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The San Francisco 49ers and San Diego Chargers square off in a few hours on Thursday Night Football in a battle of teetering playoff hopes. The Chargers are heavy favorites with the spread reaching ten points at numerous sites today. The 49ers have a limited number of advantages in this game and it's easy to see why most people see the Chargers winning this one, potentially in a rout.
Of course, impossible odds have never stopped me from rooting on the 49ers in the past, and tonight is no different. I've already mentioned the importance of turnovers and the special teams battle (notably punt returns). Beyond that the 49ers have few areas they can say they have an edge with any sort of confidence. However, the 49ers have a secret weapon that has yet to be discussed. What is that secret weapon?
Five words: Alex Smith, Mr. Thursday Night. Now before your laughter kills you, follow me for a minute. Alex Smith's NFL career has been largely a bust, with only a few notable highlights. One such highlight is that he is currently 2-0 on NFL Network Thursday Night Football contests. Last season the 49ers won a hideous squeaker 10-6 over the Bears. It wasn't pretty and they really didn't win because of Alex Smith, but they won.
The more important Thursday Night Football contest came almost exactly four years ago today. On Thursday December 18, 2006, the 5-8 San Francisco 49ers visited the 8-5 Seattle Seahawks. The spread had opened with the Seahawks at -9.5 and had moved up to -10 by game time. Seattle took an early 7-3 lead and it stayed that way heading into the fourth quarter. At that point the 49ers stunned the Seahawks with 21 points and the eventual 24-14 win.
The 49ers improved to 6-8 that Thursday night, and while they didn't make the playoffs many thought this was the first step towards a return to the playoffs. One could argue that fourth quarter was the first time people truly got excited about Alex Smith's play as a 49er. He'd had a solid 2006 season (at least compared to his 2005 season) and this game had the bandwagon rocking.
Things didn't turn out so well after that, but that's a story for another day. The point of this is that if you're going to get overly optimistic about the 49ers chances as I surely will, why not go all in? The 2006 Seahawks did not have the offense or defense of the 2010 Chargers, but why let a few facts get in the way of a good story?