49ers QB Alex Smith chatted with the media before practice yesterday and was asked about the significance of Sunday given that the 49ers can clinch the playoffs with a victory. He and Coach Harbaugh actually both spoke about it and were fairly open in acknowledging what the team can accomplish on Sunday.
Early in the season the team would just look one game at a time and focused on the idea that the next game is the most important game. That remains the case now, but the next game carries big possibilities that the team is more willing to recognize at this point. Coach Harbaugh was asked about whether he would allow the word playoffs to be mentioned in the locker room this week:
"Sure, not just allow it but encourage it. How do you know where you're going to get to if you don't know what the goal is or where you stand?"
Alex Smith was asked a similar question and he made the point that the goal for every team is to win their division and get into the playoffs, so why not discuss it to some extent. I'd like to think that could relieve some of the stress that comes from getting over that final hump.
This 49ers roster is an intriguing mix of youths and veterans and a mix of playoff experience. A vast majority of the roster lacks significant playoff experience, but they do have some guys with serious experience, with Jonathan Goodwin being the primary example. It will be interesting to see how that impacts the team in the coming weeks and particularly heading into January.
Head after the jump to check out Alex Smith's press conference transcript. You can also view video after the transcript.
QB Alex Smith
Press Conference - November 30, 2011
San Francisco 49ers
Is there any flipside to a short week in that the next week you actually have more time to prepare for a team and you could put more into your playbook?
"Yeah of course. Definitely, both sides, rest-wise and game plan-wise, film. For sure, it's kind of like a little, mini BYE week. Get a few days off and also get a little jumpstart on the next opponent."
Would you have rather had it the other way around where you have a long time to prepare for a team you're not very familiar with in a short week?
"Yeah, no question. If you play a Thursday game against a division opponent, it's much easier. Especially if the staff's the same, or it's the second time, the second go around, if it's the second game. It'd definitely be much easier because you've already game-planned them once or twice the year before. There is that familiarity there. So, for sure that would be much easier, from a game plan-wise."
Does this week, what kind of significance does it hold for you and the fact that you guys can clinch the division, something that has been the goal obviously since you got here, this could be the first time it's done, have you thought about that in the past few days?
"Oh yeah, absolutely, the whole team. For anyone who's only been here, obviously this is new territory for us. It hasn't been done I think since like 2002. So, something we've talked about every year and now all of a sudden to have it in our hands and the chance to clinch, it's great. No question, this is what you work so hard for. We've put ourselves in a good situation and now we just need to go out on Sunday and finish it, but absolutely."
Some teams might not want to look at that, but it does seem like Harbaugh has kind of embraced that as the definite goal, why do that?
"I don't know why a team wouldn't. I think for every team in the league it's the first goal, try to win the division. Get to the point to win the division. That's what every team wants to accomplish. And now to have it right there at our feet, yeah absolutely we're talking about it."
It's been so illusive, is it a little surreal that on Nov. 30th? I mean you guys used to have a banner that said, "Win the West" and now you actually might do it?
"Yeah a little bit, especially this early to potentially have that opportunity. Also coming off the loss, haven't lost in a little while. So, that's also sitting there. So, a lot of things going on. Back to another division opponent. Obviously any time we play these division games, I don't care the records of the teams, there's a lot on the line. So, yeah kind of a lot going on. A lot to play for."
This is a team that beat the New Orleans Saints as well, what do you see from that defense that sticks out to you?
"Yeah, especially on that defense they've played well. They've had some injuries, especially in the secondary. But, you look at them, they played Green Bay tough for the most part besides a couple big plays they got, really played them tough I thought. And obviously they got the win over the Saints, really held down that offense. So, really well-coached group on the defensive side, that's what I see. They do a lot. They throw a lot of different things at you. And they're all very well-coached. The two D-ends are really good players. They move around, they play fast. And then they throw a lot at you as far as an offense goes."
RB Frank Gore has had a couple big games against the Rams in his career, does he get more fired up for them, or do you notice anything about Frank Gore the week when you're playing the Rams?
"No. I guess I couldn't say I noticed anything in particular. Everybody anytime you play a division opponent, like I said, it gets that much more. But him, he's fired up every week."
You mentioned the Saints and you mentioned yesterday in your interview that you watched their game on Monday, do you appreciate at all that you have a team that's only one game behind you guys as far as the number 2 seat goes, and is that anything that keeps you guys hungry as far as having a team nipping at your heels?
"Right now, we're really thinking about the Rams, and I think if anything's on our minds it's the division. That's maybe something we talk about after that, but it's kind of first things first. The first step is to try to win the division. That's the first goal. And from there you can start talking about different teams in the NFC and the bigger picture. But, right now that's what we want."
The last three games have had a little bit of an offensive dip, are defenses figuring you out a little bit more?
"I don't know. I guess I haven't recognized the three-game dip. But for sure, obviously we just played a really good defense in Baltimore and they handed it to us. Offensive numbers were statistically pretty bad when you look at it. So, kind of got it handed to us in all phases on offense. No one really executed well overall on the offensive side. So, need to bounce back from that. Other than that, I don't think so. I don't think there was necessarily, I don't feel like defenses have a beat on us and what we're doing. So, multiple, we mix it up a lot."
Alex, I'm here from NFL Japan, please tell our Japanese viewers, what do you think has been the biggest difference with Coach Harbaugh here?
"It's tough to answer in just one question. He and his staff obviously have come in and brought a lot, no question. I think, I've said this before, we love that everything's about football. All the attention is to football and the details of your position. I think everybody appreciates getting put in good situations as a team. Getting put in situations to go succeed and then just going out and doing our job. I think overall though, I guess that feel of the team. Everything is about the team. It's all about selflessness, doing your part for the team, the bigger picture. So, things I think we all appreciate this year."
As a QB, what's the biggest lesson you've learned from him?
"I couldn't tell you. Honestly couldn't tell you one thing. I think there are lots of little things I'm constantly trying to pick up here and there and I take in. But, I don't know if there's any one thing I guess."
Jim had said that you get some extra reps with some of the receivers, are you working after practice with some of them or during practice?
"Oh yeah, we constantly, constantly work. In between period when the defense is going, after practice, always doing something. Especially something that might be new that week, or a little wrinkle or we feel like we need work on. Always doing that in between periods, or after practice."
Have you spent any extra time with WR Braylon Edwards of late to get on the same page?
"Not in the last couple of days. We had the last couple of days off, but all those guys, we all get a ton of work together. He's included in that. But in between periods, after practice, no question, always working on it, especially with Braylon, yeah."
How much time after practice do you spend?
"It just depends on the day. Sometimes more than most. Sometimes we're out here 10 minutes and then we're going and rolling and rolling through reps, and stuff we need to work on. Sometimes it's pretty quick."