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Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

49ers Notebook: Niners ‘really hungry’; Rams weigh in on losing streak; Strength from 2020 adversity; Deebo will try anything

Jan 26, 2022 at 8:05 PM--

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The 49ers and Rams will take the field in Sunday's NFC Championship game (6:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. PT) at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California as two teams motivated to make up for past letdowns, although only one of them will get the opportunity for the redemption they're looking for.

The 49ers still have memories of losing the Super Bowl in 2019, while the Rams haven't forgotten about falling short in the Super Bowl the year before. The Rams will also be carrying the memories of six consecutive losses to the 49ers, the most recent of which was a 27-24 overtime defeat at SoFi Stadium on January 9. Both teams spoke today about their motivations surrounding those games, along with many other topics of interest.

Here's a rundown of some key comments from both teams today on that subject, as well as the 49ers taking a look back on the unique adversity of 2020 and plenty of comments on Deebo Samuel .

* Staying hungry: It's clear that both the Rams and 49ers want to erase memories of what happened when they last played in the Super Bowl. A disappointing and adversity-filled 2020 season left the 49ers waiting two years to get their chance, and it sounds like they're itching to take advantage of it now that it's here.

"I think the team's really hungry based on what had happened the last time we were in a Super Bowl, and we're back in a situation where we can make that," 49ers kicker Robbie Gould said. "I'll tell you the thing I remember the most from watching the game and hearing it was George Kittle saying we were going to be back and back with a vengeance, right? So that's something that's always stuck in my mind since we lost to Kansas City. But I think even more importantly is you've got the perfect group of hungry guys from '19 but also some great additions from other places that have been through the same experience."

Gould feels the team is in a great place as the NFC Championship approaches and is as focused as they've been all season long.

"For us, we're excited," Gould said. "The guys are really focused. I know we're only in the first day of install, but just being around them, getting rehab and recovery, I feel like this is the most focused we've been all year. And I hope that continues throughout the week."

It's possible no one on the Rams' end will be more determined on Sunday than defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who badly wants to add a championship ring to his stellar career resume. Linebacker Von Miller learned quickly of Donald's motivation after being traded to the Rams from the Broncos earlier this season.

"You could sense the hunger like right when I got here," Miller said. "This is Week 8, Week 9, and we were already trying to work and be the best that we possibly can for the postseason. You could just feel it—the energy, his aura. He puts so much work in. He deserves it. It's 24-7 for AD."

Miller already has a championship ring of his own, and this time he's motivated to play a part in getting one for Donald.

"I could tell my son when he gets older, 'I played with AD and helped him complete the whole checklist,'" Miller said.

* The streak: The subject of the 49ers' win streak over the Rams came up multiple times on Wednesday, as it will again throughout the week. Rams head coach Sean McVay was asked if his friend Kyle Shanahan was in his head at all after losing to him in six straight tries.

"No," McVay said. "What I do have is respect for these guys. They've done a great job. You look at it, you've got to play well in that three-and-a-half hour window that we're allotted. You look at the last time we played them—didn't finish the game. But this is a really good football team. We have a lot of respect for them, but we're competing and preparing to the best of our ability to see if we can advance. But this is a really good team. Kyle's an excellent coach. He's got great players, great coaches, good schemes, so that's why they're in the NFC Championship."

Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp was asked about the losses to the 49ers and responded by showing confidence in his team's chances of breaking their skid.

"We've just got to execute better at the end of the day," Kupp said. "That's really what it comes down to. It's not like there's some crazy formula we've got to draw up or anything like that. I think we've just got to execute, do our jobs, play a complete game. and trust that if we do that, we feel confident in how the game's going to end up."

The Rams blew a 17-0 first half lead in the January 9 loss to the 49ers, two weeks before letting a 27-6 second half lead evaporate in their 30-27 Divisional Playoff win against the Buccaneers. It seems possible the Rams will stay in more of an attack mode than they did in Week 18 if they open up a big lead on the 49ers this Sunday.

"I think the Niners game was a little bit different than the other day," McVay said. "I thought we had some uncharacteristic errors. Von ends up getting a sack fumble, I'm thinking we're going to get aggressive, we have an errant snap where we turn it over on the next snap on the very next play. We uncharacteristically put the ball on the ground three times with guys that have had great ball security, whereas the Niners game, probably got a little too conservative, different things like that."

