When the 49ers resume practice on Tuesday, they’ll be a well-rested bunch.
When the Niners host the Rams on Nov. 11, they will have played just one game over 23 days, a rarity for a team right in the middle of its NFL season.
San Francisco played a Thursday night game against Seattle on Oct. 18, so it had a few extra days off before its next game this past Monday night – then went into its bye week.
The bye week comes right at the midpoint of the 49ers’ season, so the 6-2 team will go into its final eight games well rested and well positioned for another run at the NFC West championship and a second straight trip to the playoffs.
The Niners have a two-game lead in the division, are relatively healthy and well-rested and have collected consecutive wins against their two strongest NFC West challengers in Seattle and Arizona.
Niners defensive lineman Ray McDonald says he can’t ever remember a stretch this long in the middle of a season with having to play just one game, but believes it will pay dividends.
“That’s great for our team because we can get our bodies back and heal up how we’re supposed to,” he told reporters this week.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh even gave his players a couple of extra days off, but knows they’ll come back ready to play.
“The approach is just, they have a bye,” Harbaugh told the Associated Press. “We’re going to take a small breath right now. And then trust that we’ll do the right thing over the break. Guys will continue to work out and we’ll get back to work next week.”
One potential problem that surfaced Thursday morning had dissipated by Thursday night, when early reports that linebacker Aldon Smith – back in Missouri on his days off to watch his alma mater play a football game – had been “jumped” in a Columbia, Mo., restaurant were denied by Smith and later discounted by the 49ers.
Many of the 49ers, however, didn’t leave town and stuck around to continue to work out.
When practice kicks in again on Tuesday, the 49ers say they’ll be eager to get going and work toward the playoffs.
“Now we know when we come back we’ll have at least a two-game lead in the division,” center Jonathan Goodwin told reporters. “Last year was kind of a fluke yar as far as the division race. It’s rare that you have one team run away with the division early in the year. This year’s a little bit more normal. The teams in our division are playing a lot better, and the teams have four great defenses. That’s partly why the division’s a tougher race.”
San Francisco’s first second-half foe, St. Louis, is 3-5 and a step below the Seahawks and Cardinals as division challengers.
After St. Louis, the 49ers’ seven final games will be at home against the Bears; at New Orleans; at St. Louis; at home against the Dolphins; at New England; at Seattle; and at home against Arizona to finish the season.
Said Harbaugh of the team’s bye week and extra time off: “I guess if you had to pick where a bye comes, right in the middle would be good.”