**WR Hakeem Nicks
Q. They're such a good tackling team, do you think you'll be able to get all those yards after the catch against them?A: **Yeah, I think we'll be able to do what we need to do. I feel like we're confident in our run after the catch. They're definitely a physical team; they've got some safeties that like to come down and hit but I feel we'll be good as long as we take care of what we have to do and just catch the ball first and not care who's coming at you.
Q. Is there something special that you do that allows you to get all those yards after the catch?A:* *Being decisive once I make my move: catch the ball first, once I catch the ball, look up field and make a move from there.
Q. Coach said you have to be careful because they're aggressive and they try to strip the ball out a lot.A:* *Yeah, exactly. They definitely go for the ball once you get out in front of them and they're trailing behind you; they try to strip the ball. But, you know, we've just got to have ball security.
Q. Coach said Eli had stomach problems today and had to leave practice early, what did you notice about him at practice?A: I didn't really notice anything about him, honestly. Apparently he had to leave because of his stomach but I don't feel like it was nothing serious.
Q. How much do you think this is going to affect Eli?A: I don't think it's going to affect him at all. He's alright, he's as tough as they come.
Q. Can you describe the reactions you've been getting about that [Hail Mary] and what do you do for an encore?A: I kind of just treat it as it is now: it's in the past. But the reaction was that it was a great catch –a lot of people have asked me how I caught it. You know, just great concentration on my behalf; just going up, being physical and strong, going up to get the ball.
Q. How did you reduce turnovers? What was the message from Kevin Gilbride?A: We studied ourselves. From a receiver's standpoint: it was a lot of tipped balls, not looking the ball all the way in, making moves before you catch the ball, not tucking the ball after you catch it, it was little stuff like that; not getting to the depth point in your route and the ball comes too soon. So we just had to critique ourselves, get back down to the basics: work on the timing, work on looking the ball in once we catch it.
Q. How does the battle with the 49ers' DBs change in the rain?A: I think it's just paying attention to details in your route. You've got to be more detailed in your route coming in and out of your cut, looking the ball all the way in because the ball could be a little wet, but you know, I think it's just a matter of concentration.
Q. We know you have large hands, how much of an advantage is that? Do you just kind of reach out? Is it an advantage?A: You can, but at the same time, you can't have large hands and not catch. But it works to my advantage 'cause I'm a hands catcher; I like to pluck the ball out of the air once I see it.
Q. Does mud affect your ability to run?A: It's just a matter of having your nose over your toes in your route; not leaning back in your route. You might have to switch up your cleats a little bit, get a little bit longer spikes in your cleats to catch you a little bit, but like I said, I think it's just mostly paying attention to details in your route.
Q. We know your hamstring had been bothering you most of the season, when did that stop being an issue?A: Probably right around that last game against Dallas is when I stopped feeling it. It wasn't great but I was able to start running full stride a little bit and till now it hasn't been bothering me at all so I'm good with that.
Q. Right now you're 60 minutes away from the Super Bowl. Did you always think about playing in the Super Bowl as a kid growing up?A. I think as I got older in my football career and as I started understanding it more and knowing I was able to go to college to play football, I knew it was always a dream that I wanted to do: to play in the Super Bowl. But we can't look past this San Francisco 49ers team. We've got to take this week and once we get past this week, then we'll look toward that.
Q. You mentioned possibly switching to longer cleats, is that something each player decides on his own or is that something that the team says "we're going to do this"? How does that work?A. I think it's kind of up to us as players but the equipment staff brings both cleats and we try them out before the game so whichever ones we feel like we need to use or whichever one was the best one for us to use, that's the one we'll use.
Q. How different are the cleats?A. Just a little longer. The spikes might be a quarter inch or half an inch longer than the other ones, so just longer spikes.
