The day began with another round of questions about the relationship between Jim Harbaugh and his players. It ended with him putting a lot of trust in them to make a big play.
And just as Harbaugh’s teams usually do, the San Francisco 49ers delivered.
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The 49ers converted a gutsy fake punt from deep in their territory and leaned on five field goals from Phil Dawson to beat the Kansas City Chiefs 22-17 on Sunday, quieting the drama around Harbaugh’s future for at least one more week.
"The football team has done good. And the better you do and the more you do, the more people try to trip you up," Harbaugh said. Later, he added: "My destiny lies between these walls with these men."
Reports have appeared since the offseason that players aren’t particularly happy with Harbaugh, and the latest caused 49ers CEO and acting owner Jed York to speak out.
About three hours before kickoff, York posted on Twitter: "Jim is my coach. We are trying to win a SB (Super Bowl), not a personality or popularity contest. Any more questions?"
Harbaugh and his players helped answer some of them with a critical call late, spoiling the return of former franchise quarterback Alex Smith in the process.
The 49ers (3-2) turned to a trick play on fourth-and-1 from their 29 early in the fourth quarter, giving a direct snap to Craig Dahl for a 3-yard run up the middle. Colin Kaepernick directed the offense downfield, and Phil Dawson kicked a 27-yard field goal with 8:42 to play for the go-ahead score.
"It doesn’t matter where they’re called on the field. You just have to execute," Dahl said. "See the ball, catch it, tuck it away and go."
Dawson also connected from 55, 52, 35 and 30 yards. He credited Harbaugh and the coaching staff for having confidence in him to make the kicks, particularly the two long ones.
Kaepernick threw for 201 yards and a touchdown, and Frank Gore ran for 107 yards to offset the absence of injured tight end Vernon Davis.
The 49ers smothered Smith and the Chiefs (2-3) after a slow start, including twice in the closing moments. Smith threw for 175 yards and two touchdowns, but Perrish Cox intercepted his overthrown pass to end any chance Kansas City had to rally.
"It’s tough, you’re competitive, you want to win the game. Some of those guys I played a long time with," said Smith, who completed 17 of 31 passes.
San Francisco sparked the offense with the fake punt, and even more big plays followed. Brandon Lloyd made a leaping 29-yard catch over 6-foot-3 Sean Smith — "basketball’s version of the alley-oop," Lloyd said — to extend San Francisco’s drive again and set up Dawson’s fourth field goal.
Dawson also lined up for a 54-yard field goal with 4:19 remaining after San Francisco stopped Kansas City. But the Chiefs were penalized for having 12 players on the field, handing the 49ers a first down. Dawson finished the drive with a 30-yard field goal.
Smith and Kansas City took over with 2:12 left and another chance to come back. But Smith sailed a pass to tight end Anthony Fasano, and Cox swooped in for an easy interception.
"I thought he handled (the environment) like a champ," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said of Smith.
On a sun-touched day that sent temperatures into the low 90s in Silicon Valley, both offenses started out hot.
Smith completed six of eight passes for 61 yards on the game’s opening drive, capping it with a 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Travis Kelce. Jamaal Charles ran for 80 yards to eclipse Larry Johnson (6,015 yards) for second place on Kansas City’s career rushing list, but was mostly a nonfactor late.
San Francisco scored on all three of its possessions in the first half, though the first two ended with Dawson’s big right leg. Kaepernick finished off the third drive where he wanted, rolling to his right and lofting a 9-yard pass to a wide-open Stevie Johnson to give the 49ers a 13-10 lead.
The Chiefs stopped San Francisco to start the third quarter, and De’Anthony Thomas ran his first punt return 28 yards, then caught a short screen and sprinted 17 yards for a score to put the Chiefs back in front, 17-13.
But San Francisco stayed focused and never lost its cool.
NOTES: The often-penalized 49ers finished with just two penalties for 10 yards. … Charles needs 52 yards to pass Priest Holmes (6,070 yards) for the franchise record. … 49ers rookie RB Carlos Hyde had 43 yards rushing on 10 carries. … Dawson once made six field goals in a game, going 6 for 6 on Nov. 28, 2004 with Cleveland.