January 2, 2003

Q: What is your winning streak attributed to?

A: I think we just kept improving throughout the year. We had some rough stretches this year, but I think we have been getting better and better and keep on improving and improving. I think we have gotten confidence along the way. I think when you play with confidence you always give yourself a chance to win.

Q: Defensively, are the 49ers much different than the first time you met them?

A: No, I don't see a whole lot of differences, as far as scheme or anything. I think they are pretty much, from what I remember, doing the same stuff.

Q: Offensively, are you guys a lot different from the first time?

A: Yeah, I think we are. I think we went through a metamorphosis when Jim took over the play calling duties. He cut out a lot of the shifts and a lot of motions. We are probably a lot more vanilla, in terms of what you see before the snap of the ball. I definitely think you can say that we are different.

Q: And that vanilla is a good thing?

A: It has worked for us. It seemed like it was what we needed at the time. I think we've executed better and we are executing better. I think you see guys playing better and with more confidence.

Q: How has that effected Tiki Barber's status with the team? It seems like he's been on a roll the last few weeks as well.

A: Yeah he has. He's really played well all season. He's got 1,000 yards rushing and he has had a bunch of catches again this year. All around, I think he's played as well as any running back that has played this year.

Q: Can you talk about the importance of the tight end in your offense and Shockey's development this year?

A: I think he's gotten better and I've become more comfortable with him. It takes time between any receiver and quarterback to get to know each other better on the field. He has meant a lot to us. It's given us that threat from inside and the middle of the field that we have been missing around here. He has definitely helped us in creating some balance in our offense.

Q: What kind of match up problems does he create and how much have you looked at Julian Peterson to this point? Have you seen anyone else like him?

A: No, we haven't. He's the kind of guy that can match up with Jeremy's speed. I think that is the thing that people are having trouble with. I think Peterson is as fast as Shockey, maybe faster. We're going to have to be selective with what we do and pick our spots with him.

Q: Steve Mariucci said that you look for him the way Steve Young used to look at Brent Jones. Is that a fair analogy?

A: I don't know if you could make that comparison because that was a great combination for a number of years. Certainly, Jeremy has impressed us with his ability. We certainly do have things for him within the offense each week. He's needed to play well for us and he has. He's been a big reason why we've been able to turn things around.

Q: The offensive line was real big question for you guys. You have a lot of new guys in there. How were you guys able to overcome and develop your offensive line to get to this point?

A: I think a lot of credit has to go to the five guys that you are talking about. They are smart guys, who work hard and take pride in what they do. They are guys who want to prove people wrong. Their hunger has been the biggest reason why they've turned into a good group. Even going into the season with little experience, I think we all knew that they had a chance to become good and with a lot of hard work, I think they have turned into a solid group.

Q: How were you guys able to regroup after losing to the Houston Texans?

A: This is the NFL. If you can't bounce back from losses then you won't go very far. I think one thing about this team is that we have been able to handle adversity well and we haven't lost focus when we've slipped or had a tough game. I think you need to be able to put those things behind you and we were able to do that and make a run near the end of the season.

Q: How much of that is based on you guys making it to the Super Bowl a couple of years ago and how much are you drawing from that experience going into the post season?

A: I think guys are drawing from it. Obviously, we still have a lot of guys that were here. I think we know how hard it is. Last time we went to the playoffs, we had a bye the first week and home field advantage throughout. So, there was a little bit of a difference. We have had to fight and scratch a lot more this year to get back than we did two years ago. I think veteran leaders like myself, Strahan, and a couple of other guys can give the younger guys a good idea of what the playoffs are all about.

Q: Did you consider your offense right handed when Gragg and Stone were there on your offensive line?

A: Yeah. I think especially with Stoney. We really favored the right side. Stoney is a big powerful guy and we were always pulling from the other side and blocking the power stuff with Stoney. I think we did become one dimensional and one sided.

Q: And now you are more balanced?

A: Yeah I think so. We are definitely more balanced than when Stoney was here. We have athletic guys, who are pretty much all across the board up front. Not that Stoney couldn't pull, but his strength was straight ahead and knocking people off the ball, which was great. That is why he is the player that he is. We've just been able to go both ways with Whittle, Seubert, Petitgout, and Rosenthal. Those are guys that are able to both fairly well.

Q: The 49ers have lost three games at home this year. Do you see playing a road game here as not as tough as playing at the Vet or other fields?

A: I've played at Candlestick and I know how loud it can be. I know they had a great home field advantage when I was there. This is the playoffs. It's going to be tough any way you look at it. For us to go on the road out there will be a huge challenge for us. I never thought about it one bit.

Q: When you guys were 6-6, did you have any thought of making the playoffs this year?

A: We certainly knew that we were in a tough spot. We weren't out of it mathematically, but by all intensive purposes, either Atlanta or New Orleans was going to have to have a pretty big collapse and we would have to win the rest of our games. As it turns out, that is what happened. I think you always just keep after it and a lot of times it ends up not being how you start out, but how you finish. We finished the season well and we got the help that we needed.

Q: Why is this a breakthrough year for Amani Toomer?

A: I've seen a level of consistency from Amani this year that I haven't seen from him before and a level of maturity. In the past, Amani seemed to have a rough spot or two throughout the year and this year he hasn't had that. I think he has consistently played better this year week in and week out and it has turned into some real great play on his part.

Q: Are the 49ers defense vulnerable to susceptible to attacking down the field?

A: I don't know. I've watched one or two guys and I don't really see that. They played us really tough here at home. That is what I remember the most. We couldn't run the ball against them. We threw some yards, but we couldn't find the end zone. So, I don't see that with this team.

Q: Are you pleased how everyone compensated with the loss to Ike Hilliard?

A: Yeah. That's been really good to see. Ike was such a big part in what we were doing. The guys who have needed to play have played well...Toomer, Shockey, Barber, myself, Ron Dayne. Of course, it all starts with the offensive line.