"When you finish the season and you finish with a tough loss, that's something you remember and you really remember forever," Payton said. "There are certain things you learn from. You understand the finality of this time of the year and you never take things for granted. All of us, players and coaches, will all carry that tough loss with us, just as we will the really good wins we have."
The 49ers plan to stick with what got them this far.
They should be fresh and healthy after a week off as the NFC's No. 2 seed. The Saints chased them late in the year hoping to steal the second spot. One thing these Niners don't do is make many mistakes.
They had 38 takeaways to only 10 turnovers for a plus-28 turnover differential, which matched the 2010 Patriots for the second-best mark in NFL history since 1941.
"All the major statistics, they rank very high," Saints wideout Marques Colston said. "I think the No. 1 thing they do is cause turnovers. So obviously that's going to be first and foremost for us this week."
Alex Smith, the 27-year-old 2005 No. 1 overall pick, took care of the ball and threw for 3,150 yards and 17 touchdowns — hardly Brees-like numbers.
"I really don't care. I'm looking to outscore him. He can throw for however many yards he wants to," Smith said. "A lot of different ways to win games in this league. Obviously offensively, they're doing a lot of great things right now. Record-setting offense. It's kind of what you aspire to get to, no question. ... It is what it is. It still comes down to scoring more points than the other team and that's what we're looking to do."
San Francisco turned things around at last with Coach of the Year favorite Harbaugh running the show and doing things his way.
His message this week: "Don't overcook it."
"Like a burnt piece of meat, that doesn't taste real good," said Harbaugh, whose Niners have lost the last six to the Saints. "Trust their own instincts. Trust their gut. Make it about the team. Trust the team. A guy doesn't have to do too much. I think our team goes into this game confident and bold."
Running back Frank Gore gets it.
"What got us here. I think that's what it's going to take," Gore said.
Way back at the start of this journey, the Niners took a 24-3 thumping against New Orleans in the Superdome in the teams' August exhibition opener.
The Saints blitzed all day and finished with six sacks.
It's still plenty fresh for the 49ers.
"I'm sure they slept well that night because they really got after us," 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. "The Saints, if they choose to be, can be one of the best blitzing teams in the league."
While the 49ers feature only eight players with playoff experience to 39 for the Saints before last weekend, they are loose and unfazed.
"There's no pressure in this locker room," Rogers said. "We're not supposed to be here. We're supposed to be going home."
AP Sports Writer Brett Martel in New Orleans contributed to this story.
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