SANTA CLARA — The NFL playoffs are a fierce and tumultuous landscape, a realm of exhilarating heights and humbling failures — or so the 49ers have heard. Truth be told, most of these guys haven't visited the postseason any more frequently than they've been to Narnia, the planet Pandora or Quahog, Rhode Island.
"I don't know what to expect," tight end Vernon Davis said in the 49ers locker room this week. "I mean, I'm just going with the flow."
As are most of his teammates. Of the 53 players on San Francisco's active roster, only 11 have NFL postseason history — and that includes just 4 of 22 offensive and defensive starters. The 49ers have captured five Super Bowl championships in their illustrious history, but only three current Niners have played in the game with Roman numerals: center Jonathan Goodwin, kicker David Akers and wide receiver Brett Swain.
The vast majority of SF players? Playoff virgins.
"We got a lot," said safety Dashon Goldson, who counts himself among them. "More than I expected. Everybody's excited about it — so that's good."
Exciting, yes, but the 49ers' lack of postseason experience would have to be considered a disadvantage. NFC qualifiers like New Orleans and Green Bay are replete with players who can flash Super Bowl rings. They are battle-tested in the month of January, while the Niners must figure it out as they go.
So as this team prepares for a second-round game, the players with playoff notches on their belts are suddenly the most popular guys in the room.
"I've talked to a couple of guys," said tight end Justin Peelle, who went to the playoffs with San Diego in 2004 and with Atlanta in 2008 and 2010. "I talked to Vernon a little bit, telling them it's fun, it's exciting, it's something to be enjoyed. You've just got to be ready."
"Ready" is the operational term. Those sage 49ers who can describe the taste of the postseason tend to return to one particular message: Buckle up, because the ride is about to get faster.
"It's a one-and-done now," said Swain, a member of last year's Super Bowl-champion Packers. "So as a team and as a group of guys, we need to be fully alert to anything that comes our way. There's gonna be ups and downs. The playoffs are really a rollercoaster ride. ... It's gonna be second and third efforts that win these games."
Goodwin, who won a title with the Saints in 2009, agrees.
"The thing about the playoffs, you have less guys taking plays off," he said. "Every play could be the end of your season. So my advice is just go out there and play every play as if it's your last."
Because it might be. Your last play of the season, anyway.
One factor working for the 49ers: They did play in some high-pressure games this year. As the runaway winner of the NFC West, they wore figurative targets on their backs for the second half of the season. The Harbaugh Bowl at Baltimore was a nationally hyped game on Thanksgiving Day, and the Giants game was pretty big, too. And down the stretch, the Niners had to keep winning to secure a first-round bye.
"I mean, that Steelers game, that was a playoff atmosphere," Akers said. "Then you go on to the Seattle game, that Seattle game meant a lot to all of us. They're trying to get in the playoffs, we're trying to keep that second seed. That's playoff atmosphere."