Putting wrap on 49ers' playoff preparations

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The San Francisco 49ers wanted their pregame meal medium-rare.

"The analogy would be not to overcook it, like a burnt piece of meat," coach Jim Harbaugh said Thursday.

Harbaugh sought the right combination of focus and looseness during the nearly two weeks his team has been preparing for the franchise's first playoff game in nine years. He did not want players trying to do too much simply because the stakes would be higher when the playoff-tested New Orleans Saints visited Candlestick Park on Saturday.

"Trust the team," Harbaugh said.

The mood in the 49ers' locker room after practice seemed normal. The space was crowded by an influx of reporters, including Jim Trotter from Sports Illustrated, Steve Wyche from NFL Network, Mike Silver from Yahoo! Sports and Nancy Gay from Fox Sports.

A crowd grew around Alex Smith while the quarterback chatted informally at his locker. Smith reflected on growing up in San Diego and watching the Chargers when Harbaugh was their quarterback. He confirmed a story Harbaugh told the 49ers about how fleeting playoff appearances can be. Harbaugh started five playoff games, including four in a two-year period with Indianapolis, but he never made it back after that.

"He told us that story, him thinking there would be other days," Smith said. "These playoff opportunities are rare. Some guys don't ever get them. I played with Takeo [Spikes] and he is still looking for it. You're not guaranteed anything. Just got to take advantage of it now."

The 49ers appear mostly healthy. Tight end Delanie Walker (jaw) will miss the game, as expected. Ray McDonald (hamstring), Chris Culliver (knee), Ted Ginn Jr. (ankle) and Kyle Williams (concussion) were limited in practice Thursday. All are expected to be available.

"I'm pleased with our preparations, confident in our plan, happy with the way the players prepared," Harbaugh said. "Our team goes into this game confident and bold, and with a great amount of respect for the New Orleans Saints -- a great amount of respect for who they are, what they do, what they are capable of."