Q. How does it make you feel that as a team you've kind of exceeded expectations this season?A. It makes me feel good but I think we always knew what we were capable of doing. We know that they put a question mark on us at the beginning of the season but that's what guided us forward through it; when you doubt us, we look forward to stepping up to the challenge and I feel like we've been doing that all season. We've remained humble about it, we're confident in ourselves and we've got a good quarterback to trust in.
Q. With the 49ers having the best rush defense in the league, maybe you have to throw more than you did when you played them earlier this year, how much do you think Eli is looking forward to that?A. I feel like he's looking forward to it but we're going to remain in our game plan, doing what we have to do. Our running game is going to have to play fast in this game to set the tone a little bit, but I feel like we'll do whatever we have to do to make plays on offense.
Q. How difficult is it to cut back on natural grass and in the mud?A. I don't think it'll be too difficult. Being a pro, you play in all kinds of conditions. Last week in Green Bay we had to wear longer spikes due to their grass but I think it's just like I said: it's paying attention to details in your routes, having your nose over your toes, being at the right depths during your routes and everything.
Q. Is the mud harder on wide receivers or defensive backs?A. I feel like it's always to the receivers' advantage because we know where we're going on a route. DB's are just guessing or playing their coverage. So I always feel like it's to the receivers' advantage because we know what we're going to do during our routes.
**Safety Antrel Rolle
Q: What makes Vernon Davis so dangerous?**A: He's an NFL tight end. He's good at what he does. He's very explosive, a deep threat. Once he gets the ball he can get up field. He can make defenders miss. I think that's what makes him pretty special at his position.
Q: Is he comparable to some of the guys you've played?A: I think he possesses different talents. I think they all possess different talents. I think he's a lot faster than pretty much every tight end that you're going to face in this league. I think he's definitely amongst the fastest, if not the fastest. I think that's what puts him over the edge in the tight end category.
Q: How hard is it to block out the Super Bowl and concentrate on this upcoming game?A: You think about it. I think that's what keeps you driving, but at the same time we have to take it one game at a time, one play at a time. I think that is our primary focus and that's going to be our only focus going into this game.
Q: How will the stomach bug affect Eli Manning?A: It's not going to affect him. Eli will be fine. Nothing's going to stop him at this point. I'm pretty sure a lot of us feel the same way. He's our leader. I'm sure he's going to come out there, be prepared and lead us on Sunday.
Q: How will the DB/WR matchup change in the rain and mud?A: It's not going to affect us much. We just have to react to it. It may alter their game plan a little bit and probably make them run the ball a little bit more and slow up their slows a little bit – nothing that any player in the NFL hasn't faced before. We've played in muddy games, rainy games, snow. It doesn't matter what it is. We've all been a part of those games so I don't think the weather is going to have much effect on the game at all.
Q: How does a defense practice for the mud and rain?A: It's not anything that you practice. You make sure that you have the proper equipment, maybe get some studded cleats that can grip the ground and stick in the ground a little bit harder. You play the game. You can't worry about the weather conditions. That's out of our control. That's nothing we can control. That's nothing we're going to try to control. Just keep your eye on the prize. Let's focus on this game.
Q: Are other guys sick?A: I don't know. I didn't even know Eli came down with a bug until [Rachel Nichols] told me. We're just going through the motions of practice, trying to make sure that we have the best up-tempo practice that we can have.
Q: Hakeem Nicks said that the mud creates an advantage for the receiver because he knows where he's going. Do you agree with that?A: That's Hakeem's statement. That's not my statement. I'm a defender. I don't feel that there are any advantages when you're playing the game of football. We're both going to be playing on the same field. [Wide receivers] know what they're doing when the field is dry. I think it's the same scenario, to be honest with you.
Q: Do you remember the feeling of going to the Super Bowl with the Cardinals?A: I'm not trying to cut you short, but we're not answering questions about the Super Bowl right now. I'll answer all of the questions you want about San Francisco, but questions about the Super Bowl I'm not going to answer.
