While it may be Frank Gore's first foray into the NFL playoffs, he already has something of a blueprint for success to look back on: the first 16 games of the season.
Sure, the stakes are higher and the hype is building, but Gore said the 49ers simply need to stick to their guns when they host the New Orleans Saints on Saturday afternoon in the NFC Divisional Round.
"We just have to play 49er football," Gore said. "As long as we do what we've been doing all year – going out there playing hard, protect the ball, defense going out there balling – it should be a good game."
Gore has been waiting to play in game No. 17 since being selected by the 49ers in the third round of the 2005 NFL draft.
In those seven seasons, Gore has established himself as one of the league's premier pass-blockers at the running back position. And given the amount of blitzes New Orleans applied to the 49ers in the preseason opener, Gore's protection could be relied on more than usual.
Though tailbacks in today's game get the glamour for big gains and scoring touchdowns, Gore prides himself on his ability to lower his shoulder and give quarterback Alex Smith some extra time in the pocket. 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman has noticed, too.
"Frank's ready for anything," Roman said. "Frank is a consummate running back. He can do everything well. Whatever they choose to do, I'm sure Frank will be up for."
Gore said his body benefitted from the bye week and it's a good thing. With an offense as potent as the Saints', it will be crucial for the 49ers to keep the ball and keep New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees off the field. As such, Gore could be in line for a heavy workload on Saturday.
San Francisco has done a good job with time of possession all year, ranking fourth in the league with an average mark of 32:08. Gore has been a big reason for that success, rushing for 1,211 yards and eight touchdowns.
Gore has played in 100 games in his career, but now he finally has the chance to show what he can do on the big stage.
"Everybody who plays this game, you want to get to the postseason," Gore said. "I always wanted to be able to show everybody in the world what I'm made of as a player. Especially with what we have in this locker room – how special we are as a team."
But it hasn't been just the offensive line who has helped pave the way for Gore's fifth-career, 1,000-yard season. Tight end Vernon Davis and wide receiver Michael Crabtree have also opened eyes with their consistent blocking skills all season.
"They're amazing," Pro Bowl tackle Joe Staley said. "I honestly have never seen two guys who have the effort, the physicality once they do it. It's very consistent, too. It's not just one or two plays."
New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is known for giving the opposition a variety of looks, something 49ers center Jonathan Goodwin very familiar with. Goodwin, who spent the previous five seasons with the Saints, said it will be strange to face his former teammates in such a meaningful game.
"Just five or six months ago I was still living down in New Orleans," Goodwin said. "It'll definitely be different for me, but once you get out there and start playing football, it's just football."
Goodwin and the 49ers offensive line will have their hands full with the Saints defense, one which has received a sack from 15 different players this year. Safety Roman Harper, who was limited in practice on Thursday but hopes to play this weekend, leads the team with 7.5 sacks.
In all, the Saints rank 24th in yards allowed per game (368.4), while ranking 13th in points allowed (21.2 per game). New Orleans ranked 12th against the run (108.6 yards per game) and 30th against the pass (259.8 yards per game).
The 49ers offense will likely get some reinforcements at receiver, as Kyle Williams and Ted Ginn Jr. are hoping to return to the field. Williams (concussion) hasn't played since Week 16, while Ginn (ankle) missed the final two games of the regular season.
Meanwhile, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said he doesn't expect tight end Delanie Walker (jaw) to play this week.
If the 49ers want to have success through the air, Smith will have to be decisive against the aggressive Saints defense.
"They are very multiple," Roman said. "You go back over the course of two years and watch them, the volume is just expansive. So, yeah, that puts a lot of burden on the quarterback. Multiple looks disguised, all that stuff. That definitely is a calling card of the Saints defense."