Alex Smith has waited a long time to talk playoffs
The 49ers being on the cusp of playoff contention has many of their players excited, particularly those long-suffering ones who have struggled through the last nine years of the playoff drought.
"(This is) something we've talked about every year and now all of a sudden to have it in our hands and the chance to clinch, it's great," quarterback Alex Smith said.
He was taken as the first overall choice in the 2005 draft, which was the third year of a nine-season playoff hiatus. Smith was seen as a possible savior back then, and the 49ers even put him on billboards around the Bay Area and compared him to Joe Montana and Steve Young.
"No question, this is what you work so hard for," Smith continued. We've put ourselves in a good situation and now we just need to go out on Sunday and finish it."
Coincidentally, the 49ers play this Sunday at home against the Rams, the team that ushered them from the playoff race last year. If they win, the 49ers are assured of their first NFC West title since 2002.
Coach Jim Harbaugh has been reluctant to talk to his players about playoff scenarios. It's a topic he said he wouldn't address until December. But now that December has arrived, Harbaugh said he has encouraged playoff talk with his players.
"Sure, not just allow it but encourage it," Harbaugh said. "How do you know where you're going to get to if you don't know what the goal is or where you stand?"
The 49ers are also looking for payback against St. Louis after last year's loss and ousting from the playoff chase.
"Last year we needed to beat St. Louis to get into the playoffs and it didn't happen," tight end Delanie Walker said. "So we are going to take it like it's a playoff game and try to put them in the dirt."
The 49ers also want to put the memory of last week’s 16-6 loss to the Baltimore Ravens behind them, and get people believing they are a legitimate 9-2 team.
"We tried to get it done (offensively) last week and it didn't happen," Walker said. "So now we know it's a big thing to get it done this week. It's big. Practice is high tempo, it might even be full speed."
Walker also explained that the offense will try to feel out the Rams with different personnel groups. The 49ers offense has dipped the last three weeks, particularly in the run game as defenses have geared up to stop them.
Harbaugh said counter-punching is just part of the evolution of his offense, which he hopes to see against the Rams, who ranked last in stopping the run.
"I'm sure that there are some things that they've figured out," Harbaugh said about opposing defenses. "That's something we self-scout and you try to evolve as an offense and that's something we have been doing."
HARBAUGH WAS STRUCK BY THE SUDDEN DEATH this week of one of his former coaches at Stanford.
Former Oakland Raiders defensive lineman Chester McGlockton served under Harbaugh for four years; he also coached 49ers linemen in training camp as part of the Minority Coaches Fellowship.
McGlockton, a four-time Pro Bowler, was 42. He was currently in his second season as a Stanford assistant.
"It was a shock and just sad, sad," Harbaugh said, "just a dear friend, I loved him."
Harbaugh said it was inevitable that he would have hired McGlockton as a 49ers coach.
"He was so positive with the players and the other coaches. He always had coaching advice or spiritual advice," Harbaugh said.
Harbaugh also said McGlockton was his racquetball partner at Stanford and warned that you had to wear your goggles when playing against him.
THE 49ERS’ SUCCESS IS DRAWING ATTENTION far and wide, including from Japan's Nippon television. One of their reporters asked Harbaugh how he turned the 49ers around this season.
"I would say that it's been player-driven, first and foremost," Harbaugh said. "We've had success on the field and it's the players that are leading that. Their work, their sweat, their dedication, their discipline, their intelligence, their study habits."
NEW RAMS WIDE RECEIVER BRANDON LLOYD alienated many 49ers when he was here.
Part of it was due to his hip-hop career. His former teammates didn't like that he wasn't focused on football and that he would constantly be filling the locker room with expletive-filled rifts.
Lloyd said he's still pursuing his hip-hop career and he just sold a song to Spike T.V.
While talking to 49ers reporters via conference call, Lloyd said he was getting mooned by many of his Rams teammates. He said it was hard to focus, and Lloyd was busting up in laughter often during the call.
WITH WIDE RECEIVER BRAYLON EDWARDS MISSING missing practice on both Wednesday and Thursday, that could mean more time for Ted Ginn Jr. and Kyle Williams in the receiver rotation.
Edwards is resting his ailing knee and shoulder.
The 49ers also might be changing up their goal line defense.
While repelling the Ravens on a goal-line stand, they brought in C.J. Spillman at safety. Spillman is an excellent tackler and he hit Ravens running back Ray Rice for a 4-yard loss on second-and-goal from six inches out to eventually force the Ravens into a field-goal try.