Win by Niners would lock up first division crown since 2002

Getty Images file photoTurning point: After years of disappointment

In sports, you win some and lose some.

And this year, the 49ers have won — mostly.

But despite having an affirmed grasp on the NFC West, coach Jim Harbaugh still hates to lose — even to older brother, and Baltimore Ravens coach, John.   

Thanksgiving Day’s 16-6 loss to Baltimore was only San Francisco’s second this season. And if one can simplify Harbaugh’s winning method, it’s that what’s next is more important than what just happened.

What’s next is today where the Niners (9-2) will attempt to clinch the West Division and lock up a home playoff game against the lowly St. Louis Rams (2-9) — a feat San Francisco hasn’t accomplished since 2002. But in typical Harbaugh fashion, the coach is sticking to an old sports creed: When you don’t take an opponent seriously, they become a serious opponent.

“This ball game,” Harbaugh answered this week when asked if anything is keeping him up at night. “It’s the biggest game of the year.”

Still, with five regular-season games to play before seasons end, the NFC playoff picture is getting clearer with every passing week. San Francisco has earned the right to be called the second-best team in the NFC, second only to the thus far perfect Green Bay Packers, who can also clinch a division title today against the New York Giants.

“It’s a big deal,” Harbaugh said. “We may be ahead on the chip count, but we don’t have a seat at the final table.”

Talks of getting to that final table are perhaps some that different coaches would shy away from. But Harbaugh isn’t any of those coaches. And if playoff talk is swirling in the 49ers’ locker room, it’s because Harbaugh is encouraging it.

“For anyone who’s only been here, obviously this is new territory for us,” quarterback Alex Smith said. “I don’t know why a team wouldn’t [talk about it]. I think for every team in the league it’s the first goal, try to win the division. And now to have it right there at our feet, yeah, absolutely we’re talking about it.”

But even if the West is wrapped up today, San Francisco still finds itself in a fight. If they hope to keep pace with Green Bay in the battle for home-field advantage, for winning at Lambeau Field is tough, Harbaugh’s squad can ill afford to coast to the finish. That, and they host a dangerous Pittsburgh Steelers team in two weeks for “Monday Night Football.”

But if Harbaugh and the guys can rely on someone for playoff wisdom, it’s a man who’s been there.

“He’s like a Jedi Knight of snapping the football,” Harbaugh said of long snapper Brian Jennings, the only remaining 49er from the 2002 playoff roster. “He’s not a Padawan learner. He’s not an apprentice. He’s a full-fledged Jedi Knight.”

We’ll see if that will be enough to get them passed the Rams, into the playoffs, and beyond.

Former 49er Lloyd reviving his career

Chances are if you asked Brandon Lloyd where he was on Nov. 2, 2003, he probably wouldn’t have to think too hard to give a straight answer.

It was his rookie year, and the fourth-round draft pick by the 49ers suited up against the then-formidable St. Louis Rams at home in Candlestick Park. What ensued on that Sunday was a 27-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Tim Rattay.


It was Lloyd’s first career touchdown catch.

Eight years removed from that moment, the 30-year-old is now a receiver for the now not-so-formidable Rams, and thus will meet his old franchise on the gridiron today.

Despite St. Louis being the bottom of the barrel of the NFC West, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh isn’t taking the division rival lightly.

“All you really need to look at is the New Orleans Saints game to get an indication of what they’re capable of,” Harbaugh said. “They’ve got an outstanding quarterback. He’s been very productive with Brandon Lloyd.”

After being traded to the Rams in Week 7 from the Denver Broncos, Lloyd has essentially become St. Louis’ most potent receiver, already nabbing 31 receptions for 396 yards and four touchdowns.

He’s dawned a total of five different NFL uniforms in his nine seasons of play, including the one he currently employs. And after being traded by the 49ers in 2005, it seemed like his career was one destined to be marred by disappointment and injuries.

And if Lloyd can salvage anything from being on a losing team this season, it’s that he hasn’t allowed the poor record to affect his level of play.


49ers (9-2) vs. Rams (2-9)

WHEN: Today, 1:15 p.m.
WHERE: Candlestick Park
TV: Fox (KTVU, Ch. 2)
RADIO: KNBR (680 AM), KSAN (107.7 FM)
ALL-TIME: Rams lead 61-60-2
LAST MEETING: Rams beat 49ers 25-17, Dec. 27, 2010

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