SANTA CLARA – This is the transcript of Jim Harbaugh’s Monday press conference, courtesy of the 49ers.
How did DT Justin Smith make it through the game?
“Good. Played well. Came out of the game as clean as possible.”
And did you expect him to kind of pick up where he left off?
“It looked good in practice and the feedback that we were getting from him was positive.”
Was he on the field for just about every play? It looked that way. Do you know how many plays he was not on the field defensively?
“No, not exactly how many plays he wasn’t on the field. But, he was out there a good amount.”
When you look at the Atlanta Falcons, what do they do best that you have to counter?
“They had a great season, top seed. They’re coming off of a game that gives them a lot of momentum. But, they’re solid in every regard. Showed that they could run the ball against a very good run defense. And make a lot of plays on the perimeter with their receivers. Defensively, again they do a great job of coaching, scheming. A lot of looks. Special teams is solid. So, you get to this point you’re going to play a very good team.”
Did you talk to your brother or your dad yesterday?
Everybody pretty excited?
“Yeah, everybody was really excited.”
What kind of, did you talk to both of them, or?
What did your dad have to say about two Harbaugh’s making the final four again?
“He was excited. They had one of those days where Indiana beat Minnesota in a big basketball game. And then they watched [Ravens head coach] John [Harbaugh]’s game, an exciting, winning, thrilling game for the Ravens. And then our game. So, my parents are in their 70’s. That’s a lot of excitement. That’s a lot of action. That’s like going back-to-back-to-back like three ‘24’ episodes in a row. It’s not easy.”
Will they travel this weekend?
“They haven’t said what they’re going to do this weekend.”
Your team has struggled a little bit in domes this season and in loud environments. What are you doing this week to prepare for the Georgia Dome?
“Important preparation again this week, studying for the test. We’ll have crowd noise. But, the big task will be the Atlanta Falcons and preparing for them.”
Any plans what you’re going to do with K Billy Cundiff this week? Is he still around?
Will he be competing with K David Akers again? Or is David still your guy from here on out?
“Yeah, David’s our kicker.”
What did you make of the talent that you took over here two years ago? A lot of these guys have been here for a long time, your core group of guys. What were your thoughts on that group?
“It’s pretty well documented. It’s been a joy to work with these players. Any success that we have is driven by their efforts on the field.”
How much did the talent on the roster at that time when you were considering this position sway your decision? What percentage would you say seeing the talent that was already here you were coming into?
“My decision two years ago?”
“That was two years ago. I don’t see the relevance of that right now. Getting ready for this big game.”
The former coach who brought in a lot that talent will be on the Atlanta sideline.
“Yeah. I think that’s the relevant thing, is preparing for the Atlanta Falcons defense. They do an excellent job. And getting to know them, that’s where our focus is. We haven’t played them in the two years that we’ve been here. So, it’s a task and challenge to understand what they’re doing schematically.”
When you look at QB Colin Kaepernick’s skills as a quarterback and efficiency since he took up the job, how much does pure speed, how important is that at the quarterback position? He seemed to really show that, another gear on that 56-yard run.
“It’s an asset that he has, a talent. And he’s been able to use that in a number of ways.”
For many years, you just had this record game by a quarterback rushing, for many years in the NFL it was thought conventional wisdom was you couldn’t have a guy run the ball, quarterback run the ball that often, he’d get hurt or whatever. You obviously went the other direction and embraced that. What were the thought processes behind that? Why did you decide to do this?
“Do this? Quarterback-driven running plays? Is that what you’re talking about?”
Yeah, 14 carries for a quarterback is a lot in the NFL. And many years it was said you can’t do that because quarterbacks are too exposed that way. You’re not the only coach who has done that this year. But, what has changed in the NFL that this has occurred in general and specifically with your situation?
“I think quarterbacks that have a talent for running the ball can be very effective. That’s been long known in football, the National Football League as well. A quarterback that can get out of the pocket, run, pick up first downs, that’s a threat that the defense has to account for. There are some quarterback-driven runs that have been added because our quarterbacks are very good at those, and Colin especially It’s already noted that he’s very fast. He’s very good at reading and executing that type of offense. So, that’s the reason.”
On the theme of running quarterbacks, there’s been stories about how when you had Colts QB Andrew Luck already signed that you also were sort of recruiting Redskins QB Robert Griffin III to possibly have a two-quarterback system? I don’t if that you actually said that. Is that accurate, and do you think that could have worked out?
