It’s the playoffs, baby.
The San Francisco 49ers host their first postseason game at Levi’s Stadium today when Kirk Cousins and the Minnesota Vikings come to town. And though it’s a first for much of the team, the attitude around Santa Clara is to remember what got them here and to stay the course.
“It’s been neat that we were able to start out the way we did, have a pretty good record all year,” said head coach Kyle Shanahan. “But, we’ve never been able to relax at all. When you’re like that, the last five games of the year, I’ve said this throughout the week, they all felt like playoff games because you really like all the good you’ve done to get to where you’re at, none of it matters until you clinched the playoff spot, you get the highest seed you can. We did. Had a couple days to enjoy it. Now we’re just ready to get to this game.”
For quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who has two Super Bowl rings from his time with the New England Patriots, this will be his first playoff start.
“Obviously being the starter and backup is a little different,” Garoppolo said earlier this week. “…I’m trying to prepare the same I have this whole season, treat this week, just go through my routine and everything like that like I normally do. Yeah, like I said before, the energy I think, especially on Saturday in that stadium, will be pretty special.”
It was clear all week that the 49ers were preparing for this game like they have every week. It’s a playoff game, but it’s still football. This is what they do.
“For me personally, feels like another week to be honest,” said defensive lineman DeForest Buckner. “…You can see it around the building, everybody’s pretty even-keeled. We all know what’s at stake. Obviously our first playoff game for a majority of the team…We’re a really young team. Just being able to approach the week like any other, really focusing on the details. Really getting our bodies right off of that Bye has helped us a lot.”
For wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who won a Super Bowl while with the Denver Broncos at, wait for it, Levi’s Stadium, the youth of the team has been a positive.
“When you’ve got guys like [WR] Kendrick [Bourne] walking around the locker room dancing, blasting music, doing all kind of dance moves, it’s kind of hard to not be loose,” Sanders said on Tuesday. “Even this morning, he was in the locker room dancing around, him and [WR] Deebo Samuel, all the rest of the young guys. I looked over at [CB Richard] Sherman, ‘Man, these guys keep us young, man.’ Guys like that are good for the ecosystem of this team. Guys like me and Sherm are good for the playoff experience to let them understand the magnitude of what we need to accomplish. I think we’ve got a well-balanced team.”
Dancing is part of who Bourne is and it helps keep him focused.
“If I was going out there stressing and being uptight and being nervous or whatever, I think it’s just more pressure, more mistakes come from that kind of stuff,” Bourne said. “So what [Sanders is] saying, it’s just, we’re free, we’re playing stress-free, so you see the results when you come in playing free, rather than uptight.”
Sherman agreed, saying “[t]hose kids, this whole season, like I said, it’s no different than any other week. It’s going to be a great, great time. Those guys are going to go out there, have a good time, execute like they know how. But at the end of the day, we leave the storylines and the pageantry to the media and the fans. You go out there and execute, you win. You don’t execute, you go home.”
As many big games as the 49ers have played in over the course of the season – games with playoff atmospheres and playoff implications – they still were not playoff games with the season on the line (at least not literally on the line).
“I don’t know, it feels like another week,” said tight end George Kittle. “If you lose, you’re done, which is a weird feeling. We haven’t had that one yet. I think the whole team has done a really good job of handling their business this week. We had two really good practices last week on the bye week. We’ve had good practices this whole week. Everyone is on top of their stuff, everyone has been in their books. We’re just excited to play football on Saturday.”
Shanahan’s communication with his QB1 this week sums it up best.
“Just be you. Do the same thing you do every single day. Didn’t give him a big message this week. Just talk to him the same way I have every other week.”