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NFC Championship Game 2013: Jim Harbaugh, Colin Kaepernick, Patrick Willis, Justin Smith press conference transcripts

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The 49ers met with the media on Wednesday, as they begin preparations for the NFC Championship Game. We take a look at press conference transcripts for Jim Harbaugh, Colin Kaepernick, Patrick Willis and Justin Smith.

Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Head Coach Jim Harbaugh
Press Conference - January 16, 2013
San Francisco 49ers

Listen to Audio I Media Center

A week ago at this time you made an observation about the early stages of the game planning, guys were soaking it in. Do you have any observations like that this week?

"Yeah, it's been good. We're working through the dynamic of playing the Falcons. And so far so good."

When you were talking about that, that was QB Colin Kaepernick specifically. Was that a reference to the read option that he was really picking up that part of it? Or was it the whole picture?

"The whole picture as it stood at that point."

After the game on Saturday night, you remarked about Colin's ability to bounce back after the interception, and how rare it was to have a quarterback come back with touchdown drives. What do you attribute that to, a few days later, the way he's done this all season long?

"I think what I'm referring to there is that as a quarterback and you throw an interception in a game, there's just a tendency the next time to double check things. You're double checking then double checking. And that's not the way to do it. That's not the way you want to do it. So, you want him to be trusting what he sees and cut it lose. And I think he's shown a rare ability to not do that, to not have to double check."

Do you coach that, or is that coachable? Or is that just something within a guy?

"I don't know for sure."

Is that his desire to make a bounce-back play? Or just to forget the previous play all together?

"I'm not making any statement like I know how to do it, or not do it. I'm just observing that he seems to have a rare ability to bounce back."

You didn't have to coach him through that Saturday night?


A lot of attention is suddenly on Colin, cover of Sports Illustrated, TV guy. Do you think that will affect him at all?

"No and you don't want it to. And just for our whole team in general, we feel good about what we've accomplished, but that doesn't change what we need to accomplish. It's like Tim [Kawakami] winning the California Sports Writer of the Year Award. It's a nice award. You put it up on your wall. It says something nice about Tim. But, doesn't affect what he has to do next, right? He's got to win the next game. So, that's where we stand. Our job is to win the next game."

Do quarterbacks have to handle that media attention differently though?

"No, I don't see why they would have to handle it differently. Than who?

The other players. Obviously they are the leader of the offense, the leader of the team?

"No, I don't think."

And you're happy with the way Colin is handling his attention especially this week?

"Yes. I think Colin does a great job of continuing in his humility."

I can't help but notice the similarities between the 49ers and where the Falcons were a year ago. Or, sorry excuse me, backwards. Where the Falcons are right now, where the 49ers were a year ago. A 13-3 team, nobody really expected them to win their divisional playoff. From having been in this situation, what's dangerous about a team like the Falcons?

"Well, there's no team you're going to play at this point that's not dangerous. So, you could talk a lot about how good the Falcons are. Why they are where they are. But, it's pretty thorough, offensively, defensively, special teams, coaching, talent."

I don't know if you've seen the Falcons penalty numbers. You probably have. But, they're kind of amazingly low for penalties and yardage. I was just wondering what you think that says about them as a team. If you can make any generalizations when you see that?

"The generalization would be it's a well-coached, disciplined football team."

The flipside of that is you guys for all your success this year, you have had some penalties. Is that just a byproduct of aggressive play and something you can live with, or have there been times when you're not happy with the number of penalties?

"No, I'm never happy with penalties."

Did you say something to Colin about his taunting penalty the other night?

"To Colin specifically? No, I didn't talk to Colin about that. Well, yeah we did have a discussion. We did have a discussion."

What was your feeling about that?

"That it was, in my opinion, it was a ticky tack. Didn't see it as a taunting penalty."

Did DT Justin Smith, a couple days from the game now, is he close to 100 percent? Was there any backsliding because of going through the game, or is he just fine?

"I don't know about 100 percent, or 90 percent, or 95 percent. But, somewhere in there."

He didn't have any step back because he was in there?

"No, he said he felt good the next day. He was in a great mood and ate a real big lunch. And was real upbeat the day after the game."

If you could characterize one thing that's different about this year's team heading into the title game versus last year's team, what would that be?

