Players were loose. And the coach was looser.
In an almost jovial mood was Jim Harbaugh addressing the masses of media in town for Sunday’s NFC Championship against the New York Giants.
Harbaugh said there’s work to be done and that the team can benefit from Saturday’s walk-through prior to the team’s home game at Candlestick Park.
“It’s really never done,” Harbaugh said. “The hay’s in the barn philosophy is not one we subscribe to.”
Some 20 minutes or so later, quarterback Alex Smith made nearly an identical statement when asked if he had more work to do Friday night.
“Hay’s not in the barn, I guess.” said Smith, who plans to go over the team’s entire game plan in order to wrap his head around it.
The rest of the 49ers locker room looked focused and loose at the same time, just as Harbaugh wanted it to be.
A few players waited around the bathroom area to get in the barber’s chair, while many conducted interviews with the masses of media in the Bay Area this week for the team’s 13th appearance in a conference championship game.
Harbaugh liked the mindset of his players all week.
But will he stop and enjoy the moment, preparing for a game that could get him into the Super Bowl for the first time in his playing or coaching career?
“Stop to smell the roses? No,” Harbaugh said.
Instead, he’ll have his team ready to compete.
“I can only speak for myself. I know what a challenge we have in front of us,” Harbaugh added. “Really, our mindset, our focus, has been on our preparation and just the mindset of the only thing we have to fear is being unprepared. It’s especially important against a team like the Giants.”
After beating the Giants 27-20 in a close Week 10 matchup in San Francisco, Harbaugh knew he’d faced a quality opponent.
“We knew when we played them in November the Giants would be a team that would go deep into the playoffs,” he said. “We know how talented they are, fortunately we’re here, too. We’ve got one shot and we’re planning on giving it our best.”
Notes and Quotes
The status of wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. and tight end Delanie Walker will be listed as questionable, according to the 49ers coach.
Harbaugh said defensive coordinator Vic Fangio called a timeout with :02 left in the game last week to make, literally, a last-second adjustment. “Vic called for it upstairs,” Harbaugh said. “He wanted to see what formation they were in, what look they were in.”
Asked about his offensive line’s play, Harbaugh went out of his way to commend the defensive line, too. “I have a lot of confidence in our offense,” Harbaugh said. “Both those groups on both sides of the ball – defensive line and offensive line – have really been the tip of the spear for this football team. With their physical play, their attitude. It’s been a team attitude, a selfless attitude.”
Several players spoke at the podium on Friday, including wide receiver Michael Crabtree. The wide receiver who caught a 4-yard touchdown last week admitted he has friends on the Giants, but will put those relationships aside to go after his ultimate goal. “You can win all the individual awards that you want to,” Crabtree said. “But if you don’t have the Super Bowl, it’s kind of like, you leave the game and it’s kind of hard for you. … That’s been my goal ever since I left college.” Crabtree said his drops from the Saints game haunted him, too. “I couldn’t sleep. But, at the same time, you’ve got to put it behind you and catch the ball, do what I do.”
Safety Donte Whitner spoke positively about New York running back Ahmad Bradshaw, who will face the 49ers for the first time this season after missing the Week 10 game between the two clubs. “He’s really one of the best players on their offense, especially when healthy,” Whitner said. “He’s actually a power back in a scat back’s body. He makes big plays for them and he has a lot of heart, a lot of intensity. He’s going to be one of our focuses this week; we have to take him out of the game.”
Lastly, Smith said the guys have been even looser than last week, saying the team’s anxiety was higher before the first playoff game. He’s ready for New York’s talented pass rush, too. “I don’t think there’s a team that presents this type of challenge and has this many guys that can all rush the passer,” Smith said. “I can’t remember playing a team that had this many guys that can get after the quarterback. I feel good about it, though. It’s going to be a challenge.”
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