SAN FRANCISCO -- Half-dressed men were yelling at a television set. The 49ers players stood in the home locker room at Candlestick Park and screamed like junior high cheerleaders at a running back 2,000 miles away.

"Go!" they shouted at Adrian Peterson, the Vikings' ball carrier as he trundled toward field goal range. "Come on! Go! Go! Go!"

Peterson went. Much applause followed. A minute later, so did a Minnesota field goal attempt. It lofted toward a goal post to defeat Green Bay. More loud, half-naked cheering ensued.

So. Guess that settles the issue of how happy the 49ers are to receive an extra week of rest before starting the playoffs Jan. 12 with a home game against Green Bay, Washington or Seattle.

The truth is, the 49ers did not just hope and desire the bye week before that first postseason game. They desperately needed it. They needed it worse than Gangnam needs Style. Needed it worse than Jim Harbaugh needs khaki pants. Needed it worse than Acai Berry supplements need spam email.

For the record, though, some 49er players did not buy that argument. Despite their delight over the bye week, said tight end Vernon Davis, they would have been just fine playing next weekend.

"I'm great -- if there's a game tomorrow, I'm ready," Davis said.

Except that the 49ers did not look great Sunday. They looked pretty good, off and on. And as they slogged through an expected 27-13 victory over the Arizona Cardinals, it was apparent that this was a team that could use a break to rest up, heal up and resharpen its football edge.


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Also, there is this undeniable fact: Over the course of 49ers history, all five of the franchise's winning Super Bowl teams reached the game after earning a bye week in the playoff tournament. None got there otherwise.

"Really?" asked tight end Delanie Walker, sitting alongside Davis. "I didn't know that. I don't think anyone in here does."

So the bye week clearly matters a lot.

"No, I don't think it makes a difference," Walker disagreed. "This is a new era. We're a new 49er team."

We are going to find out. After Sunday's final play, in the head coach's postgame session with reporters, Harbaugh allowed that his group wasn't perfect.

"You'd always like to be better," Harbaugh said. "And there are some areas that we can improve in."

Such as?

"We'll talk about that with our team and we'll tell them," Harbaugh said, following his usual practice of, as he says, not peeling back the onion.

However, this column has no such anti-onion-peeling policy. So let's list the largest areas of concern that the 49ers need to address over the next 12 days, based on Sunday's performance.

The biggest question mark remains at quarterback, where new man Colin Kaepernick has shown enough of an oh-wow factor to get people excited about what he might produce in January -- but he's also gone through stretches where his timing has been disrupted and he's grown discombobulated.

Sunday, Kaepernick was stymied in the first quarter by bad field position and a seeming fixation on getting the ball to receivers not named Michael Crabtree. But as the game progressed and offensive coordinator Greg Roman dialed up plays that allowed Crabtree to find more space against a vulnerable Arizona defense, things were much better. There might be no better yards-after-catch receiver in the NFL right now.

It remains puzzling that Kaepernick cannot find tight end Davis more often. Given his superior performance in the postseason last year, that should be a priority. Davis returned from a concussion last week in Seattle to accumulate just one catch Sunday for 5 yards and absorbed another crushing hit. Afterward, Davis said he was fine. But another week off should make him even more fine -- and perhaps give Roman more ways to scheme more plays for him.

Another positive development entering the postseason is the relative health of running back Frank Gore, who scored another touchdown Sunday. A year ago, he was sore all over entering the playoffs. Now, he's sore only in certain black-and-blue locations. In two weeks, those locations might shrink in size.

So that's the good stuff. Now the bad: Placekicking continues to be the 49ers' most troubling ulcer. David Akers' two missed field goals and an apparent injurious hit on an extra-point attempt did not ease worries. Two weeks could give the 49ers time to sign a replacement. It's strange that Harbaugh, so eager to improve his team in the smallest increments, has refused to improve it in such a critical area.

Yet the biggest bye week beneficiary might be Justin Smith, the defensive tackle who has a partially torn left triceps tendon and missed his second straight game Sunday. Despite his absence, the 49er pass rush did improve some from last week in Seattle -- although outside linebacker Aldon Smith failed to get a sack for the third consecutive game -- but it will still be a different defense when Justin Smith gets back on the field.

That is, if he gets back on the field. Smith's injury is of the same ilk as the injury sustained by Ray Lewis, the Baltimore linebacker, back in mid-October. Lewis has not yet returned to action. You have to believe that Smith will line up and give it a go in two weeks, even if he has to play with one good arm. But two more weeks of therapy will also help.

"This bye lets some of those guys heal," said Delanie Walker, "and get some extra time in conditioning and working out. It'll give Vernon some extra time to come back, Justin Smith too. I think this will be great for us."

Not merely great. Necessary. Seriously necessary.

Contact Mark Purdy at mpurdy@mercurynews.com.