The 49ers head into the postseason with a few players having some playoff experience, but a lot of the roster being newbies to the NFL postseason. Guys like David Akers, Jonathan Goodwin, Justin Smith and Carlos Rogers have some experience in the postseason, but for the vast majority of the roster this is their first time in the NFL postseason. Many had a chance to play bowl games in college, but otherwise this is a first for them.
Alex Smith chatted with the media yesterday (transcript after the jump), and he discussed how he feels the team is sufficiently mature to handle what comes with playing in January. Former GM Charlie Casserly chatted with Taylor Price of 49ers.com and in discussing the same topic, he pointed out how the 1982 Washington Redskins (he was assistant GM) had minimal postseason experience as well and they rolled through a strike-shortened season and won the Super Bowl. Not exactly apples to apples, but it's in the ballpark.
As the 49ers get ready for the postseason, one big bonus is that their head coach has a little bit of postseason experience to share. He was a part of a Bears playoff squads to the playoffs, but he is most well known for his leadership of a Cinderella Indianapolis Colts squad in 1995. He led the Colts to a 9-7 record and a wild card berth. They went on the road to beat the San Diego Chargers in the wild card round and then knocked off the number one-seeded Kansas City Chiefs in the division round. They came up just short against the Steelers in the AFC title game as a last second Hail Mary fell just short of completion. The wild 1995 season earned Harbaugh his Captain Comeback nickname.
I don't think we'll see Coach Harbaugh telling tales of the playoffs or anything like that, but I do think he can keep the team a little bit more focused. No matter who the 49ers play next week, they just need to get through the opening excitement and goose bumps and not get into an early hole. I don't know if Coach Harbaugh can really impact that, but given what he and the team have done thus far, I wouldn't doubt it.
QB Alex Smith
Press Conference - January 5, 2012
San Francisco 49ers
Have you had a chance to reflect on the journey you took to get here? How would you put this opportunity in perspective?
"Had a great season up to this point. Got ourselves the bye. Put ourselves in a good situation. It doesn't guarantee you anything beyond that, we all understand that. So much of the playoffs is the hot team and the team that's peaking and continuing to get better here at the end of the season. That's really our focus, is just to continue to get better. Make use of this bye week. Continue to take steps. This isn't a relax, go take time off bye week. It's something we need to take advantage of as far as getting healthy and getting better."
You noted that not a lot of people in the locker room have been to the playoffs here. Does it feel like a young team though? It seems like there's a bit of maturity...
"I don't. I don't feel like this is a young team. I feel like this is a team that's mature enough, that understands the opportunity we have in front of us and that we need to take advantage of these opportunities. I think because of that, don't come around all that often. Take advantage of this time to rest, like I said, and get better. Get healthy and get better. Haven't skipped a beat as we make use of this week and next week, and we'll come out on Saturday."
Has anybody spoken to that effect? Talked to the team about...
"I think it's the consensus. I think everybody has that same feeling. No one is looking at this as time off. We're still here, we're still practicing. It is a chance to get healthy though. I think that's make use of that."
Were you here Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday?
When you say get better offensively, what does that mean?
"I think there are aspects to improve all over the place. For us in the passing game, me and the receivers, our focuswill be: continue to get better on third down, continue to get better in the red zone. That's situational football that we need to improve on."
The last time you played in a postseason was in a bowl game your senior year. Do you recall much of that? Are you going to try to draw from any of that? That's so long ago.
"I guess all these games, the bigger the games get, I think you fall back on your routine and your preparation. What you've always done, the things that got you here. Continue to fall back on all those little things. Putting in the time, making sound decisions, things like that. Not trying to do too much just because the stakes get bigger. It's still the same game. You don't need to do anything different. I think that's what needs to be the focus for all of us."
Did that game though kind of reaffirm your belief that you can just play at a higher level after a regular season?
"We're just still playing the same football. I think it reaffirmed. Obviously, the games get bigger, the emotions get bigger. The stakes get bigger. Like I said, I still think it falls back on your fundamentals, your preparation, things like that. Those things shine through. And then it goes back to the team that continues to get better week in and week out through the progression of the season and into the postseason."
Alex, do you think the first team versus first team work helped you guys out in the end zone?
"I do. It's tough. Obviously the scout team guys do so much for us, but just getting that game-speed tempo, especially on Friday's getting the work versus the ones. Getting realistic looks, not knowing what you're going against, just going out there and reacting I think is great for us."
Was the competitiveness really sort of coming out in practices?
"Yeah, no question, especially that chunk of practice. No question. It always gets competitive when you have something like that. So, there's a lot of talking. Stakes could raise a little bit."
The team had first team meetings yesterday, correct?
Did you have a complete team meeting at all with everybody?
"We didn't. All the guys came in. We all had to be here, but there wasn't a team meeting."
Alex, is your record this year any vindication for the doubters for the season?
"Not thinking about any of that. We've got a game to play. I had a great season up to this point, but like I said, just got us a ticket to the dance like everybody else. And gave us this week to get healthy, but we've got to continue to get better. We've got a game to play."
Alex, T Joe Staley had expressed some frustration. He said his last postseason game was the Motor City Bowl and he didn't get really good stuff. He got like a duffel bag and a watch. From your last bowl game, what did you get?
"I guess thinking back we got some pretty good stuff. It was the Fiesta Bowl. So, some pretty good gifts. I think we got like a portable DVD player and obviously got a ring, things like that."