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  • JOSÉ LUIS VILLEGAS / jvillegas@sacbee.com

    Patrick Willis

  • Patrick Willis: He'll try to help the 49ers do what no team has done since the Miami Dolphins in 1973: win the Super Bowl a year after losing in the Super Bowl. His perfect attendance at offseason workouts is a good start.

After Super Bowl, 49ers' road back becomes harder

Published: Thursday, Jul. 25, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Thursday, Jul. 25, 2013 - 6:18 am

SANTA CLARA – Linebacker Patrick Willis quickly figured out why NFL teams historically have had trouble avenging a Super Bowl defeat when he began perusing the 49ers' upcoming schedule.

They face three 2012 playoff teams in the first three weeks. There's a 12,000-mile, round-trip jaunt to London at the end of October. And the following month there are back-to-back trips to New Orleans and Washington.

"When the schedule was released, I was looking at the games and was like, 'Wow, this is one heck of a schedule.' " Willis said. "I guess it's one of those things when you make it to the Super Bowl, win or lose, that next year's schedule is no joke. And that's what it is. That's what we have ahead of us."

Willis and the rest of the 49ers' veterans reported for training camp Wednesday confident they can break a four-decade dry spell. The last team that hoisted the Lombardi Trophy the year after a Super Bowl loss was the 1972 Miami Dolphins, who went 17-0 that season.

There are plenty of reasons teams falter while trying to take that final step to a championship.

As Willis noted, the schedule is full of playoff-caliber opponents, games are played in prime time, and foes are eager to make their mark against a Super Bowl team.

Indeed, San Francisco's first two opponents likely have circled the 49ers on their schedule in bright red ink.

The Green Bay Packers, who visit Candlestick Park in Week 1, spent the offseason studying how to stop the read-option attack that quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers used to bludgeon them in the playoffs on Jan. 12.

In Week 2, the 49ers head to Seattle, where the Seahawks have been the talk of the NFL all offseason and where the 49ers game has eclipsed – and it's not close – every other contest on the home schedule. The fans at CenturyLink Field on Sept. 15 will attempt to set a Guinness World Record for the loudest sports venue.

"Teams are gunning after us," cornerback Carlos Rogers said. "You look at our division, each and every one of them got better – new coaches, new players. So not even thinking about the Super Bowl, we've got to win our division because that's going to be way tougher than it was last year."

Then there's attrition.

Super Bowl squads typically are picked apart the following offseason by lesser teams eager to sign free agents and hire coaches.

The 49ers, however, noted that while two longtime contributors – safety Dashon Goldson and tight end Delanie Walker – departed via free agency, the team added talent through the draft and traded for respected veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin.

Several veterans Wednesday said they believe there is more talent on this training camp roster than last summer's. As for coaches, the team didn't lose any notable names and even added one, Eric Mangini, in June.

Finally, some teams have trouble emerging from the fog of a post-Super Bowl hangover.

Squads that play in February endure three or more games than most of the league, players often push through injuries in an effort to win a title, and it takes longer to recover, physically and mentally. In short, they lose their hunger.

The 49ers' veterans insist they haven't seen any lapses in work ethic this offseason.

Willis noted every healthy 49er passed Wednesday's conditioning test, a prerequisite for participating in training camp practices. By contrast, one member of the Super Bowl-winning Baltimore Ravens, wide receiver Jacoby Jones, flunked his test and was placed on the physically unable to perform list.

Safety Donte Whitner said the routine and the mindset in Santa Clara haven't changed since the Super Bowl.

"Continue to do the hard things that nobody else wants to do as far as waking up earlier than everybody else, going home later," Whitner said when asked how the 49ers will stay on top. "It's no secret formula – it's all hard work. … Guys were in here lifting when we didn't have to lift today. So, we're right back on track."

Read Matthew Barrows' blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers and listen for his reports Tuesdays on ESPN Radio 1320. Follow him on Twitter @mattbarrows.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Matthew Barrows



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