“It’s true that we recruited Robert Griffin, yeah.”
Did you have designs of possibly having a two quarterback system?
“Not necessarily, no. They would have competed for the job and the top player would have played. Again, this is like, is this relevant? It doesn’t seem relevant. Doesn’t seem relevant to what we’re trying to accomplish this week.”
If a reporter is writing about running quarterbacks, it could tie in.
“OK, well good luck with that story and good luck with that story.”
Thank you for your assistance.
Is it a concern that TE Delanie Walker seemed to drop a lot of passes over the second half of the season and on Saturday night?
“He’s caught a lot of passes, too. And it’s something that we’ll look at. I know Delanie will want to get on the jugs and make sure he’s catching those balls.”
Do some of those guys you think struggle with the velocity of Kap’s ball, as far as the adjustment of just?
“I know I do in the pregame. Got to wear gloves. Still drop a few. Ball gets on you real fast.”
Do you see the guys adjusting and getting better in that regard?
“I do. I definitely see the guys adjusting to Colin’s throws. And as you expect through repetition and practice that would occur. It’s been tremendous. [WR] Michael Crabtree, there’s a guy who, name a guy catches the ball better. All he does is continue to just catch and catch and catch and catch the ball, so a tremendous game by him once again. Colin has got the ability to put touch on the ball as well. You saw the ball that he threw to [RB] Frank Gore running to his left. Out of the pocket again he is a threat to run or throw at that point, but kept his eyes up the field and laid a feathered ball in there to Frank and that created a big play in the game. There were several throws – maybe to get off the running quarterback topic – just in terms of Colin throwing the ball. There were throws that were piercing once again in this game where he powered the ball through the defense. Thinking of throws to [WR] Randy [Moss] in the middle of the field, to [TE] Vernon Davis, 45-50 yards the ball is in the air, on a line, to a spot and heck of a grab by Vernon on that particular play. But, I think the theme of this last game, and we played extremely well, certainly not perfect, but it was a great team win for our team and many contributors when you look at what we did. Special teams wise the coverage was outstanding. [S] C.J. Spillman would be the highlighted guy, tackle inside the 11, fumble recovery. Tremendous effort by our group on special teams and defensively as well. To get stops against the Green Bay Packers, any stop, anywhere on the field is a great effort. But to get the turnover by [CB Tarell] T-Brown, [LB] Patrick Willis I thought had a heck of a game, we already noted Justin. Really great team defense, maybe not the highlight sticker that some of the offensive players got in this game but I thought they played really well as a unit.”
You were able to control Packers LB Clay Matthews and protect Colin, run the ball. Was this one of your offensive line’s better games or just a continuation of what you’ve been seeing most of the year?
“Well, I think [T] Joe Staley in particular and [G] Mike Iupati – Mike graded out the best game he’s had since we’ve been with him. So, tremendous game by Mike and Joe, both were playing great football. Then again, the offensive line is a unit, when you put in[C] Jonathan Goodwin and [G/T] Alex Boone, efforts of [T] Anthony Davis, to rush the ball for over 300 yards is about as good as you can do. Those guys really deserve a lot of credit up front. They’ve been healthy, they’ve played through nicks. Toughness is a talent. Just like running ability for a quarterback, toughness is a talent that our offensive line has shown that they have and they continue to do well. As a team we’ll plow ahead and get ready for this week.”
How is Staley’s arm? Do you have any update on that?
“No, haven’t talked to Joe today.”
Can you elaborate on the receivers that Atlanta has, Falcons WR Roddy White, Falcons WR Julio Jones and Falcons TE Tony Gonzalez and just what makes them challenging?
“Yeah, and Gonzalez. It’s a big task, it’s a big challenge when you look at the way – and it’s been designed that way by them and they’ve put together a tremendous receiving unit that you can’t pay too much attention to just one guy because several can hurt you. They’re good.”
It’s been a long time since the Niners have won a playoff road game, are you even aware of that streak?
“Yeah, I heard that people were saying that this week.”
You were the backup quarterback when they beat the Bears in 1989, their last win on the road. Any recollections from that game?
“Yeah, I remember Jerry Rice catching a ball down the Niners sideline. Cold as heck, we got whipped.”
You’re in rarified air here with back-to-back championship games. Are you going to bring in any guys from the past, maybe a Jerry Rice or anything? Just to talk about the legacy of this team in terms of the playoffs.
