49ers Blog and Q&A

News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

January 10, 2012
Willis, 49ers defense perfectly happy in underdog role


Patrick Willis is perfectly happy to have the national and local media swoon over the Saints offense, to ask him what it'll be like to cover a talented receiving tight end like Jimmy Graham and to chase down a speedy running back like Darren Sproles. In fact, Willis will even add a few stanzas to the Saints myth. "What better way to be the best than to beat the best?" Willis said on Tuesday.

Wait a minute? The best? The Saints are the No. 3 seed in the National football Conference and must go on the road to visit the No. 2 seed 49ers. Does Willis see the 49ers as the underdog in this fight? He does indeed, and he says he and his teammates are comfortable in that role.

"No matter how many people say, 'The 49ers can win and this and that,' we know in the back of their mind that they don't give us a chance to go out there and win that game," Willis said. "But it started day one of training camp. We know it's always been us, the guys in that locker room. It started with us believing in ourselves and knowing it's gotten us this far, so we're going to continue to do that and we'll see."

Willis also forwarded on another great motivational quote that Jim Harbaugh has been imparting on the locker room. "Every time we step on that field, it's about not giving the other teams anything," Willis said. "It's something that coach Harbaugh talks about all of the time - cruelty. It's not giving another person what they want. That's our mindset on defense, to go out and play with everything we have and not give the other team anything. If they do get something, oh well, let's go and take it back."

Tight end Delanie Walker continues to make progress from his broken jaw. Walker's been in the training room every day this week, and he said he's on track to have the metal wiring removed from his mouth on Monday. Walker said he lost eight pounds after the injury but that he's gained it all back.

And - for all the kids out there - here's why it's important to wear your mouth guard. Despite a knee to the chin that broke his jaw in two places, Walker didn't lose any teeth and didn't suffer a concussion from the impact. Why? He was wearing his mouth guard.

Asked about the health of starting defensive ends Ray McDonald (hamstring) and Justin Smith (knee) for Saturday's game, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio gave a terse but optimistic answer. "They're fine," he said.

-- Matt Barrows


Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.


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