn’t missed a start yet, was using crutches with his knee in a bulky brace and needed help from a teammate to pull on his left sock.
Cornerback Carlos Rogers acknowledged there can be frustration when the offense goes three-and-out and the defense must immediately go back out there, but added: “We’re a tight family. We stick together. We don’t call people out.”
Also Thursday, linebacker Ahmad Brooks defended his hit on Saints quarterback Drew Brees late in Sunday’s 23-20 loss that landed Brooks a $15,570 fine. On Tuesday he will appeal the penalty, his second such fine this year for quarterback hits after clobbering Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers in the season opener.
Brooks has declined to accept contributions from Ray Lewis and Teddy Bruschi toward the fine.
He told Bruschi in a recent conversation, “I’m a grown man, I’ll take care of it.”
“This is the most publicity I’ve ever had on one play,” Brooks said.