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49ers Better Prepared for Postseason

Posted Dec 30, 2012



For their first playoff run under Jim Harbaugh, the San Francisco 49ers went to the NFC Championship game and were a few plays away from making it to the sixth Super Bowl in franchise history.

The overtime NFC title game, however, didn’t go San Francisco’s way, but the team bounced back in 2012 with an 11-4-1 regular season and another NFC West division crown, the 19th in team history.

Thanks to Sunday’s 27-13 season finale win over the Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco repeated as NFC West champions. Combined with a late-game Minnesota Vikings win over the Green Bay Packers and the 49ers are back in the postseason as the NFC’s No. 2 seed for consecutive seasons.

It’s hard to argue about the 49ers doing even more damage in Harbaugh’s second postseason appearance.

“This is the second time around,” tight end Vernon Davis reasoned, “we have more weapons, we’ve got a better plan, so all we have to do is go get it. You might even see the Vernon Post again, who knows?”

Before the playoffs began, the already playoff eligible-49ers had important work to do and got the job done.

San Francisco outlasted the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday after a sluggish first quarter. The team’s 27-unanswered points in the middle of the game, however, bode well for a hungry team looking to avenge last season’s NFC title game heartbreak.

“It means a lot,” defensive co-captain Patrick Willis said when asked what the second playoff appearance of his six-year career meant to him. “I was just telling some of the guys that it’s something we don’t take for granted. I know personally for myself, I don’t. I remember those first four years of me being here and what it felt like.

“Now with these last two seasons to be playing for something,” Willis continued, “It’s a blessing. I know we’re grateful for it. And I know are guys are really thankful. We’re going to continue that much harder to work because the ultimate goal… that’s still ahead of us and it’s going to be a tough road. But, as we said right now, we like it tough.”

Willis and his teammates might like overcoming the odds as much as possible, but they will receive some well-timed rest before their first postseason game – announced by the league to be on Sat., Jan. 12 at 5 p.m. PT at Candlestick Park in the NFL’s Divisional Playoff round.

It’s also perfect timing considering Justin Smith missed his second game against the Cardinals, his second inactive game in the past 187 weeks of play.

“He’s a tremendous player for us,” said safety Donte Whitner, one of San Francisco’s nine Pro Bowl selections along with Smith. “We miss him. He vowed to be back for the playoffs. He’ll be ready and we’ll be back to our normal defense. But today, we had a good showing.”

Without Smith in the lineup, the 49ers stiffened up to hold the Cardinals to a pair of field goals, 11 first downs and 262 net yards.  In Smith’s place, fourth-year defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois supplied a team-high six tackles to go along with one of the team’s two sacks on the day.

“We have to pick up the slack,” Jean Francois said after the game in his red, NFC West division champion hat. “We came closer as a ream. We knew what was on the line; we knew we had to make it happen.”

It took the 49ers 13 weeks to clinch the NFC West title in 2011 and all 17 regular season weeks to make it happen again in 2012.

Nonetheless, San Francisco has its first consecutive division titles since the team won four straight NFC West crowns from 1992-95. Sunday’s win over the Cardinals also extended the team’s 13 consecutive December home games without a loss (12-0-1), the longest active streak in the NFL.

The 49ers will now look to add to their January win totals.

“Whoever comes here to the West Coast gets to see how we do,” said Frank Gore, who capped a gritty performance against Arizona with 68 rushing yards and his 51st career rushing score, which now stands as the most in team history.

The bye also means a great deal to the Pro Bowl runner who finished his eighth season with 238 carries, 1,146 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on the ground.

“I get a rest,” Gore said, “my o-line gets a rest and once we go then can do whatever we want to do.”

Gore, the offensive co-captain, speaks for the entire team.

This year’s bunch feels even hungrier after everything the group has experienced together.

“You have to treat the playoffs like it’s every other game,” said Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco’s second-year starting quarterback who will soon make his playoff debut. “You have to prepare like it and go out there to perform. That’s what it comes down to.”

Game Pass: San Francisco 49ers