"I can't think of what that would be."

With all the cover of the magazines and everybody now calling you guys the Super Bowl favorite, do you have to ward off Freddie P. Soft a little bit? Or is this team not letting that affect them at all?

"We have to understand that the next game is the most important game on the schedule. And doesn't affect, if people are saying good things about you, what you need to do. So, our advice has always been if people are saying nice things about you, kick them in the shins and get back to work."

Are you uncomfortable that people are saying nice things?

"Comfort or uncomfort is not a word you really use in football."

What word would you use?

"Determined, focused on what we need to do to make our meetings the best of the season today. To make our practice the best Wednesday practice all season. That'll be our hope. That'll be our expectation."

You guys are 1-2 in domes. I know it's different quarterbacks, different situations. Does that stat meaningful going into the Georgia Dome?

"Yeah, I think the wins, the losses statistic is the most important one, the most meaningful one."

Were there issues with the dome in particular in those two losses?

"There are definitely things we're working on to try and improve to be a better team in that regard. So, hopefully we can be better this time than we were the last and learn from what mistakes that we did make."

Talk about the noise issue with the calls?

"Yes, just different issues. You're always striving to get one percent better anywhere you can. And I think that's a place that we are concentrating on."

The Falcons did a good job of shutting down Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch. Is there anything about their run defense from Sunday that stuck out to you?

"Yeah, it was very effective. I thought they had an outstanding plan. Probably won't go into it much more than that."

The way they defended the Seattle TE Zach Miller seemed to have a lot of opportunities in that game for Seattle. Do you see possible similar opportunities for TE Vernon Davis and TE Delanie Walker in this game? Or is it completely different styles of offense?

"I see opportunities if we play well and we prepare well. But, as to what we think will work or won't work, we would be foolish to talk about that."

Colin's acknowledged having a chip on his shoulder dating back to high school and the draft. Did you notice that during your draft process when you talked to him up in Reno, that this guy felt like he had something to prove?

"I didn't notice any chip on his shoulder, no."

Do you like that in him? Do you like that quality in him that he has "against all odds" (tattooed) on his chest, he feels like he has something to prove?

"I notice that with all our players, that they have something to prove. And we feel that way as a team. I'm not making any chip on any shoulder analogy. Just a desire to improve, desire to get better and be the best possible player you can be. Or the best possible team you can be. That's what I notice."

Is that part of the little plaquards above everybody's locker with their high school ranking and all that? What was the purpose of that?

"Well, everything doesn't need a purpose. It was a fun thing. Justin, myself, [DT] Ricky Jean [Francois], and [RB] Frank [Gore] were having a meal and just started talking about high school recruitment and stars and what they weighed at that time. And [DT] Ray McDonald was in there as well and then one of the fellows pulled up a picture of the scout of I think it was Ray. And from there that was born the idea let's do one for everybody."

Do you have one for yourself?

"They didn't have the internet back in 1982 that I'm aware of. But, yeah I think just as far as what it means, that means something different to the beholder that's looking at it. To me, as I look through every single picture of every single guy, I was moved by the eyes. It's always in the eyes. They're cheerful and undefeated. And it was nice to put those photos up."

How many stars for you?

"Again, I think in my day I was a fantastic player. But, for some reason just people couldn't see it. The college scouts and the scribes and pundits just for some reason did not see it."

QB Colin Kaepernick
Press Conference - January 16, 2013
San Francisco 49ers

Listen to Audio I Media Center

[Head coach Jim] Harbaugh mentioned last week that you were really picking up the game plan, a savant-like game he said. Did you feel like it was like another level for you, that the mental part was really picking up?

"I think it's just something you have to do in this playoff situation. You get one shot so you have to be on top of everything."

How exciting of a day is it when you get to see that game plan for the first time and see what [offensive coordinator] Greg Roman and the offensive staff has put together?

"It's always exciting. They're always coming up with something new, something different, something that's going to help this offense."

Did last week surprise you at all, the way that the plan was presented?

"I wouldn't say it surprised me. It was a little bit different than what we normally do, but it was something we are all comfortable with."

What are your thoughts going into the Georgia Dome?

"As far as?"

