49ers closing ranks in Ohio

The trip to Minnesota didn't work out as expected

As Jim Harbaugh said from Youngstown, Ohio, "Excited to be here, and feel like it gives us a unique opportunity to circle the wagons and get a great week of preparation." The 49ers are closing ranks at their Eastern home-away-from-home after a stunning upset loss in Minnesota, knowing full well that a weeklong stay at the home of the York family worked out pretty well for the team last year.

Last year, Harbaugh got to know San Francisco safety Donte Whitner well during a week in Ohio in the middle of the season. And so many others, too.

Perhaps a little bit of bonding time together across the country will be good for Harbaugh's 49ers right now after a mistake-filled 24-13 loss Sunday at Minnesota.

It was a rare moment – or, make it 60 of them – in which the Niners were outplayed on both sides of the ball.

The 49ers (2-1) are practicing this week at Youngstown State to avoid a return trip to the West Coast before facing the New York Jets on Sunday. It's another destination training camp of sorts – just like last season.

It even came at the same time in late September, with the 49ers then atop the NFC West at 2-1.

''We got very close and that's kind of where we got into our groove last season,'' left tackle Joe Staley said.
The only difference from last year is the 49ers were coming off a momentum-building 13-8 victory over a playoff-team-to-be in Cincinnati to rise to the top of the division.

This time around, they're coming off a loss to a team that went 3-13 last season that dropped them from their top perch in the NFC West, the first time San Francisco hasn't been atop the division since 2010.

The plan seemed to work after that 2011 stay in eastern Ohio: San Francisco rallied from a 23-3 third-quarter deficit to stun the Eagles 24-23 in Philadelphia a week after a win in Ohioi.

After the thriller in Philly, Harbaugh said: ''Thanks Youngstown, you've been good to us. That's as good a win as I can ever remember being a part of.''

Harbaugh, for one, felt his body clock became acclimated to East Coast time. He won't speak for his players.

''We felt like it was a good thing then,'' he said Monday in Ohio. ''(You) take out the air travel somewhere in the neighborhood of eight hours of flight time in what would be a five-day period. That's one of the biggest ones. Also the ability to be here as a team in a unique way during the season, the advantages that the town provides. The facilities at Youngstown State University are excellent.''

As has been the case since Harbaugh arrived with much fanfare from Stanford in January 2011, his players are on board with the schedule – even if it means being away from family and friends for a week. Yet Harbaugh points to the handful of 49ers who will have a chance to get home to their families in Ohio and on the East Coast this week.

''I like that. Here, we get to go home after practice,'' Frank Gore said, speaking of the Santa Clara team headquarters. ''We go to Youngstown, after practice we're all in the same hotels. I think that makes your team grow.''

On Monday, Harbaugh met Hall of Famer Jim Brown for the first time when they had lunch at the team hotel in Boardman. Brown, who knows the 49ers' York ownership family, was in town on business and met informally with Harbaugh, general manager Trent Baalke and some players.

Gore was one of them, Harbaugh said.

''All the running backs made a point to shake hands and take pictures and ask questions,'' he said. ''It was an honor. It was enlightening. I learned some good things, talking to Mr. Brown. My family, especially my dad, has always been a big fan of Jim Brown.

"We covered several topics. Learned more about him, his story, how he saw the game. How he sees the game right now. That he loves football. And that he has a deep abiding respect for it. And he's someone that wants to see others benefit from what he knows. So, not hoarding that knowledge, but sharing it.''

Knowing Harbaugh, he will find a way to weave some of that information into his conversations with the team this week ahead of facing the Jets (2-1).

Quarterback Alex Smith certainly will be eager to get back on the practice field after throwing his first interception since last November late in the game. Same goes for Gore, who was held to 63 yards on 12 carries and lost a fumble in the fourth quarter – his first lost fumble dating back to early last season.

Smith had gone a franchise-best 249 straight passes without throwing a pick. He wound up 24 for 35 for 204 yards and a 1-yard touchdown pass to Vernon Davis on Sunday.

''Didn't execute, bad execution, especially on the offense side,'' Smith said. ''Leaving too much in the red zone. Didn't get into a rhythm. Continually putting ourselves in third down situations, makes for a long day.''

While Harbaugh didn't share specifics about what he said to his team after losing to the Vikings, he made it clear they'll be ready for the next one Sunday against Tim Tebow and the Jets at the Meadowlands.

''What we believe in is pretty consistent. You find something to believe in and go to work on that,'' Harbaugh said. ''What we believe in is preparation. We go to work and we attack it. That's our message. ... We didn't play our best. We'll look at the ways to go to work and fix that - players, coaches - that's something we're shouldered with doing. That's our responsibility to get that done.''

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