Everything connected to the Colts-49ers game took a backseat to the stunning trade that brought running back Trent Richardson in from the Cleveland Browns. A bummer of a Wednesday afternoon, with news of tight end Dwayne Allen being lost for the season with a hip injury, turned into a giddy celebration of potential.
And, yet, as Richardson gets used to his No.34 Colts jersey and fans settle in to see how the team might change, Sunday's game gradually eases back into its previous focus.
Luck vs. Harbaugh is still the most pivotal angle, not only because of their connection but because of what happened to them last week.
Luck had his fantastic streak of comeback wins snapped with two failed bids to beat the Miami Dolphins. Harbaugh saw his 49ers worked over by the Seahawks in a manner that was complete and confusing.
Both want to bounce back. Both want to beat the other for the first time.
“The first time I saw (Luck) play was a high school game in Houston, Texas,” Harbaugh said. “He was playing for Stratford High School. Just pinpoint accuracy and great command of the offense, the team, his throws, his mechanics.”
One play in that game remains in Harbaugh's mind, he said.
“He threw a post route to a receiver and hit the receiver in stride and then the ball somehow got almost flipped to the free safety who intercepted it,” Harbaugh said. “It was just one of the freakiest plays I've ever seen. I was sitting with Andrew's dad, Oliver. I bet he recalls it as well.
“But we turned back and watched Andrew's body language after that and that was really impressive. There was no sign of flinching or pounding or clapping his hands or anything like that. I remember him going over to the player and talking to him and just patting him on the hip and everything. Then that youngster made a couple nice plays after that. They ended up winning the game by a couple scores, but that always sticks out in my mind. Speaks volumes about Andrew.”
Luck's ability to bounce back and remain even keel has been tested this week after the Dolphins game slipped away. There were decisions, especially on the final failed drive, that Luck wished he could go back and change.
As much as Harbaugh admires Luck and obviously likes him, he'll be game-planning to find ways to knock him off his game. Given the 49ers' normally productive offense, it's likely the Colts will need more than the 21 and 20 points they've scored in their first two games.
“The focus is on us,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. “Be more consistent. Play 60 minutes of consistent football. Don't leave plays out there. Don't leave points out there on the field.”
While Seattle beat the 49ers 29-3 last week, it wasn't exactly easy for Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. He was 8-of-19 passing for 142 yards, one touchdown, one interception and four sacks. San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick had his own issues (13-of-28, 127 yards, three picks, three sacks), but it's obvious the 49ers defense can disrupt quarterbacks.
Given the Colts' defensive inconsistency in the first two weeks, it's unlikely Indianapolis can win a low-scoring game. So the pressure is most on the offense.
Harbaugh's knowledge of Luck's tendencies as a college player could be helpful to the 49ers defensive plans, although Luck has already grown as an NFL quarterback.
“Just from our point of view, we're familiar with Andrew, very familiar with him,” Harbaugh said. “But that doesn't help you a lot because there's no weaknesses. It keeps you up at night thinking about the possibilities.”
Pagano said the Colts will incorporate Richardson into the mix this week, although there's no set amount of expected snaps. A logical guess would be Richardson has 10-15 carries and a couple potential pass receptions.
The loss of guard Donald Thomas hurts the Colts pass protection as rookie Hugh Thornton must step in. Allen's loss as a blocker also hurts.
The 49ers have more than enough defensive playmakers and potential quarterback harassers in linebackers Patrick Willis, Aldon Smith, Ahmad Brooks and NaVorro Bowman. Smith has 3.5 sacks in the first two games and defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey also has a sack.The secondary is experienced and opportunistic as well.
Pagano pointed out that the coaching staffs are familiar with each other, as Pagano worked with 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio in the past and Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton worked with both Harbaugh and Fangio. Pagano is familiar with Harbaugh, having been part of brother John Harbaugh's staff at Baltimore.
On the player level, Colts defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois played for the 49ers last season and said he has offered some tips to Luck this week.
“They've got some intel, we've got some intel, so there's crossover everywhere with that,” Pagano said. “(Jim Harbaugh) knows the kid (Luck) very well, obviously. He knows his strengths and if he has any weaknesses, I'm sure he'll try to exploit those. If there are any.”
The 49ers entered the week 10-point favorites according to odds makers.
"They're phenomenal," Luck said of the 49ers defense. "They've got Pro Bowlers all around, the back end, their linebackers, the linemen. So it's going to be a great challenge but guys are ready for it. It's the type of challenge we want as an offense and as a team.”
Everyone will be watching to see Luck hand Richardson the ball. But the quarterback's play the rest of the day – against his former mentor Harbaugh – will determine if the Colts have the production to turn it into another late-game thriller.
Colts at San FranciscoKickoff: 4:25 p.m. Sunday at Candlestick Park
TV: CBS (WANE, Ch. 15)
Radio: WOWO, 1190-AM
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