Just the atmosphere, I know it's a really loud environment, the Falcons have won 33 of their last 40 there.

"Crowd noise is something you're always going to have to deal with on the road. It's something we prepare for."

Atlanta, this week, they had been saying a lot of stuff about how they need to hit you, that's how they need to stop it, what you do. How have you been able to so far avoid those type of hits, and now that there's that target, how do you plan on avoiding those hits?

"Run where they're not. You want to run away from where the defensive players are. When they get close, get down."

How did you find out that you're on the cover of Sports Illustrated?

"My agent called me the night before."

For a lot of you guys, that's a four-year dream. Is that a big deal to you?

"It was something I didn't expect. It kind of surprised me, but it's a great honor."

What do you think about Harbaugh's floating face?

"[Laughing] That's a coach Harbaugh game face."

You've had four passes intercepted this season where each time you've responded with a touchdown drive. What do you attribute that to? What goes through your head in those situations the next time you get the ball?

"That we have to score. I think that's our whole offense's mentality. We have to bounce back from a turnover."

You talked about how you looked up to Brett Favre when you were a kid. Did you pay attention to more mobile quarterbacks that he was? Did you look at Steve Young much? Did you fashion yourself after him at all or were you too young then?

"Not at that point in my career. When I got into high school, college, I watched Vince Young, Michael Vick a lot, [Donovan] McNabb, watched the old clips of [Randall] Cunningham. They were all quarterbacks that were mobile and could make plays."

When you were in college, did people want to view you as either a thrower or a runner? Did people view you as just a running quarterback, the other day you said that you didn't want to be categorized?

"I feel like pretty much my whole life I've been categorized as a runner."

It's been a crazy road for you, you weren't the starter, you're the starter, now you're on the cover of Sports Illustratedand people are wanting a piece of you. How have you handled that and is it a lot compared to what you expected?

"I don't. I send everything to my agent and I go about my business as normal."

You don't react to it at all? People have to be shouting your name?

"I go home. I watch my film. I watch anything on TV but sports, and I go to bed and come back and do it the same way the next day."

You and [WR] Michael [Crabtree] have had so many connections together, more than any other receiver on this team combined, it seems a combination the Falcons are going to try to stop. What has Michael continually do that allows him to keep getting open even though everybody knows who you're going to?

"He's winning. That what it comes down to. You're going to get open as a receiver or you're not, and he's been getting open."

What's his specialty that allows him to be that open? What do you see from him in practice that we don't get to see?

"You really can't point one thing out. He's a complete receiver. He knows what he's doing out there. He knows how to work his routes."

When you were coming out of college, there were a lot of questions about how you would adjust to the pro offense after running the pistol in college. Do you find it interesting at all now that the pistol is becoming so prevalent in the NFL?

"I don't know if you can say it's funny or what, but it's another asset to our offense to help us move the ball."

What did you think about the taunting penalty against Green Bay the other night?

"I didn't think it was a penalty, but it was an emotional play."

Michael Crabtree is a man of few words, at least in the media he is, so tell us something about him that he wouldn't say about himself.

"I don't know. I haven't seen his interviews, so I don't know what he has and hasn't said.

Well tell us, what is there to know about your favorite receiver, just on and off the field, that makes him tick?

"He's a workhorse. He just wants to win."

What has been your favorite Kaepernicking image so far that you've seen?

"I saw a girl Kaepernicking while she was riding a horse."

How old was she, or younger or older?

"I think it was teenage."

You've had a trio of headstrong quarterback dating back to Roger Theder, [former Nevada head coach] Chris Ault and now Jim Harbaugh. Talk about how they've helped form your mental toughness.

"I think that's something they've kind of engrained in me throughout my career. I've always had great quarterback coaches coaching me and I think that's really helped me get to where I'm at now."

Can you share what's on your playlist this week? Your teammates say you're always wearing your headphones.

"It depends on the day. I've got over 6,000 songs on my iPod, so it just depends on what mood I'm in."

LB Patrick Willis
Press Conference - January 16, 2013
San Francisco 49ers

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When you put on the game film of the Falcons, what's the first thing that jumps out at you?

"They've got a good quarterback, a real good quarterback. The team, they're fundamentally sound, have some great skill players. I feel like they have a complete offense."

