SANTA CLARA -- Jim Harbaugh conducted most of his Monday news conference in a voice barely above hospital whisper, as if his mind remained in the gray daze of self-mourning. Even his jaw, usually noble and unyielding, seemed to retract.
Harbaugh wore the look of a man facing the first real crisis of a coaching career thus far defined mostly by stunning successes.
In the wake of this latest loss, the 49ers coach is at the very least confronting not only his own fallibility but also that of his staff and his team.
The 49ers, after all, did not simply lose to the Seahawks for the second consecutive time in their series. The defending NFC champs were bullied, shoved off the field on a long, damp and cruel Sunday night in Seattle. The two-hour flight home must have felt like five, with funereal silence broken only by the sound of egos deflating.
This is unfamiliar territory for a coach who fixed Stanford and then, at the speed of light, seized a shattered 49ers franchise and made it whole. Harbaugh won 27 of his first 36 games in San Francisco, only once losing twice in a three-game stretch.
Harbaugh's 49ers once again have lost two of three, and both were unforgettable. One was to his brother, John, in the last Super Bowl, after which Jim Harbaugh seemed to crave a rematch. The other loss, to archrival Pete Carroll on Sunday, simply hurt.
The two big-game failures -- along with that 42-13 loss to Seattle last December -- are enough to put an ache in the gut of a man as maniacally driven as Harbaugh. This requires serious reflection.
Harbaugh briefly covered the injuries, saying tight end Vernon Davis (hamstring) is being evaluated, safety Eric Reid (concussion) is going through protocol and that nose tackle Ian Williams (ankle) is out for the season.
The coach then was asked about the struggles of his offense. The 49ers committed five turnovers, including three interceptions of quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Their run game was smothered by the Seahawks.
"There are things that we'll put our finger on and try to make improvement -- significant improvement -- on this week," he said. "I'm not going to get into every single detail, but we're trying to put our finger on some things."
There is so much that requires attention. The big and physical 49ers played smaller and weaker than the Seahawks. What to do? The most significant weakness within San Francisco's offense, the lack of a true deep threat, emboldened Seattle defensive backs to be hyperaggressive. Is there an unemployed receiver with the wheels to go vertical?
And then there were the penalties. It was startling to see such a mature, fully formed championship contender as the 49ers hurt their cause by losing discipline and focus, committing silly personal fouls.
"It's an obvious area that we need to improve on," Harbaugh conceded, "and hopefully we'll see significant improvement this week."
Not until he was asked about the next game, Sunday against Indianapolis, did the coach seem to snap out of his trance. Perhaps this is because the Colts, traveling to Candlestick Park, figure to be a less difficult opponent. Maybe it's because he is fond of and familiar with Indy quarterback Andrew Luck, who played under Harbaugh at Stanford.
Quite likely, though, Harbaugh's ears might welcome any subject other than the Seahawks. They were vastly superior on Sunday. Harbaugh is not ready to accept that.
"There were some missed opportunities and then some momentum plays that went against us," he said. "That's on us, coaches and players. That's also a credit to what Seattle did."
Clearly, this defeat, not even a full day old, haunted Harbaugh.
There are 14 games, over 15 weeks, remaining in the regular season. The Seahawks will win more than they lose. But they will lose a few, if only because they tend to be vulnerable on the road.
I expect the 49ers to recover, beginning this week. They will lose a few games, too, but none as decisively as they did in Seattle. Priority one for the remainder of the regular season has to be gaining home-field for the postseason. Put another way, avoiding another trip to the Northwest.
One trip was enough for Harbaugh, if not his team. One bad trip stole his gusto and, at least temporarily, replaced it with doubt and gloom.
How else can he react? His last vision is of his excellent team being pounded into submission, as Carroll stands on the sideline, giggling in triumph, and an earsplitting audience roars with delight.