A year ago, the 49ers, coming off a thrilling but ultimately disappointing NFL postseason run that ended with an overtime loss at home to wild-card team and eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants, were preparing to open the regular season against the Green Bay Packers.
The Packers were also coming off a stunning defeat at home the previous postseason — to those same eventual Super Bowl champion Giants.
Now the 49ers, coming off a thrilling postseason run that came to an abruptly cruel end in an agonizing Super Bowl loss, are preparing to open the regular season next Sunday against the Packers, whose postseason ambitions also came to an abruptly cruel end in a 45-31 loss at San Francisco.
Last year's season-opening game between the 49ers and Packers, while a highly anticipated matchup of potential Super Bowl teams, nevertheless had little relevance four months later when they met in the postseason.
This year's season-opening game between the 49ers and Packers, while a highly anticipated matchup of potential Super Bowl teams, isn't likely to mean much when the playoffs roll around in four months.
So it's tempting to quote Yogi Berra and say it's deja vu all over again.
On the other hand, what a difference a year makes.
Last year at this time, much of the focus was on the 49ers' starting quarterback, and it's the same intense scrutiny this time around. Except, of course, it's a different starting quarterback.
Alex Smith completed 20 of 26 passes for 211 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in the 49ers' 30-22 win at Green Bay in Week 1 last year. He was coming off his best season by far but had endured what must have been a painfully embarrassing few weeks in the offseason when the 49ers, with coach Jim Harbaugh as point man, aggressively courted free-agent quarterback and certain future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning.
By the time the playoffs rolled around last season, Smith hadn't played since sustaining a concussion in Week 10, and Colin Kaepernick, after sensationally seizing the opportunity, was unquestionably the starting QB as well as the team's quarterback of the future.
And sure, hindsight is 20/20, but even in last season's 49ers-Packers opener, without throwing a pass, Kaepernick, a second-year pro with almost no game experience, made a strong impression on a single play.
In the closing seconds of the first half, with the 49ers on their own 38 and holding on to a 10-7 lead, Harbaugh sent in Kaepernick, who proceeded to run through the Packers' defense for 17 yards, to the Green Bay 45. It was Kaepernick's only appearance in the game. After two quick incompletions by Smith, David Akers kicked an NFL record-tying 63-yard field goal as the first half ended.
By the time the playoffs rolled around last season, the memory of Akers' record-tying field goal seemed as faded as a black-and-white film clip of Lou Groza. Akers was mired in a long slump, he had missed 13 field-goal attempts, all considerably shorter than 63 yards, and the Niners even had auditioned a replacement.
When the 49ers open against the Packers this year, Smith and Akers, heroes of last season's opener, will be elsewhere.
Kaepernick, though, with that one breathtaking run against the Packers in last season's opener, gave a sneak preview for the ages. Against Green Bay in the playoffs in January, Kaepernick ran 16 times for 181 yards and two touchdowns, the best rushing performance by a quarterback in NFL history. And, oh yeah, he also passed for 263 yards and two touchdowns.
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