Falcons TE Tony Gonzalez caught that key pass on Sunday. How much does Falcons QB Matt Ryan look to Gonzalez in those types of situations?

"He looks for him a lot. Gonzalez is a guy who's played this game for a long time, who's been consistently good, one of the best tight ends to ever play. He's still playing at a high level and he's making big plays for them."

What stands out about him? You've faced some of the best tight ends in the league, how does he differentiate himself from those guys?

"The thing that those guys once told me when I first got here, they say it's all good and dandy when you come in, you can run as fast as fastest and move as quick as the quickest. But they told me the older you get the more you have to have it up here and I didn't understand that as much then as I do now and Tony Gonzalez is a guy who plays by that. He may not be as fast as he once used to be but he's really crafty and he knows how to get open."

How comforting was it to have DT Justin Smith back in the game last week, just in the huddle seeing him, that presence he provides?

"It was amazing. I'm glad we had that bye week in order to get him that much healthier, just to have him out there. He's a big part of our defense and like I said before, anytime we can have all starting 11 guys out there, that breeds confidence in the defense, it breeds confidence in one another."

Does he have a Baltimore Ravens LB Ray Lewis type of role where he inspires guys, his presence, just in the huddle, the way he plays, just that effort?

"I don't like comparing guys to one another. But Justin is his own guy. He is what he is to us. He's a guy that's going to come out there and give it everything he's got on every play and that's what we love about him. We're just glad to have him back in there."

Did he pick up right where he left off, in terms of occupying blockers for you to get in there to make tackles?

"Anytime he's out there you have to account for him. You have to almost put two guys on him because if you don't, that's a chance he has to win and even when you're putting two guys on him he still can have a chance to win. So anytime you have a guy of that magnitude, it's great to have him out there."

You were the guy that got after Packers QB Aaron Rodgers a lot last weekend, is that going to be a key against Matt Ryan? Getting pressure on the quarterback?

"There's no doubt, we most certainly have to get pressure on Matt Ryan. But as we've done all year long, the last two seasons, our front four guys, when it's time to get after the quarterback those guys do a great job of running the stunts they run and gaming and whatnot. It's going to be up to them for the most part to really get after him. When coach calls for a five man pressure then we will, but for the most part we really going to count on those guys to get after him and we're going to be in coverage. Like I said, they have some good skill guys that we have to account for."

How was the experience of being in the NFC Championship Game last year helped prepare you and being ready this year?

"Really it's just the experience, just knowing that this opportunity is rare, it doesn't come around often. Although we were here last year, the prior, four years before that we were at home those other times, we didn't make the playoffs. So just to have this opportunity again and to be here, it's one of those things we don't take for granted. We know that window for chances like this is slim and we have to take advantage of the opportunity."

Back in training camp or maybe even last year, when you're defense had to go against QB Colin Kaepernick, what sort of challenges, how frustrating could that be or was it a good learning experience for you guys as a defense?

"When we went against him in training camp and he was running scout team, he never really did the things that you see him do on our offensive side. It was more so for the teams that we would play, which was to drop back. Every now and then he would kind of scramble, for the most part he was looking to get back there and throw the passes that we were needing to get the looks on. Just to see him in practice, seeing the way that he moves in practice and then just to see him in the game it's almost like he's getting faster in the game, which I guess is what it tends to be most of the time."

Is that what makes him stand out, just that speed? We saw him run away from the Packers over and over last week.

"He can throw the ball, too, has a strong arm. That's something that makes him that much more valuable as a quarterback, not only can he run but he can throw as well. Anytime you have that kind of threat at the quarterback position, it makes it tough for a defense. I know it makes the team get better, the offensive line continue to get block for him. Just to see our offense and to see the things they did last game and all season long, I'm glad to have our offense at the point they're at now and I just hope they turn it up even more this Sunday."

When they're scoring 30-40 points, what does that do for you guys?

"Anytime your offense can get out there and put up points, it allows the defense to go out there and just play. You don't really think a whole lot, you're not really trying to sit back on your heels and think you can't mistake here and give up something because our offense isn't doing anything. Anytime your offense can put up those kind of points, it allows the defense to just go out there and play."

