Ralph Barbieri and Tom Tolbert interviewed Steve Young on the KNBR this afternoon, and here’s what Young said about the Niners’ upcoming matchup with the New Orleans Saints.
TOLBERT: What’s Alex Smith going through this week? What was it like for you your first home playoff game as a starter?
YOUNG: “Well, way different from me, Tom, because I’d been around so long. I think we had nine playoff games before I finally started one.”
TOLBERT: It’s not like Alex Smith’s a rookie. He’s been around a while, too.
YOUNG: “Yeah, but we played a lot of playoff games. Super Bowls. For me, the expectations…When I finally started a playoff game, if I didn’t win it, it’s a direct route – Vallejo, Reno and then on your way. You’re gone. I lost in the championship game and it was close to that.
“I guess I learned this most effectively in 1987, my first playoff game associated with the 49ers. We played the Vikings and we were a very good team, and we had the Bye, and we had the home (field advantage), and the Vikings beat New Orleans the week before, playing pretty good football, came in on a drizzly day and they beat us down. And it was shock for everyone because it just happened so fast – 60 minutes, just boom. Three hours later you’re out. You’re season’s over. And that’s the thing you really have to hold on to for playoff football, is it happens pretty quick.
“And you as a quarterback can speed that along by making some dumb mistakes. The playoff teams of the 49ers are always good teams, and as a quarterback you don’t want to be the reason why they don’t get a chance to go win you a football game. And so that’s the thing for me as a quarterback – don’t do things early that take the ball out of the hands of the team, a really good team that you don’t give a chance to win because you do some goofball thing early that just handcuffs everybody.
“Week to week in the regular season you can take more risks that way. If I were Alex I would be thinking – and he’s perfectly poised to do this because he’s played that way – don’t make the big mistake early, let this team lead you down the way a little bit, and then you can expand it as people settle in. And then go win the game.
“In playoff football you’ve got to be careful that you as a quarterback don’t end it prematurely for your team.”
Q: If the Niners are going to win this game it’s reasonable to assume they’re going to make like somewhat miserable for Drew Brees – make him uncomfortable. How do the Niners do that? And as a quarterback, what made you uncomfortable out there?
YOUNG: “Pushing the pocket up the middle. It’s the Gilbert Brown, the guy who can collapse the pocket where it’s always in your face. You do not want that push in your face.
“I think Drew’s really too good. The ball is going to come out. And I think the reason the Saints are so good right now is Sean Payton’s play calling – he can call anything and Drew will protect him. So can be really aggressive and not get burned. Usually an aggressive play caller, you get burned a lot, and Drew doesn’t let that happen.
“I worry that they’re going to run the football because you’re so focused on getting Drew. Defenses are forced to make choices, and the choice to me is: ‘Look, we’re going to try to make Drew uncomfortable. We’re going to try to knock him down and get to him and see if we can knock him off his spot and all that stuff.’ But if they run the ball effectively, you can knock him down but Drew will come back – he’s not going to get overwhelmed in the situation.
“To me, I would rather see 30 yards rushing for the game and then take my chances and see how it goes, rather than 115, 130 yards of rushing and we knock him down a few times. So I guess I worry that if they get running the football, then that’s going to be a really tough thing to handle.”
TOLBERT: You look at how good he’s been and how good he was against the Lions, but in that Lions game there were three dropped interceptions, there were two complete breakdowns in coverage where guys were completely running free, so as good as he is and as good as those numbers looked, he gave the Lions some opportunities to make some plays to possibly win that football game, they just didn’t take advantage of them.
YOUNG: “He’ll do that a little bit but not a lot, but even Eli Manning will do that for you. Philip Rivers will do that. Tony Romo will do that for you, like game to game you’re like, ‘Hey there’s going to be a couple lolly pops up there.’ But Drew, game to game you can’t say to yourself, ‘Last week against the Lions this happened, I expect that again.’ It could, but he’s the kind of guy to me that really understand the sophistication of the moment – I’m going to be bigger than the moment. I think he can change his game. I think he can pull it back, he can push it forward, he can get aggressive and then tighten it up, and then if he starts to bleed a little bit he can make sure that that stops. He’s really in control. He understands all the subtleties, and it makes it tough to beat him.”
BARBIERI: Payton said there was no bad blood between him and Harbaugh after that first exhibition game. Harbaugh didn’t say that, though. Do you think he’s still got that in his craw?
YOUNG: “Jim is over-competitive. Jim will race you to the car door. He’ll race you to see how can eat the pizza faster. He’s competitive to the point where you say to yourself, ‘Pick your spots.’
“That answers your own question. There is nothing – whether it’s Jim Schwartz yelling across the field, ‘Know the rules, Harbaugh!’ Well, he’ll never forget that. The hug and everything that happened at midfield – that’s just the beginning. Jim will never forget that. And if he ever plays the Lions again it will be to his death if he doesn’t beat them. That’s who Jim is. There’s no question in my mind that Jim will remember any slight.”
TOLBERT: I know you said you are who you are, but do you think that Harbaugh will have a few wrinkles? A couple different formations? A couple different plays that the Saints haven’t seen before?
YOUNG: “I would hope, because the extra week gives you a chance to actually practice that stuff.
“This a great moment. There’s got to be some plays where you take chances and push the ball and do fun stuff that tells the people watching that we’re not just going to play tight to the vest, we’re actually going to expand and do some funt things. I’ve got to believe there’s those plays.
“To me, this is the best defense in the league, and until I see Drew Brees or Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers do something to this defense that I haven’t seen all year, I’m in. I’m all in with this defense, and I’m going to stay in. I’m going to believe that they can shut down one of these big-three that they’re going to face for the first time this year, that they’ll figure out a way to keep that score 24 or less, and then with these fun plays and a turnover we’ll win this game. That’s how I see it.”