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October 16, 2012
Oh, thaaaat's who he is: Willis softens on Millen, readies for Lynch


After a day to cool off - and to figure out who Matt Millen is - Patrick Willis had a more measured response to Millen's comment that the 49ers linebacker struggled against the Giants.

"It was kind of emotional, especially coming after the game," Willis said Tuesday in front of his locker. "... I probably said some things that I probably wouldn't say. I apologize for those things and I have all the respect in the world for those guys that have played this game before me and have played it at a high level."

A day earlier, Willis was in a fighting mood.

It began when Millen, who played 12 seasons in the NFL, including two for the 49ers, was interviewed on 95.7-FM Monday and said that Willis and fellow inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman had an atypically subpar game against New York. "They'll come back from this, but yesterday was not a good day for them," Millen said. "That's the worst I've seen those two play."

When those comments were relayed to Willis on a separate interview on 95.7-FM, the inside linebacker didn't seem to know Millen's background.

"Whoever this Matt Millen guy is, I'd like to ask him if he could do what we do every day and do what we do for 16 games a year and see if he can hold up every game," he said. "I doubt he would. I doubt he would be able to consistently play at a high level as Bowman and I do. I really don't care about what this guy has to say."

For the record, Millen has been overwhelmingly complimentary of Willis and Bowman in the past. Millen also spent eight seasons as the Lions general manager and currently is a college football analyst.

By Tuesday, Willis had realized his error. But he still bristled at criticism in general following a loss. "When you go out and make the same mistakes when you win, nobody says anything," he said. "It's water under the bridge and they're patting you on the back. But as soon as you lose, they find every little critical thing to criticize you over."

Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw ran for 116 yards Sunday, doing most of his damage in the fourth quarter when the game was out of reach for the 49ers. Bradshaw had 59 yards at the end of the third quarter.

Asked about Millen's comment, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio seemed to agree. "It was subpar for all of us in that fourth quarter," he said. "We didn't play the run well."

Willis, Bowman and the rest of the 49ers defense will get a chance to make amends Thursday against the only running back to rush for more than 100 yards against them last year, Seattle's Marshawn Lynch.
The former Cal star rushed for 107 yards and also scored the first rushing touchdown of the season against the 49ers on Dec. 24. Willis, however, did not play in that game. In the 2011 season opener at Candlestick Park, Lynch had 33 yards on the ground.

"Their running game is the bread and butter of their offense," Fangio said. "And everything works off of that. He's one of the best backs in the league. He's the best back we played last year by far. He broke more tackles than any back we played against last year. He broke the most against us."

-- 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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