Head coach Jim Harbaugh talked about it feels like everyone on this team has something to prove. What do you feel like you have to prove and maybe what does this team have to prove, being back here for the second year in a row?"

For myself, really just to go out there and just play, to play at a high level and turn it up that much more. I never feel like I've played my best football. Even when you go back and see the game, or even after the game when people pat you on the back and say you've done a great job, you notice those one or two plays out there you wish you could get back that maybe they don't know so much of what you did wrong. But us as a team, really, it's just like I said before, being in this situation and really just bringing it home. It's not good enough just to make the playoffs. It's not good enough just to make it to the NFC Championship. We want to win it all. That's what we'll be remembered by the most, is being able to go to that Super Bowl and win it. But it starts this Sunday, winning this game to have the opportunity to go there. Just winning, winning it all."

When you came here as a pup, Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan was the head coach. What are your memories of what you learned or got from him during your time when he was here as your coach?

"I was telling somebody the other day, I think I was doing an interview and someone was asking me that question about coach Nolan. As a young one, as a rookie, I didn't really get a chance to talk to him that much. It was more so my position coach [Vikings special assistant to head coach/linebackers coach Mike] Singletary. As a youngster, for me, I didn't feel like I had to much to say to the head coach. It was like what am I going to talk to him about? For the most part, I didn't really have that kind of relationship with him as you would think, but he's a good guy. Just to see what he's done for that Atlanta Falcons defense, they're playing great football as well. They have a great defense down there so he's doing something really well down there. Like I said, I don't remember too much about that."

Will you go over and say anything to him before the game?

"If I see him, I'll shake his hand. Like I said before, I'll be forever grateful for that coaching staff who drafted me and all those who had a hand in bringing me here. It was a dream come true for me and probably one of those dreams that I never thought would have happened because like I said before, I grew up a Cowboys fan and didn't like the San Francisco 49ers for nothing. But now that's what I bleed, that's what I sleep, that's what I eat. This is my home."

This year there has been an emphasis of trying to avoid helmet to helmet contact. You're known as one of the better tacklers in the league, but you've managed to somehow avoid those kind of penalties. Have you had to adjust your technique? Is it harder? Tell me about that, how you've been able to do that?

"That's a sensitive subject when it comes to me. I love to play this game and I always wanted to play this game, play defense for the simple fact that you can hit and you could just let loose and for the most part not get penalized on the way that you go after somebody and tackle them. Now, you really have to be conscientiousness of it, but for the most part I can't say what I would or wouldn't do. I always want to play within the rules, do what I'm supposed to do. I'm not going to lie to you, if I could ever get those zero-in shots like our safeties get sometimes, like some other guys get, I can't see how I wouldn't. A lot of times I'm having to chase, having to breakdown, outmaneuver a fast guy who's trying to juke you out so I never get that chance to hit straight on. I always say, just play football and whatever happens, happens. At the end of the day, it's us against them, us against them meaning the offense and we're trying to keep them from getting yards, first downs, or even an opportunity to win the game if they get a first down. We just have to go out there and play defense and whatever happens, happens."

Have you consciously had to think about that?

"Not really. I'm telling you, if I could think that fast going to hit. Honestly I think it's almost impossible sometimes to be going that fast and have a guy coming that fast at you, to be able to say I'm going to adjust. A lot of times when you do stuff like that, you tend to hurt yourself. So for me, I'm going to hit. Like I said, I hope it's within the rules, if I ever get flagged I never mean to do it intentionally. My job is to go make tackles and however I do that, whatever needs to be done, that's what I'm going to do."

DT Justin Smith
Press Conference - January 16, 2013
San Francisco 49ers

Listen to Audio I Media Center

How did you come out of the game? How did you feel Sunday?

"I think it felt pretty good for the most part, just getting use to it and playing with it. It should be even better this week after going through it, knowing how it felt, what to expect from it. So it should be a lot better this week."

Was there a concern that playing a game, that it would tear a little bit further through the course of a game?

"It's like anything, if it's half torn or whatever, it can tear the rest of the way. So not really concerned about it, I'm just going to go out there, do the best I can and see what happens."

Has that brace become your friend or do you hate it?

"It's a love-hate relationship right now, but it's one of those things and it's doing its job. It felt pretty strong and like I said, doing anything the second time is better than the first time. So it should definitely be a lot better, a lot more comfortable and everything."

