SANTA CLARA Defensive end Justin Smith said he felt good after the 49ers' divisional-round win over the Green Bay Packers on Saturday both in his damaged left arm and in what he saw in the team's locker room.
A year ago, the 49ers rode an emotional wave from their thrilling divisional-round win over the New Orleans Saints into the NFC Championship Game, only to lose that game at home to the New York Giants.
Smith, a veteran and defensive anchor, said last postseason's disappointment left an impression on the 49ers, who are taking a more level-headed approach into Sunday's game against the Falcons in Atlanta.
"We were so excited after winning the Saints game," Smith said. "I didn't feel the same, you know, 'We did it! ' this and that, after the Packers game. And we beat a heck of a team in the Packers. So I feel like this whole team had that sense of there's more to this thing than just getting to this game."
The 49ers last year were making their first playoff appearance since the 2002 season, and linebacker Patrick Willis said that drought combined with last year's title-game loss has impressed on players how fleeting these opportunities can be.
"Just to have this opportunity again, to be here, it's one of those things we don't take for granted," Willis said. "We know that window for chances like this is slim, and we have to take advantage of the opportunity."
Smith, meanwhile, said he came out of Saturday's game with no setbacks to his partially torn left triceps. Smith wore a brace while playing for the first time since suffering the injury Dec. 16 at New England.
Smith said the armor didn't limit his activity against Green Bay (he played 53 of 58 defensive snaps) and expects to be even more comfortable in Sunday's championship game.
"It's a love-hate relationship right now" with the brace, Smith said. "It's one of those things, it's doing its job. It felt pretty strong and, like I said, playing with it once, if anything the second time's better than the first time. So it should definitely be a lot better."
Remember when Anytime a 49ers player stands at his locker this week, he comes face to face with his former self. Posted above every player's locker is a placard with their high school or community college picture and recruiting ranking information.
"I think there's a message behind it," said defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois. "To show you how hard you grinded from high school to the NFL. And he just wants you to grind the same way you did in high school to now."
Coach Jim Harbaugh has a history of tapping his creative side to motivate players, last season handing out blue-collar work shirts with players' names on the front. Asked about the placards, Harbaugh said he thought it would be a "fun thing" after having a conversation with several players about their high school recruitment.
"To me, as I looked through every single picture of every single guy, I was moved by the eyes," Harbaugh said. "It's always in the eyes. They're cheerful and undefeated. And it was nice to put those up."
A favorite among the players is the picture of 35-year-old wide receiver Randy Moss, which looks like a yearbook photo and as several players pointed out with glee is in black and white. Above it, somebody wrote on a piece of athletic tape: "B.C. 1202."
Injury report The 49ers listed 14 players on the injury report, with cornerback Tarell Brown (shoulder), fullback Bruce Miller (shoulder) and linebacker Aldon Smith (shoulder) limited in practice Wednesday.
Justin Smith was a full participant in practice. Left tackle Joe Staley, who suffered a bone bruise on his forearm against the Packers, was not listed on the report.