Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFC West [Print without images]

Monday, September 19, 2011
Around the NFC West: Harbaugh's decision

By Mike Sando
ESPN.com

Jim Harbaugh's decision to decline a 15-yard penalty and instead take David Akers' 55-yard field goal for a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter has stirred debate among San Francisco 49ers fans.

Was Harbaugh making the right percentage play? Or should he have taken points off the board for a new set of downs from closer in Dallas Cowboys territory? I wasn't sure of the answer, apparently for good reason.

Brian Burke of Advanced NFL Stats says the 49ers' win probability was .90 after Akers' field goal, and it would have been .91 had Harbaugh accepted the penalty. Burke: "In the grand scheme, this is a very small error. The common punt or FG attempt on 4th and short in most game situations is usually more costly, and most fans and analysts hardly take note of them. To put the 0.01 WP error in context, on SF's following possession that resulted in a 3-and-out, RB Frank Gore gained 2 yards on 1st and 10, costing 0.01 WPA. Had he gained 4 or 5 yds, he would have broken even in terms of WP. So the error is no worse than the difference of a couple yards on first down." Noted: I wouldn't even call it an error when the percentages are that close. Harbaugh's feel for the situation relative to his team should count for something. If he felt as though the Cowboys' defensive scheme was giving Alex Smith some problems in the absence of Braylon Edwards and Michael Crabtree, for example, or if he felt as though Demarcus Ware was close to making a game-turning play based on a coach's feel for the game, then Harbaugh potentially made a decision with more information available to him. However, with a top-flight snapper and kicker, he could have attempted a field goal with some confidence later in the drive. Focusing on Harbaugh's decision in a game featuring such blatant breakdowns in pass coverage makes little sense. Burke's analysis confirms as much.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says Ahmad Brooks, not Carlos Rogers, was the one damaging Tony Romo's ribs with a big hit Sunday. Noted: Romo's ability to play through that injury and lead an improbable comeback should provide some validation and relief for one of the more scrutinized players in the NFL. I've long thought Romo was too good a player to be defined by his failures. This one performance doesn't change perceptions entirely, of course, but it should count for something.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee solicits reaction regarding the large presence of Cowboys fans at Candlestick Park. It's tougher for Harbaugh to complain about his team not commanding more time on highlights shows when his own fans are would rather sell their tickets to rival fans than watch the second game of the Harbaugh era. Jason Witten of the Cowboys twisted the knife: "That was amazing. Nine years playing in this organization, I don't know if I've ever been on a road game where the chants are so loud. ... That doesn't happen in this league very often. That was special. I think it helped the players with their mindset."

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers have a conservative approach under Harbaugh.