* It was no fun, but it helped: The 2020 season was one to forget for the 49ers, who went 6-10 after being the top team in the NFC the year before. Things got particularly challenging at the end of the season when they were forced to play for a month in Arizona after local COVID-19 restrictions locked them out of their final home games, but in hindsight, those circumstances might have set the table for the success the 49ers are having now.

49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan explained why on Wednesday, saying the team grew tougher when they were forced to go through the adversity of playing in Arizona.

"I was very not in a good place when I found that out," Shanahan said. "It didn't make sense to me, and it took me a while to accept it, but I had no choice. But I do think it has effects on us this year. At the time I didn't. I didn't think it was the best bonding experience. I was afraid we were going to hate each other more because we were stuck in a hotel and couldn't get away from each other and things weren't going that right with the season as it was. So it was such a challenge—mentally, physically, everything. That was a really tough month, which I think everyone will tell you about. It was hard on everyone, but some people it was a lot harder on than others. I don't think anyone was in a great state there. But looking back on it now, I feel like it helped us so much because I feel like it hardened our team. It hardened so many individuals, which now coming back the year following you realize the whole team was hardened in a good way."

Shanahan went on to say the experience in Arizona reminded the 49ers that not everything comes as easy as it did in 2019.

"We made that run (to) the Super Bowl where we started 8-0 and not many things went bad in that Super Bowl year until the end of the Super Bowl," Shanahan said. "I think everyone came back so fired up and thinking it was just going to be a fun year again, and it quickly turned out to not be. Then to end it with Arizona, it kind of reminded guys that this isn't always that fun, and this can be a challenge. That's kind of what I think is good about it because I don't think football ever has to be fun. It's what you're supposed to do. It's a challenge. When you succeed in something and you can pull together and pull it off, that's what fun."

49ers linebacker Fred Warner agreed with Shanahan's belief that the Arizona experience helped the team bond.

"You do grow a lot closer going through something like that," Warner said. "I'll always remember that season for a lot of reasons, but I for sure think that that has helped build our team that we have now and make us closer. But back then, you had no choice but to love football and love what you do because there was nothing else."

* Mr. Anything: There doesn't seem to be a limit to what 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel is willing to do on the football field, which was shown by his kick return in the 49ers' 13-10 win over the Packers last Saturday. 49ers special teams coach Richard Hightower learned that about Samuel when he had the chance to coach him in the Senior Bowl, months before the team decided to select him in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft.

"I still remember when he was in college and we went to the Senior Bowl and he would ride with me to practice," Hightower said. "He'd come with the specialists to do the return period because it started before practice. And he would go out there—and he obviously was a great kicker returner, but he had never caught punts on a consistent basis. It just showed me he wanted to go out there and try to catch punts. 'I want to try to do anything, coach. I'd do anything.' Most guys won't do that. They don't want to embarrass themselves. But he's a tough son-of-a-gun. You obviously saw it on that play."

Hightower said it was Shanahan who made the call to make Samuel available to return kicks, and Samuel who let Hightower know he was ready if his number was called.

"I have to tip my hat to Coach Shanahan on that one. Coach Shanahan has a great feel for that stuff, and we go through it and talk through it together on the sideline and throughout the week," Hightower said. "He lets us know when hey, you can use Deebo. And Deebo is a team player. That dude loves football, and he told me before the game, 'I got you this game.' And he really means it. He really means it."

* All-Pros on display: Samuel and Kupp were two of the three receivers voted as first-team All-Pro performers for the 2021 season, along with Davante Adams of the Packers. McVay spoke on Wednesday about the similarities between the two players.

"I think they're great football players that are complete receivers," McVay said. "They're obviously both really dynamic with the ball in their hands. Some of the things that Deebo does when he's lined up as a running back is really special stuff. He's a great football player that when the ball's in his hands, good things happen. He can separate, he can line up anywhere on the formation. Cooper's very similar—we're just not giving him carries from the dot and from the offset gun. But he's part of our blocking surfaces. He does so many different things. I think you're talking about two well-deserved first-team All-Pro players, two guys that have been instrumental in getting their teams to where they're at. I'm got I've got tremendous respect for Deebo and I'm so appreciative to be able to work with a player like Cooper Kupp."

Miller was asked what he's learned about Samuel in the two games he's faced him since being traded from the Broncos. He responded by saying that Samuel's play makes him worthy of carrying the same name as the famous bully from the film Friday.

"I think his name explains who he is," Miller said. "These two games that I've played him, I have figured out why they call him Deebo. I've figured out why they named him that. His name is definitely fitting to him for sure. That's what I learned about Deebo."

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