Q: What does the secondary need to do against a quarterback that can run like Alex Smith?A: We're going to play our game. We're going to play our game. We faced a guy, Aaron Rodgers, last week that can run just as well as Alex Smith. I played against him twice a year in Arizona so we're very aware of his capabilities. He is a great athlete as far as running the ball and throwing the ball. With that being said, we're going to rally to it. We're going to rally to it. I can promise you one thing, he won't run the ball too much.
**DE Justin Tuck
Q: How does weather affect the game?**A: Nothing. You have to play in it too. I think it's supposed to rain out there all week or something like that. How I look at weather is that the other team has to deal with it too. I like playing football regardless of snow, sleet, sun, whatever. It doesn't really stop what we want to do, we just change some things.
Q: If Manning doesn't have a normal week of practice how will that affect things?A: He'll be ready. We're not worried about that.
Q: Do you think the 49ers will be able to repeat what they did in the final minutes of their last game against your defense?
A: I guess time will tell. Obviously they had a great run there. I think a lot of people were surprised considering that's not how their team has won their games—coming from behind, things like that. They stepped up and made plays when they needed to make them. Obviously they have a very talented football team.
Q: How much has Jason Pierre-Paul grown?A: I think he has grown a lot. We still talk about a lot of different things. I think the biggest difference is he has so much talent that a lot of the things he comes and asks me about, he plays it correctly anyway just off of him being as talented as he is. He did a great job this year. Regardless of the numbers he's had, he's always been that type of guy who wanted to learn more about football. Up until this year he hadn't played that much, so he's done a great job with that. With all the success he's had, he hasn't changed a bit. He's still in the meeting room with us asking the questions that need to be asked pertaining to him getting better. So far, he surprised me with that.
Q: What did you think when you saw Osi Umenyiora's strip sack on film?A: We've seen a lot of that, so it wasn't like I was surprised. It just seemed like it happened at the right time. It could have been a big play for Green Bay, but that's why we have 11 guys on the football field. We have each other's back and sometimes you're going to need that. Sometimes somebody is going to be in the wrong position and you can cover a lot of that up by 11 guys playing as one.
Q: Did he also beat a man to the inside?A: Looks like he's healthy, huh?
Q: Looks like he has been doing more than coming off of the edge?A: A lot of people like to pigeon-hole Osi, but I always say he's one of the more complete defensive ends we have in this league.
Q: Tom Coughlin said earlier that you are blocking out distractions, is that more about blocking out pain or people questioning you?A: Both. It's been one of those years where when it just seems like when you seem like you have it right and your body is starting to feel good, something else happens. When that happens, obviously there are going to be people questioning you about where your heart is and things like that. My teammates know where my heart is, my coaches know where my heart is. I just came to the realization that I'm not going to be healthy this year, I'm not going to put up the stats that I've put up. But that doesn't mean that I can't help this football team win games. At the end of the day, that's the end goal. That's what I mean about blocking all the other stuff out.
Q: What is it about road games that this team loves so much?A: It's just the concept of us against the world, I guess. You don't have anything else to fall back on except your teammates. I think that goes a long way with building trust, with building that belief in the fact that, regardless of who we go face, if we just take that corps of guys, those 53 guys and the coaching staff and owners on that plane going to wherever we go, we can come out victorious. That's just a mindset that has been instilled in us ever since Coach Coughlin has been here.
Q: How much does momentum play a factor?A: I think we are a team that is ascending. Obviously the last couple of weeks we have played pretty well in just about every phase of the game. I know it's cliché to say, but we're going to need our best game this week in all three phases. San Francisco and us are kind of built the same. We're consistent on defense, we have offenses, ours might be a little more explosive, but obviously they showed they have that knack too in that New Orleans game. It's going to be a really good game, but momentum for us right now is sky high. It's something that we hopefully can continue to ride into the Super Bowl.
Q: How much do you have to worry about Vernon Davis?A: We don't worry about anybody; it's all about what we do. Will we have something in store to kind of slow him down? Sure we will. But at the end of the day, we're not going to put too much emphasis into what they do, as long as we do what we do. Vernon had a great game and he's a great athlete and great tight end. It seems like other than quarterbacks, tight ends are having a big year this year. I know he's going to be a tremendous focal point for us going into that football game, but at the end of the day it's about what we do.
