"Afternoon. Big game, obviously, against the Panthers. We're right where we want to be. chance to compete for the big prize. I believe there's eight teams left if I'm not mistaken. Every one of them has earned the right to get here. When you look at the Panthers defense it really starts up front. They roll a lot of guys through, as much as any team we've seen, and done a nice job. Their secondary, you probably don't hear a lot about them, but they've been very impressive all season. Very impressed with how their secondary is playing. They do a great job of playing team defense. We're certainly looking forward to the challenge. They've got some young guys playing at a high level in [CB Melvin] White. [S] Michael [Mitchell] is back there doing a great job directing the secondary. I think they're pretty highly ranked in just about every statistical category. So, we're really looking forward to it. Dialed in on the preparation. Any questions?"
You talked about rolling guys through the defensive front, but LB Luke Kuechly's in there, he's played more snaps I think than any defensive player they have. What does he bring to that middle linebacker position that maybe you haven't seen from other teams? He also has four interceptions, I think.
"He's got really good ball-skills. He is a real fast [former LB] Tedy Bruschi if that makes any sense. The guy's got really good instincts, slips blocks really well, has a combination of quickness and speed, sideline-to-sideline, and does a great job of avoiding blocks. He's a sideline-to-sideline player with ball skills."
QB Colin Kaepernick says that regular season, postseason doesn't matter to him, if the chance is there to run he's going to run. He's not worried about the stakes or anything else. As a play-caller, will you, in the postseason, are you more bold in putting him in positions to run that maybe you wouldn't in the regular season?
"I don't know that we want to talk about strategy, but I definitely think that Colin is prepared to tuck the ball and run if given the opportunity. I think we've all seen that. It's a do-or-die situation in the postseason. So, if you haven't noticed, we'll do anything to win."
What was it about that game against Carolina that he had a career-low 91 yards passing? What was it about that game in particular that your entire offense couldn't really click?
"It definitely wasn't our best day at the office. It was definitely a, you've got to give the opponent credit first. I think when you go back, all the answers were on the film, really. There were some very unique things that took place in that game and was a little bit of a ‘perfect storm' shall you say. But, that's a long time ago and we're going to be playing a game Sunday. We're a different outfit than we were that day and we'll be playing in a land far, far away."
The fact that you are a different outfit, does that almost render that meaningless, that game-film?
"No, I think there's some good things to take from it. But, Carolina does a very nice job on defense. We have a lot of respect for them and looking forward to the challenge, but it's a new day."
How does having a WR Michael Crabtree and a healthy TE Vernon Davis affect what you guys can do against that defense?
"If you have them we'll take them. When you combine [WR] Anquan [Boldin] with those guys, it certainly gives you a chance to balance out the field. Gosh, they're two very, very explosive players that we count on and looking forward to see what they can do for us comeSunday."
You said that they rotate their linemen in more than any other team. What does that do? What kind of effect does that have on a defense?
"It keeps the D-line fresh so they can play all-out all the time. Guys in the trenches, rushing the passer takes a lot of effort, a lot of strain. A lot of times it can go three, four seconds of maximum output. What that does is you get fresh guys in there that have had a blow. They all play with a very high motor."
As you're aware, the offense has had some ups and downs this year. But, from eyeballing it, it looks like the offense is kind of back where it was a year ago as the playoffs started. Do you agree with that and if so, what's enabled that to happen what are the factors as to why that's happened?
"We were 12-4 in the regular season. That's really what we're after. I don't know what everybody else is after, but we're trying to win. We were able to win last week, great comeback there at the end. But, I feel real confident about the people we have and their understanding of what we're doing and then going out on Sunday and letting it rip."
The 49ers have shown a willingness to use timeouts to get out of plays they don't like, maybe a little more than other teams. Does that change once you've used one or two? How important is it to keep one in your pocket for them to have?
"Ideally, you'd like to keep all your timeouts in case you need them, unless something else comes up along the way. So, we don't want to mindlessly waste timeouts, but if it allows us to capture a rook, a queen, a king as opposed to a pawn, then it's cost-benefit analysis. And really, when you really look at it, it's all about making those decisions and what's in our best interest of winning."
Do you think you guys have mindlessly wasted timeouts from time to time this season?
"I wouldn't say that."
How has the communication been between the sidelines and QB Colin Kaepernick?
"Great. Great. Great flow of communication."
Did you interview with Penn St. and how did that go if you did?
"Speculation, not going to comment on it. Rumors, water cooler talk. Really focused on this game and I'm sure there's a lot of rumors floating around out there, but really irrelevant. Focused on this game and beating the Panthers."
So much is focused on Crabtree and his ability to catch the ball with his hands, but in that Carolina game with him out, how much was missing with him away from the ball, if that makes sense? Because he's also known to block when needed and he has good instincts when somebody else has the ball in blocking as well. How much was that needed in that game and might be needed against a defense like this?
"Well, again, we love having Michael out there because he's one of our best players and he's a really good player. What happened 10 weeks ago is really irrelevant at this point. We're looking forward to this game and the contributions everybody can make, really."
Can you talk about your third down conversions? It seemed like that was a big issue in the first game certainly. Is it something in game planning or how much credit do you give them?
"I think it's a little bit of both. It always is, it's never just one thing. We weren't good enough on third down in that game and we've been pretty darn good here recently. Really impacted the games on third down. Again, every down is important. That's what we stress here. It's one of the things we talk about to our players, is every play is important and third down, no different."
You made an analogy earlier. When you go against a team like Carolina that you might face in the playoffs, are you thinking several moves ahead? You might call a different game against a team like that in the regular season?
"I think you evolve as a team throughout the season and I think we're a very different team now than we were then from a lot of different angles. Looking at it from a lot of different angles. So, I think you're definitely going to call the game a little bit different relative to who you have and what you're doing at that time, but you can definitely gather some good insight from a prior game. But, that doesn't mean they're not going to change it up too. Playoff games though, usually the game comes down to what both teams do best and that's probably what's going to happen Sunday."