Is the bone chip bothering you too that's loose in the elbow? Is that another aspect of it?

"I really don't want to get into how it feels or this or that."

How'd the brace come out of the game?

"It came out pretty good."

Were there any dents in it or is it just that strong?

"No, I really didn't inspect it too much, but it was still there."

Is it the same brace that other guys have worn, like Houston Texans DE J.J. Watt and Baltimore Ravens LB Ray Lewis?

"I'm not sure if it's the exact same or close to them or what."

Did you go through a process of figuring out which brace was best or is that just a one shot deal?

"They just slapped it on there. They got the measurements and slapped it on there. I figured they would put me in the best one they possibly could and it did its job."

When you watched the film did you see the same guy that you're accustomed to seeing on film?

"I think for the most part. I think there's still a comfort level of getting use to it and just mentally going out there, coming out of the game knowing the way it feels and felt during the game. I'll be a lot more comfortable playing with it this week."

You've talked about windows of opportunity before to us, is that a theme that you've struck with the players these last few weeks, this week?

"Yeah, I think, definitely. I think everybody feels it. The majority of the guys that are in that locker room were here last year and felt the disappointment. We were so excited after winning the Saints game. I didn't feel the same, ‘oh we did it,' this and that after the Packers game and we beat a heck of a team in the Packers. I feel like the whole team kind of got a sense of there's more to this thing then just getting to this game. As a whole team top to bottom, coaching staff, we're better prepared to handle it and know what's in front of us."

Just you personally, your emotions, are they different from last year going into this game?

"Yeah, mine especially, just because you know how you feel after last year beating the Saints. I was like, ‘oh man we got a chance, we are one or two games away.' This one is like, alright we took care of business, find out who we play, ends up being Atlanta. Let's go down there, take care of business and try to get to the big one and win that one. But it definitely had a different feel in the locker room, this one as opposed to last year."

Justin, you've faced some elite quarterbacks already this year and haven't seen QB Matt Ryan, who's had his best year statistically. But what makes him unique when you see him on film?

"Just everything that the elite ones do. Looking off the receivers, knowing where to go with the ball, back shoulder throws, checks when he needs to get into a check. Just all the things that all those guys do, he fits right in with that group, the elite ones and he's playing awesome football right now."

They didn't run the ball as consistently as I'm sure they would have liked, but how big of a threat is their running game for you guys?

"I think they are going to come out and surprise people that aren't scouting them and stuff like that. They are going to try to stay balanced. They have two really good running backs and they run the ball exceptionally hard. We watched a whole tape on them this morning about their second and third efforts, the way they run the football, their different styles and they're good backs. We are going to have to make sure we stop them so we can try to make them a little bit more one dimensional."

What's LB Aldon Smith's demeanor been like since he hasn't been able to get to the quarterback necessarily? What was it like against the Packers? Was he getting frustrated and how's he coping with the playoffs?

"He's handled himself the same way week-in, week-out. He prepares really hard, gets his workouts in and trains really hard. He's demanding a lot of extra attention. If you don't study the tape, this and that or whatever, there's a lot of attention over there and rightly so. The guy's a beast over there and he's going to get a lot of attention and they're not going to let you just go one-on-one."

I've never had a torn triceps so I don't know, but can you still do some of your upper body weight stuff with that or try to build up other elements to try to make up for it?

"You rehab as much as you can. Let it scar down, this and that. You try to lift as much as you can and go from there."

So many years with the Bengals obviously you weren't going to the playoffs, but did you watch the playoffs during that time or kind of right when the season ended you were going? What did you do to jump start your routine?

"I didn't really have a routine, but I'd usually catch the games. It's what you do so you're involved in it and want to see who's going to win it. But it's definitely a good feeling to be in the process and get an opportunity to play in those games."

Do you have any thought or explanation for the season long win-win-loss, win-win- loss, win-win-tie, win-win-loss that you guys have gone through?

"No, me personally I've never really thought of that, no."

There's no rhyme or reason, it's just the way it's kind of gone?

"I guess that's a pattern, but we're not worried about that. This is a game, it's a big one. It's win or go home and I think our team is prepared for those type of games."