Q: Was it tough for you to be a vocal leader this year?A: How I like to lead is by example, by going out on the football field and doing it. So, this year has been tough for me in that regard, as far as leadership, but there are growing things for me too. Learning how to still get your point across without doing it on the football field, which I previously liked to do. But the one thing that I learned this year is the guys respect what you've done. A lot of times I wouldn't say anything and guys came up to me and said 'Why are you so quiet' or 'Why do you do this or do that.' And I would tell them why. They came to me and were like, 'You know what? You don't have to worry about that. We know you're not 100%, we know that doesn't stop you from being a leader.' I guess I got that okay from other players to still be the vocal leader and still be showing leadership even though I wasn't doing it on the football field at times.
Q: Was that meaningful to you to hear your teammates say that?A: Yeah, because at the end of the day, the only people who really matter are the people you play for and play with. As long as they appreciate what you do and they know you're giving it your all, it doesn't matter what people outside say. At the end of the day, that went a long way for kind of getting me mentally on track I guess.
Q: Was that the epiphany of your year?A: I guess that would have been the epiphany of my year. At the end of the day, I think it was a lot of things. Coach Coughlin's conversation, I've had conversations with several players. Being home by myself looking in the mirror. There have been a lot of things that have, I guess, pushed me to just say, 'You know what, just go play football and whatever happens, happens.'
Q: Was there a temptation to say something to people who questioned you?A: There are temptations to say a lot of things. Like I said, just go play football.
Q: Can you take anything from the last game against San Francisco with Frank Gore not completely healthy?A: You can kind of see what their blocking schemes were. Like you said, he was kind of banged up in that game, so we expect to see a healthy Frank Gore. Obviously it's going to be a huge challenge for us. He has been a workhorse for them, not only this year, but also years in the past too. I'm sure they're going to try to establish their running game with Frank and with Hunter. Hunter is a good change-up back for them. It's going to come down to us being able to stop that. They're a smash-mouth type of football team. They're going to stick with it until you stop it. They repeat plays, and for good reason. If I was playing a Madden game and I loaded up the box and ran it all game, I wouldn't change it either. That's going to be kind of part of our [mentality]. Man on man, just making sure we get them out of their game. If we are able to do that, we stand a good chance to come out with a win. If not, it's going to be a long day in San Fran.
WR Victor Cruz Q: Is it hard to not look past this game because of what is ahead?A: Not really. It's good to look ahead. It's good to understand what we're playing for. We have to understand the task at hand and what bridge we have to cross in order to make it to our ultimate goal. San Francisco is that bridge right now.
Q: What do you think your 99-yard touchdown did for this team's confidence?A: It's tough to tell. I think it kind of boosted our confidence as far as just having momentum and understanding that whenever we needed those big plays. In certain games where we were kind of low and needed a big play and I was the person to do that and I was the person to create that opportunity for us, I think it boosted everybody's momentum and got everybody's spirits up and we understood that we were a good team. We've been flying high since then.
Q: Is there anything special you can do against a team that tackles very well?A: No, we just have to continue to play our game. Due to this offense, we are able to hopefully catch the ball and catch it in space and be able to do the things we like to do with the ball in our hands. That'll be a test for us. We understand their secondary is really good at coming downhill and making good tackles. It'll be a challenge for us.
Q: How much of the receivers' ability to get yards after the catch can be attributed to Manning's ability to put the ball in the right spot?A: I think it kind of goes hand in hand. I think it's a little bit of both. I think the location of the football allows us to catch it in stride and be able to see the defender in front of us and be able to make a move by the time you catch the ball as opposed to it being a little behind us where we'd have to stop and it would take a second off of potentially getting that extra yard or two. A lot of it has to do with where the ball is placed and a lot of it has to do with our natural ability.
