NFC Championship Q&A -- Victor Cruz

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NFC Championship Q&A -- Victor Cruz

The receiver who wasn't even drafted in 2010, who arrived in Giants camp as a free agent that year with little hope of making the team, has been transformed into one of the game's top targets. Victor Cruz made New York's 53-man roster two seasons ago after finishing the preseason leading the NFL with 297 receiving yards, but he spent much of the year on IR. In 2011, the team's No. 4 receiver stepped up following injuries to both Mario Manningham and Domenik Hixon and finished with 82 catches for 1,536 yards and nine TDs.

BOX SCORE: 49ers 27, Giants 20
WR Victor CruzJan. 16, 2012

Q: How proud are you of the win against the Packers?
Cruz: Of course, any time you go on the road against a tough opponent, a team that has gone 15-1 and you go in there and play as well as we did and do all the positive things we set out to do, its something were very proud of and were looking to continue that trend.

Q: How much of a motivating factor is it that you lost to San Francisco earlier in the season?
Cruz: Its very motivating. We understand that game came down to the wire and we were one play away from potentially winning that ballgame. Its a little sweet to go out there and play a team that weve already played and know that weve fought tooth-and-nail with. Hopefully it doesnt come down to the wire, hopefully we can win the game pretty well. As long as we can execute and do all the things we know how to do, well be okay.

Q: Chris Canty recently said that this time of year is all about the guys in the locker room and your teammates, is that true?
Cruz: Most definitely, its all about the moments you spend with the guys and understanding we can do something special. The guys we share it with, the guys on this team have been phenomenal all year. We understand this is a special time for us and we have to take advantage of it and soak in all the time and be ready to play this upcoming weekend.

Q: How important is the momentum the team is riding right now?
Cruz: We are riding a lot of momentum, a lot of confidence. Its great to play with that. Were a scary team right now because of the confidence were playing with and the amount of integrity and amount of passion we are playing with right now. At every position, not just Eli or myself or the defense. Everyone is playing with that same confidence and intensity. We are a scary team right now.
Q: Do you feel unstoppable?
Cruz: Thats a tricky word, but in a sense we do feel like, if were playing like weve been playing, if were executing at a high level the way weve been playing, were a tough team to stop.

Q: How is your injury?
Cruz: I am pretty good, I just got a little helmet to the thigh, but its nothing a little ice cant heal.

Q: What do you take with you from the first game against the 49ers
Cruz: Just the fact that we were able to move the ball pretty efficiently that game. We were going up and down, we had a few turnovers, unfortunately, early on in that game. We felt like we did some positive things. We basically controlled a lot of that game. Were looking to repeat that.

Q: Were you hoping to see them again at some point?
Cruz: We understood that they were a team we could potentially see again and that we wanted to see again in this situation. We got what we asked for.

Q: What does it say that you only need one more win to make it to the Super Bowl
Cruz: It says a lot. We had to battle through a lot of injuries early on this year and a lot of question marks in the receivers room early on as well. Just to overcome that and for guys to shine and step up and play well has been tremendous for our confidence. Weve been building off that ever since.

49ers specialists get drenched in preparations for inclement weather

49ers specialists get drenched in preparations for inclement weather

CHICAGO – The 49ers trained for the expected low-30s temperature and snow at Soldier Field with a week of workouts in the 80-degree heat of Florida.

However, the team’s specialists got some practice handling wet footballs during the 49ers’ final practice in Orlando, Fla.

Special-teams coordinator Derius Swinton and his assistant, Michael Clay, made a game of it. Long-snapper Kyle Nelson had to execute 10 perfect snaps to holder Bradley Pinion for field goals. Then, Pinion moved back to punt formation, where another 10 in a row were required.

But they had to be perfect while Swinton and Clay squirted water on the ball and at the hands of Nelson and Pinion, who also received a blast of water in his ear hole at one point.

“We always look up to see if there’s a chance of rain or snow, and we go, ‘Wet-ball drill,’ ” Nelson said. “They (Swinton and Clay) get to have fun, squirting water on us and use the water bottles.

“They make it as bad as possible.”

Nelson and Pinion teamed up to execute perfectly on all 20 field goals and punts.

“If I can do this, in a game it’s going to be even easier,” Nelson said. “They make it a lot harder in practice than it is in a game, so when we get to a game, everything is not as fast.”

The weather conditions on Sunday against the Chicago Bears will likely challenge Nelson, Pinion and kicker Phil Dawson as much as anyone. Dawson has been tracking the weather forecasts for more than a week to get mentally prepared for what he might face.

“Soldier Field is notorious for being a tough place to kick because of the wind and the field itself,” Dawson said this week on the 49ers Insider Podcast. “The footing is pretty poor. So when you add snow and moisture to the equation, it’s going to be one of those days.

“You need to have conversations with your coaches and let them know – be honest with them – about the difficulty. But you have to do that without it affecting your confidence to go out and get the job done.”

Said Nelson, “It takes more focus in bad weather. The snaps have to be a little more perfect. Bradley has to focus more on catching the ball, and Phil has to concentrate on the approach and be more cautious.”

Mark Helfrich provides insight into Chip Kelly's line of thinking

Mark Helfrich provides insight into Chip Kelly's line of thinking

Mark Helfrich had a strong indication he would be fired as Oregon’s head coach. And he said he told Chip Kelly recently he would have no hard feelings if Kelly left the 49ers to return to coach the Ducks.

Kelly this week said he is not interested in abandoning his job with the 49ers to coach in the college ranks. Helfrich suggested during a radio interview on Friday that Kelly told him the same thing privately.

When it was suggested that Kelly hated to recruit, Helfrich did not disagree.

"That's a fact," Helfrich said in an interview on ESPN Radio's Russillo and Kanell. "I don't know hated recruiting. . . a dislike. A strong dislike. But I think Chip has that challenge in his mind right now to make it right in the NFL.

"I had some of those conversations with him a couple weeks ago when it looked like this was going south. That was a very awkward converation, but (I) just wanted to let him know that to take our personal relationship out of it in every way, shape or form if he wanted to consider this.

"But, me, reading between the lines, I think he wants to make it right in the NFL. I think he wants to win at that level. He's had a rough go of it this year, but he'll get it right."

Kelly compiled a 46-7 record in four seasons in Eugene, Ore. He left after the 2012 season to accept the head-coaching job with the Philadelphia Eagles. Kelly was fired late last season and took the 49ers job two weeks later.

In Kelly’s first season with the 49ers, the club is 1-10. The 49ers are on a franchise-long 10-game losing streak entering Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears.

Helfrich was 37-16 in his four seasons at Oregon after his promotion from offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Kelly said he spoke with Helfrich the morning after he was fired.

“I just felt bad for Mark. I love him like a brother,” Kelly said. “He’s a tremendous person. He’s a hell of a football coach, but he’s an even better person. Just felt for him and the rest of the guys on that staff. It’s an unfortunate thing that goes on in this profession. We all know about it when we sign up, but when it happens you’re still taken aback by it.”

Kelly said he hoped his denial of any interest in the Oregon job would end all speculation about his future. When asked if intends to remain with the 49ers, Kelly said on Wednesday, “Yep. So we're all done with that, I hope."