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There were no exuberant celebrations in the 49ers locker room Sunday after San Francisco beat the Rams.
Though the victory secured a No. 2 seed and a bye through the first weekend of the NFC playoffs, the Niners were a contemplative crew.
There were no dances, or laughter or chants of “Bring on the Saints.”
This, after all, is a businesslike group that has gone about its daily duties in a quiet, low-key manner since training camp and through a surprising 13-3 season. Having held on to beat the Rams in a game that almost got away from them, the Niners were just relieved they had taken care of business with a 34-27 victory – and they know the Saints will come soon enough.
“It was a little subdued in here,” safety Donte Whitner told the San Francisco Chronicle’s Eric Branch after Sunday’s win. “And that’s because we understand that we didn’t play as well as we should have played.”
Now, the 49ers have two weeks to get healthy and primed for playoff prime time.
The 49ers will host a divisional-round game at Candlestick Park on Saturday, Jan. 14, at 1:30 p.m. Their opponents will be either the third-seeded Saints if they beat the Lions, or the winner of the Falcons-Giants game.
Earning the bye was important for the 49ers, who now get a chance to piece themselves together again.
Linebacker Patrick Willis, who returned from a hamstring injury to play against the Rams after missing three games, is still not up to full speed. Running back Frank Gore was given the second half off to ease wear and tear. Backup tight end Delanie Walker was out with a jaw injury. Defensive end Justin Smith has a nagging knee injury. And the team’s wide receiver corps, down to just a skeleton crew, needs to heal.
When asked how important it was to earn the bye week, head coach Jim Harbaugh told San Jose Mercury News columnist Mark Purdy: "How bad did we need the bye week? I can’t quantify it. We needed it bad, needed it very bad, needed it really bad. … You can plug in whatever you want.”
Now that the 49ers’ playoff date is set, the date may prove favorable in a matchup against the high-scoring Saints, should the Saints win their first game.
Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group noted that the Saints will play the Lions this Saturday night, then likely fly to San Francisco next Thursday (the 12th) to great ready for the Saturday matchup at Candlestick. “The Saints will be cramming for the Lions this week while the 49ers can rest up their bodies and do extra scouting,” he wrote.
But, the Niners now have plenty of time to get ready for the Saints – or anyone else – they may have to face.
This week, they have a chance to get healthy and get set to make their first playoff appearance since the 2002 postseason. Quarterback Alex Smith says the fact the Niners were able to hang on Sunday to beat the Rams – but weren’t happy with their performance – speaks volumes about how far the team has come this season and how focused they are.
“The mentality of this team has just continued to change and change,” he told Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com. “When you have a team so committed as we are, you expect these types of things to happen.”