Q: When you see Manning leave practice with the flu, what is your first thought?A: Nothing really, he just has the flu. We understand that he's sick and it's tough to practice under those circumstances, under those conditions. Hopefully he can get well soon and he'll be back out here with us.
Q: Do you have any concerns your timing will be off at all?A: No, not at all. As long as he'll be out here tomorrow and Friday and be out here working with us. It's tough to pull him away from this field. No matter how sick he was, he didn't want to leave the field today, but it's just one of those things where he had to. We understand that, but by no means do I think our timing will be off or anything like that.
Q: Does it become a concern if he misses tomorrow too?A: I don't know. We'll have to wait and see, I guess.
Q: Is there something you think you didn't take advantage of in the first game against the 49ers that you think you can the second time around?A: Nothing that we feel like we didn't take advantage of. Just more of understanding that we wanted to play this team again and we understood that to reach our ultimate goal, it was probably going to have to go through this team. We understood that and now we have the opportunity to do so. We are excited about it, we understand that we came close to beating them earlier this year and we get another shot.
Q: Was there something the 49ers secondary can take away from their first game against you?A: I don't know. It'll be tough. They still have to defend, they still have to be aware of different routes we have and different talents that each receiver has and each receiver possesses. It's still going to be a challenge, more or less, the way the secondary views us, so it should be a good matchup.
Q: How much do you pay attention to the weather?A: I did like I did in Green Bay last week. I put it in my phone and I put the San Fran weather in my phone. I saw it was going to be a little rainy so far, but that was like eight days before the game. Clouds and stuff like to move around, so hopefully those rain clouds can move to the left a little bit.
Q: Some players have said that the field in Candlestick Park is difficult to get your footing.A: It is. It's grass so it naturally has that give to it and that stadium's been around a long time so it's a throwback stadium and the grass is pretty thick. You tend to slide and slip a little bit. If it rains, it will definitely be a challenge for us. It's nothing that we haven't faced before. Green Bay, it was cold and that [field] is slick. Due to how cold it was, the field was rather slick. Whatever challenges come our way we'll have to just take them head on.
Q: Do you, Hakeem and Mario play off of each other during a game in terms of if you see someone make a nice play you want to match it?A: Of course. It's always a thing where us as receivers, we understand that we all make plays and when we see one make a play or the other make a play we want to come out and we want to make some plays too. I think that's what makes us so good, because we understand each other's strengths and we play to that. We come to the sideline and tell each other different coverages, how they're playing us and you know we like to make plays all over the field.
Q: What's something you learned about Carlos Rogers during the game that you didn't know from film?A: I don't know. It's just a matter of seeing him again and understanding that there were some positive things I did against him in the first game. I'm probably going to have to stick to those things. Watching film, he's gotten a lot better since then. He's been doing a lot of good things. It's just a thing where as the game goes on see where he's favoring, see which way he's leaning towards and try to calculate and maneuver off of the way his body is shifting, things like that.
Q: Do you owe him because he copped your dance?A: I guess you guys can answer that question better than I can.
Q: Can you talk about the momentum swing – the way you've been able to covert a lot of third-and-longs and the way your defense has been able to stop a lot of third and fourth-downs?A: It's been huge. Our third-down percentage has been great. It's something we pride ourselves on. All through practice we understand that third downs are always huge, for any football team. But coming down the stretch, to convert these third downs is huge. The fact that we're able to convert those in key situations has been tremendous for us. Our defense has been playing awesome this entire playoffs. If they continue to play like that for this week and God willing the next one, we'll be okay.
Q: Could you have imagined this time last year that you would be holding your first-born and about to play in the NFC Championship game?A: Definitely not. A year ago I was just trying to find my way on this team and was trying to get off of IR and making sure I was healthy, getting ready for next year, watching the end of the season last year and seeing how that turned out. This year has just been a tremendous ride for me. I don't want it to end. We still have some goals in front of us and we want to complete those.