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49ERS
COHN: This game will define 49ers
Players are trying to downplay significance, but fans know the magnitude of Lions game

  • Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson makes a 73-yard touchdown reception during the second quarter of a game against the Chicago Bears in Detroit last Monday. (Carlos Osorio / Associated Press)

SANTA CLARA

Today's game between the 49ers and Lions is the marquee game in the National Football League.

It felt strange writing that sentence. For a long time, the Niners and Lions have been among the bad teams in the league — especially the Lions. Their last winning season was in 2000 when they won nine games. In 2008, in case you forgot, they won exactly no games — totally whiffed on their 16-game schedule.

The Niners, as you are painfully aware, haven't exactly torn up the league. Their last winning season was 2002 with a 10-6 record. Since then it's been Dennis Erickson and Terry Donahue and Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary and that never-ending Alex Smith debate.

The 49ers and Lions each had 6-10 records last season and gave no indication to sane people they would be excellent football teams in 2011. But their combined record is a gaudy 9-1 and they are playing today's marquee game as opposed to, say, Dallas at New England or any other matchup you can name.

Two perspectives exist on the bigness of this big game for the 49ers — players and fans. Let's first look at the players' perspective. Here is offensive lineman Adam Snyder:

“I don't know if it's the biggest game we've ever played in, but it's a big game for this season. We need to approach it like that. If we get too blown up on it — ‘This is the biggest game of our career' — guys start playing tight and that's not what we want to do. Right now, we're just focused on what we have to do as an offense.”

In what sense is this a big game?

“There are two good teams colliding. They're 5-0 and undefeated and they're on a little bit of a hot streak, and we're playing some good football, too. Two good teams coming together is always going to be a good matchup. I try not to read into the hype — ‘This is the biggest game we've ever played' — but, yeah, if you look at it, it is a big game.”

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