SANTA CLARA — Here is the transcript of Eli Manning’s Wednesday afternoon conference call with Bay Area reporters.
Q: When you come to the line of scrimmage how long is it going to take you to try to find No. 52?
E. MANNING: (Laughs). Not very long. You usually have a pretty good idea of where he’s lined up. Me and Patrick, we go back a long way, back to college. He a tremendous player and one of many on this team. They’re playing great football. They’re playing fast. Everybody knows exactly what they’re doing, and they’re doing good job making plays.
Q: He didn’t play a whole lot as a freshman, right?
E. MANNING: No, he didn’t. He was a young guy coming. Special teams – I still remember the hit he made on the opening kickoff against Alabama at home my senior year. He was just coming in, but right away everybody liked him. He’s a quiet guy. Worked extremely hard that summer coming in, he was there for summer school, making plays in seven on seven, he was at every practice, wanted to get every rep. I remember after one of our first home games I got him after the game and I told him, “Walk with me.” We went into the Grove, where you tailgate after Ole Miss games, my parents had a tent. Right away everybody enjoyed him and I’ve been good friends with him ever since.
Q: What do you guys focus in on coming back to work after the big win in New England?
E. MANNING: There’s always things from every game that you want to improve on. I think in our passing game we didn’t throw the ball as well as we needed to at times in the game. At the end we did a good job. We have some guys playing new positions with Hakeem (Nicks) out. They had to get familiar with some of the new route concepts that they have to run. I think we left some plays out on the field. Now we’re going against a team that we feel is the best defensive team that we’ve played so far this year. They’re doing a great job not letting teams run the football with their front seven. They’re very talented and they’re doing a great job getting pressure on the quarterback just rushing four guys a lot of the time. We’ve got a great challenge ahead of us, and it takes a lot of preparation and studying these guys, getting to know not only their personnel, but their schemes.
Q: So this defense is the biggest challenge your team has faced this year?
E. MANNING: I think so. Coming into it that’s the mindset. They’re playing really great football. They’re doing a great job getting turnovers. Their offense is not turning the ball over and running the ball well, and Alex seems to be playing well throwing the ball. We’ve got to understand that we’ve got to play smart football as an offense. We can’t afford to turn the ball over. We’ve got to try to get as many third down conversions and keep the ball in our hands because their offense does a good job of holding the ball. Just try to be smart. Don’t give their offense a short field. We’ve got to get familiar with their system. It’s not an overly-complex system but they play it very fast. Everybody knows exactly what their assignments are. You can see they’re playing with great confidence. They’re doing a good job getting turnovers, stripping the ball, getting sacks, getting interceptions, so we’ve got to have a high priority of protecting the football.
Q: How well do you know Alex Smith?
E. MANNING: I don’t know Alex real well. I’ve run into him over the years. Ran into him more a few years back when were both coming in (to the NFL). I don’t know him particularly well but I know he’s had a lot of different offensive coordinators and coaching changes and injuries. I know he’s worked hard to get back to this point and I’m happy that he’s playing at a high level.
Q: Two interceptions in eight games for him. As a QB, how much respect do you have for that?
E. MANNING: That’s playing smart football. That’s what you have to do at this level. It seems like he’s getting completions, throwing high percentage passes, not throwing dangerous balls and having the risk of interceptions, so it seems like he’s playing really well and their whole team is.
Q: Can David Baas give you any insight into the 49ers defense?
E. MANNING: Obviously he knows some of the defensive line players, having played there. There’s a new scheme defensively then when he was there, but obviously he knows those interior guys. I think he has some information for the other offensive linemen. He talks well about Patrick and some of those interior linebackers and interior linemen.
Q: How well have you and he gelled since he arrived?
E. MANNING: He’s done a good job. He’s a smart player. He picked up our offense quickly and all the things we asked him to do at the center position with the calls. He’s been a little unlucky with some of these injuries. He wants to be out there taking. He’s taken some weird shots, some weird hits, so there’s not much you can do. He’s a tough guy. Hopefully he can be out there with us this weekend.
Q: What was the scene like in your locker room after this last comeback win compared to the other four you’ve had this year?
E. MANNING: Everybody was excited in the locker room. The Patriots have been very good at home. It was a big game, especially just kind of the flow of the game where we had a two-minute drive, we go down there and score. The Patriots go down on a two-minute drive, we get the ball again and have another two-minute drive. It was a wild game and guys were excited. Those are fun games. Those are things you remember – the locker room or the plane ride or the bus ride home after a big win.
Q: There were so many similarities in that game to the Super Bowl. Is that something you thought about?
E. MANNING: Mostly just afterwards. I kind of thought when we scored our first touchdown in the fourth quarter that we left too much time for Brady and their offense. It was really kind of a reversal situation from the Super Bowl where they were down four points, we knew they needed a touchdown, but they drove down there. It was exciting, had a big fourth down conversion, had a good play for the touchdown but luckily there was still a minute and thirty seconds left on the clock and we had two timeouts. All we needed was the field goal. Guys stepped up, made some big plays. Jake Ballard made a big catch down the middle. Had pass interference, got down to the one yard line and was able to get it in from there.
Q: You faced Carlos Rogers a few times through the years. What do you see on film from him this year?
E. MANNING: Carlos is a good player, been going against him for a number of years. They do a good job moving him around. He’s very good in the nickel package playing over the slot receiver. He does a good job there. When he heads outside, he’s aggressive and will jump things. He’s done a good job making interceptions, and he’s very sound. I think he does prepare and tries to understand tendencies and make educated guesses, and that’s what the best corners do.
Q: What kind of buzz is there around your locker room for this game?
E. MANNING: We know it’s a big game. We know they’re playing great football. They’ve won a lot of tight games. They’ve gotten games into the fourth quarter. They’ve made comebacks. We see that. We expect it to be a game that goes the whole 60 minutes and it’s going to be hard fought. It’s just about staying patient and playing smart football. Hopefully there will be a few opportunities to make plays, so we need to make the most of those opportunities.
Q: When did the Niners first get on your radar screen as a team that’s in contention?
E. MANNING: I don’t know. I think you always see who’s playing well week-by-week. They’ve made some highlights with punt returns and handshakes and whatnot. They’ve been playing good football and winning games. Frank Gore has been playing outstanding. Another old buddy. I had Frank Gore committed to Ole Miss. Took him out, I was his host, I thought it was a done deal but he left me and went to Miami.
Q: You couldn’t close the deal?
E. MANNING: He committed! I kind of thought I had a good visit and took care of him. He was calling me a few weeks later making sure we run the counter play. I told him we run the counter play, all he needed to do was come here. And then on signing day we couldn’t find. Miami had him hidden or something. They had a plan to keep him down there in Miami.
Q: Have you talked to him since then?
E. MANNING: Yeah I’ve seen him around, before games when we played in the past. He’s a good guy and he’s playing good football.
Q: Did he explain what happened?
E. MANNING: No, we haven’t gone into great depth on that. Y’all can ask him that.