"No question I felt like we were a good team then, but we really focused in and just understanding what we have to do in order to keep on keeping ourselves in the right position and in the right place," linebacker Patrick Willis said.
Harbaugh is holding a pair of opportunity practices this week, primarily for the young players though many veterans have stuck around like in previous years.
He remains hopeful that Michael Crabtree, the team's top wide receiver last season, will return from Achilles tendon surgery sometime next month.
"That's doable," Harbaugh said. "I'm not going to make any proclamations or profound statements, but he's right on track for, at some point here, weeks."
In addition, Mario Manningham could return soon.
Manningham made 42 receptions for 449 yards and one touchdown in 12 games and 10 starts last season before injuring his left knee in a loss at Seattle Dec. 23. He underwent reconstructive surgery to repair torn anterior cruciate and posterior cruciate ligaments.
He has been practicing for two weeks and the Niners must decide by next Tuesday whether to add him to the 53-man roster from the physically unable to perform list.
Harbaugh hasn't allowed himself to think about how much more his offense might do with the additions of Crabtree and Manningham. He wants to get running back LaMichael James back into the mix first.
"We've really been focused on what we have this week. Those being the best available players, and they're all doing a real fine job and how we could use them differently," Harbaugh said. "Get LaMichael in the mix. We want to get that going. He's too good of a player not to be playing."
Notes: As Harbaugh hinted would happen, rookie DT Tank Carradine was activated from the reserve/non-football injury list Tuesday and could play against the Panthers. San Francisco cleared roster room by waiving LB Jermaine Cunningham. Carradine, a second-round draft pick out of Florida State, has been working back from a torn ACL and resumed practice Oct. 15.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org