49ers have taken to wild-card journey

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Unlike the first two years of the Jim Harbaugh era, the San Francisco 49ers are taking the hard road through the playoffs.

Instead of coming off a bye, the 49ers are preparing for their second playoff game.

It doesn't seem to be bothering them.

Wednesday, 6-foot-8 guard Alex Boone crashed through a sea of reporters to dunk a mini basketball into a garbage can held by another offensive lineman over the head of a clueless quarterback Colin Kaepernick as he conducted his mid-week presser.

The long road apparently is not producing extra stress for the defending NFC champion.

"We're good," San Francisco running back Frank Gore said when asked about having to go play a team coming off a bye. "We're good."

The past two years, the 49ers were the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs and had a first-round bye. This season, despite being 12-4, the 49ers were the fifth seed. They went to frigid Lambeau Field and beat the Green Bay Packers 23-20 in the final seconds on Sunday. They now have to make another cross-country trip to play Sunday at the Carolina Panthers.

If the advance, odds are they will have to win on the road again next week against the Seattle Seahawks to get back to the Super Bowl. Still, this team is not feeling any wild-card journey angst.

In fact, the 49ers might kind of like this road. It's keeping them sharp and they've had plenty of time to prepare for their fortunes.

The 49ers fell to 6-4 in mid-November and suddenly trailed Seattle by three games in the NFC West. They came to terms with the fact that they were going to be a wild-card team and travel.

"Our playoffs kind of started in November," special teams ace Bubba Ventrone said. "At 6-4, it wasn't looking so good. We said 'If won't to stay in it, we got to keep winning.' "

The 49ers have won seven straight games and are playing football better than any team left in the now eight-team tournament. San Francisco is also not worried about the extra game it had to play at Green Bay or about having to stay on the road.

The 49ers know recent history has been favorable to teams in the wild-card round. The last three Super Bowl champions -- the Baltimore Ravens, the New York Giants, and the Green Bay Packers -- came out of the wild-card round. In total, six of the past eight Super Bowl champions have taken that route.

"Hopefully, we can be another," San Francisco safety Donte Whitner said recently.

Other 49ers players have mentioned that history shows the wild-card route is not a death sentence. Clearly, Harbaugh has talked to his team about this. He recently downplayed the 49ers' road.

Much earlier in the season, Harbaugh did say he had his theories of why wild-card teams can be so dangerous in the playoffs. Always one to worry about giving up a secret, he declined to elaborate.

I bet his players know his thoughts. That's why this team is so relaxed right now. They know it can be done and they feel it can be done by them.