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Saints have advantage in playoff experience

By Janie Mccauley

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Jan. 12 2012 2:55 p.m. MST

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Center Jonathan Goodwin has been going around San Francisco's locker room offering bits of veteran insight here and there. Playoff knowledge, Saints knowledge.

The NFC West champion 49ers have eight players who have been to the postseason previously. The New Orleans Saints? A whopping 39 before their victory over Detroit last weekend.

"I think some of the guys who didn't get a chance to go to the playoffs in the past, they're hungry," 49ers tight end Vernon Davis said. "They're really hungry. I don't know what it's going to be like, I just know I'm playing in the playoffs. I try not to get too excited because I want to keep myself under control."

That's where Goodwin comes in.

Among the key offseason acquisitions for San Francisco, Goodwin is one of those playoff-tested guys for the Niners (13-3). He won a Super Bowl ring with the Saints two years ago.

"Should be pretty fun," Goodwin said. "Hopefully my experiences seeing that defense a lot during training camp and sometimes during the season will be valuable."

When the 49ers head into their first postseason appearance in nine years Saturday afternoon against Drew Brees and the high-powered Saints (14-3), quarterback and 2005 No. 1 draft pick Alex Smith will be just one of many San Francisco regulars making postseason debuts and taking their most significant steps yet onto the NFL's big stage.

Of the eight 49ers who have been to the postseason before, one is little-used wide receiver Brett Swain, another is long snapper Brian Jennings and also record-setting kicker David Akers. Jennings is the only player still around from the 49ers' 2002 playoff season, when San Francisco rallied to stun the New York Giants 39-38 in their NFC wild-card game.

From star linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman, to Davis, running back Frank Gore and left tackle Joe Staley, punter Andy Lee and even safety Donte Whitner, this will be a monumental first.

What a difference from the dominating Saints, with almost an entire roster of men who have played such important games before this year. The 49ers are considered an underdog again — a role first-year coach Jim Harbaugh relishes — this week despite playing at home in sold-out Candlestick Park.

San Francisco earned the NFC's No. 2 seed over the Saints, who did their share of scoreboard watching late in the season in hopes of stealing the second spot and a first-round bye.

"The bigger the games get, I think you fall back on your routine and your preparation," Smith said. "What you've always done, the things that got you here. Continue to fall back on all those little things."

Brees will be up against a stingy San Francisco defense that allowed only three rushing touchdowns and all in the final two games — and the Niners had 38 takeaways to only 10 turnovers for a plus-28 turnover differential. That matched the second-best mark in NFL history.

Now, back in the postseason, the 49ers face the daunting task of trying to slow down Brees, whose versatile offense produced a playoff-record 626 yards in Saturday night's 45-28 win over the Lions. Brees threw for 466 yards and completed 33 of 43 passes — and no doubt will provide the toughest test yet for San Francisco's deep and talented defense.

Darren Sproles ran for two touchdowns against Detroit and Pierre Thomas also rushed for a score.

The 49ers realize the challenge — and plan to stick with what got them this far. They have lost the last six meetings with New Orleans.

"I haven't been to the postseason in my life," safety Dashon Goldson said. "I won a championship in high school. But other than that, no. ... We've got a good chance."

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