49ers prepare to take one more step: to Super Bowl
The sting of a Super Bowl near miss stuck with linebacker Parys
Haralson for months.
He thought about it as he worked out in the offseason and
prepared for a new year that brings even greater pressures. And
Haralson is hardly the only one on the San Francisco 49ers still
bothered by just how close they came to reaching the NFL’s showcase
event in Jim Harbaugh’s first season as coach: three points, in
overtime, a loss on their own field to the eventual champion New
”I think we feel like we came up short last year,” Haralson
The 2012 team is built not only to return to the postseason this
time but reach the Super Bowl. General manager Trent Baalke brought
back all 11 defensive starters for one of the league’s best units
of last year – almost unheard of in this age of free agency. Baalke
brought in Randy Moss after a year out of football along with
former Giant Mario Manningham to upgrade a receiving corps that
failed to come through in the NFC title game, and added another
Super Bowl champion in Brandon Jacobs to boost the depth at running
back behind three-time Pro Bowler Frank Gore.
These Niners are chasing the championship this year with
everything they’ve got, a new stadium being constructed all around
them to serve as motivation of bigger things still to come.
”The way it works here, we have higher expectations and have
our own expectations,” quarterback Alex Smith said. ”I don’t
think we pay much attention, I really don’t, to what else is going
on. To what people, what they’re guessing, what they think we’re
going to finish. We all know what they thought we were going to
finish last year and how right they were about that. So, it’s no
different this year. It’s all about what we expect and we have to
go out there and we have to do it.”
The 49ers re-signed Smith, the 2005 No. 1 overall draft pick who
is coming off the best showing in his seven NFL seasons, for three
more years in March.
The 28-year-old Smith threw for 3,150 yards and 17 touchdowns
with only five interceptions as San Francisco went 13-3 to win its
first division title since 2002.
Harbaugh can already tell Smith is clicking with Moss and
Five times Smith rallied his team from behind, including four of
those away from Candlestick Park to help the Niners go 6-2 on the
road. His 14-yard touchdown pass to Vernon Davis with 9 seconds
remaining in the NFC division playoffs lifted the 49ers to a 36-32
victory against Drew Brees and the Saints.
In late May, Harbaugh addressed what he called an ”erroneous
perception that we were flirting with Peyton Manning” even though
the coach and others flew to North Carolina to work out the 11-time
Pro Bowl quarterback.
Manning wound up in Denver, while Smith wound up with a new deal
worth up to $33 million.
The 49ers pulled off a remarkable resurgence last year without
even having an offseason together because of the lockout. San
Francisco snapped an eight-year drought without a winning season or
”We feel, obviously, much further along than we were last
year,” left tackle Joe Staley said. ”Last year we were really
just diving into the playbook and trying to wrap our head around
Yet, even Harbaugh himself won’t say they can top the 2011 win
total with a daunting schedule that begins Sept. 9 on the road at
Harbaugh hasn’t changed much in his second go-round, still
sporting his signature look of black fleece pullover sweatshirt and
khaki pants. Day in, day out. That’s Harbaugh.
And he’s always ready to praise his players. There will
certainly be plenty more chants of ”Who’s got it better than us?
”The neat thing about these guys, these professional football
players, and always felt this way as a player as well, is that
they’re not the ordinary people that are out there walking
around,” Harbaugh said when asked about players returning from
injury. ”They are different. They’re some of the world’s most
perfectly formed men.”
The Niners’ opportunistic defense anchored by All-Pro Patrick
Willis, Justin Smith and linebacker Aldon Smith would like to carry
on a special thing it started last season, when San Francisco
ranked No. 1 at stopping the run.
”We played well as a defense and as a team, and we were only in
the system for one year. It means a lot that they brought back all
of those guys,” Haralson said. ”It gives us another year to work
together, play together. It’s not like everybody’s out there
learning something new.”
San Francisco became the first team in NFL history not to give
up a rushing touchdown through the first 14 games. The 49ers also
went 36 straight without allowing a 100-yard runner.
Both streaks were snapped by Seahawks star Marshawn Lynch in San
Francisco’s Dec. 24 win at Seattle.
They allowed only three touchdowns rushing total, and the Niners
had 38 takeaways to 10 turnovers for a plus-28 turnover
differential. That matched the second-best mark in the NFL since
The 49ers hope they still have some momentum from all those
milestones heading into a new year.
”That’s always the plan,” Haralson said. ”The main goal is to
win games. It’s one of those things that burns when you come that
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