Last year at this time, there was a giddy feeling in the locker room. The team had just beaten the Saints in dramatic fashion, and the 49ers suddenly and unbeleivably found themselves within a win of going to the Super Bowl. This year, the 49ers expected to be in the same position, and the atmosphere is all business.
"I think everybody feels it," said defensive end Justin Smith, one of the players who sets the tone for the 49ers players. "The majority of those guys in that locker room were here last year and felt the disappointment. We were so excited after winning the Saints game. I didn't feel the same - like, oh, we did it! and this and that - after the Packers game. And we beat a heck of a team in the Packers."
Other players echoed Smith today.
"This year, it feels like we have a completely different level of confidence," linebacker Larry Grant said. "We know what we're capable of, and we're acting on it this year. Last year, it was still new. We went from a below .500 team to the best in the NFC last year or damn near the best year in the NFC. This year we understand things a little bit more."
One of Smith's themes, which began in the spring, has been windows of opportunity and how the 49ers must take advantage of them while they're open. The veteran defensive end is a case in point - playing with abandon Saturday against Green Bay despite a partially torn triceps tendon in his left arm.
Smith today said he came out of the game well and that, with a game under his belt, he should be even more comfortable Sunday against the Falcons. Smith is playing with a 16-ounce brace made of hollowed carbon fiber on his left arm. To read more about the brace, click here.
"It's a love-hate relationship right now," he said of the brace, which restricts movement at the elbow. ". ... It's doing its job. It felt pretty strong, and like I said, doing anything a second time is better than the first time. So I expect it will be a lot better, a lot more comfortable and everything."
- Matt Barrows