“That’s a possibility. Good suggestion. I think mainly we’re going to plow ahead. We’re going to continue our humility and work ethic and those will be the cornerstones of our preparation this week.”
You’re going to Atlanta on Friday?
You had a close knit team last year, especially on defense. It seems like it’s even closer now and it’s gone over to the offense too, where guys just seem to gravitate toward each other more. Do you notice that or is that something I’m making up? What do you attribute that to?
“Thanks for noticing that. We want to be about that. But I don’t think it’s attributed to anything, I think it’s just who we are as a team, who our players are. It’s a talent and it’s character. I’ve always thought that about our team.”
How much of that comes from players recognizing that other players are quote unquote, there for them, sort of have their back and just realize that we’re all in this thing together and we’re doing OK?
“Yeah, I think that’s where it comes from. Being a great teammate, doing the best to your God-given ability each and every time is a great gift that you can give another man, to have his back. That’s a strong phrase, but I don’t think that’s just something our guys talk about, I think it’s who they are.”
Having their back, does that kind of go back to the core group of guys who were here when you got here and have been through a lot together and hadn’t gotten over that hump to be a winning team?
“Yeah I definitely think it goes back to the guys. It’s what it is, it’s the guys, it’s the ways. It’s the guys that you have, it’s the ways that you do things.”
You mentioned earlier that you struggled catching Colin’s passes pregame. Can you elaborate a little bit about what that’s like and is it comparable to any other quarterback you’ve caught passes from?
“I don’t know that I compare it really. I’m catching [QB] Alex’s [Smith] too and sometimes I’ll drop a Colin ball, I’ll drop an Alex ball and I beat myself up for dropping them. I try to go through every pregame without dropping a ball. I know [QB] Scott Tolzien’s over there counting them and he always gets a chuckle when I drop one. So just keep striving for perfection, but they make it difficult.”
How many drops did you have Saturday?
“How many drops Saturday? Two.”
One from each quarterback?
“I think I had one from each, yeah. I even dropped one from Scott. I come out and I catch for Alex in the pregame and dropped one from Scott. Three, correction. Stand corrected.”
I know you don’t like to compare, but this is your second straight year in the NFC title game, is it different this time? How much does it help to have played in that game last year and is this team different because it played in that game last year? Is this a different kind of feel coming into this game?
“The feel is what I said, that we are just going to plow ahead with our focus on studying for the test and then go out and compete like maniacs. We know it will be us against them, they’ll keep score. So as far as difference, no.”
Understood, maybe I’ll rephrase it. Are you better prepared to play this game this year because you played in that game last year?
“We’ll find that out on Sunday. Right now our focus and expectations are what I said they were.”
You faced the top five quarterbacks from last year to this year during the regular season. Does facing those types of quarterbacks help in any way to face QB Matt Ryan this Sunday or do you have to treat him differently as well?
“Everything that you’ve done prepares you for where you’re at and even playing in dome games. That gives some experience and definitely played a lot of top flight quarterbacks. Matt Ryan certainly is that, but at the same time we’ll treat it as preparation for the Atlanta Falcons.”
Jim, what does it say about your family that there’s two brothers who have coached teams to conference championship games two years in a row?
“I don’t know what it says. I’m proud of my brother and what he’s accomplished and proud of our guys for being in the position they’re in and ready to forge ahead.”
Rare position though two brothers, don’t you agree? It’s rare to have two brothers do that. I think we can probably count on one hand.
“Yeah, I don’t have that list.”
LB Aldon Smith, I think he hasn’t had a sack in four game. How much has the law of averages or do you see offenses doing things to move the quarterback away from him or add to the protection against him?
“Yeah, they’re definitely going to account for Aldon Smith.”
But more than you were seeing say the first half of this season when he was on quite a run of sacks?
“I can’t say that one way or the other.”
So do you have any explanation for…
“Why he hasn’t gotten a sack every single game or two sacks every single game? That’s really hard to do. He’s been effective. He’s playing effective and doing a heck of a job. That’s good and that’s what we want to do, we want to strive for perfection, keep chasing that. But you guys are good at pointing out every single spot that we haven’t quite gotten to that point.”
You mentioned Matt Ryan, what impresses you most about him?
“Just about everything. He’s a smart heady quarterback, one of the top in the league.”