By Janie McCauley Associated Press
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Linebacker Aldon Smith loves playing in prime time. It takes him back to how he spent so many Friday nights in high school under the lights.
San Francisco teammates Anthony Dixon, Joe Staley and others become similarly nostalgic when they take the field these days with the football spotlight on them.
“Under the lights, you knew it was showtime,” Smith said. “It’s just that feeling you get again from being under that spotlight.”
Aside from the good vibes and youthful memories, the 49ers (10-3-1) sure seem to thrive on the NFL’s big stage. They are 5-0 this season in prime time, with another Sunday night game coming up at Seattle and a chance to clinch a second consecutive NFC West crown.
“Those Friday night lights, when I’m feeling like that, I feel like the other team is in trouble,” Dixon said Tuesday. “Back in those high school days, most of us, we were unstoppable. I love that feeling. I do get that feeling sometimes when I go back out there and it’s one of those games. You try to get that feeling, those Friday night days you were (dominating). You were at the top of your game. It feels good to feel like that.”
San Francisco wants to keep its own good feeling going right into January.
For running back Frank Gore, Sunday night’s surprising 41-34 victory at New England was a big step toward what he hopes is another special postseason run — with one more game, that is: the Super Bowl. San Francisco lost in overtime of last January’s NFC title game to the reigning Super Bowl champion New York Giants.
“We know that we had to get a win going against a great team in New England,” Gore said. “We let everybody know what type of team we are. We came out, we started out fast as a team and got the big win.
“We’ve got a good team. We practice hard and we work hard every day. And we want it.”
The Niners snapped New England’s 20-game home winning streak in the month of December. They slowed down Tom Brady and his high-powered offense after coming to Foxborough, Mass., as an underdog.
49ers center Jonathan Goodwin played for the Jets team that beat the Patriots in December back in 2002 — even though he didn’t get on the field.
“I guess I can think, for maybe a second, that I was some kind of good luck charm,” Goodwin said with a grin.
Next up will be stopping a Seattle team that has gone off for 50 points in back-to-back games behind rookie quarterback Russell Wilson.
San Francisco is 64-32 in night games, including 26-17 on the road and 13-9 on Sundays.
“Love prime time games,” Staley posted on Twitter before Sunday night’s win.
“I don’t mind ‘em,” wideout Randy Moss said, unwilling to elaborate when asked follow-up questions.
San Francisco won at Arizona on Monday night on Oct. 29, then again on Monday night at home against the Chicago Bears on Nov. 19. They won a Sunday night game against the Lions at Candlestick Park in September, and against Seattle on a Thursday night game Oct. 18.
“I think everybody gets up for it,” said Smith, tied for the NFL sacks lead with Houston’s J.J. Watt at 191/2. “We’ve played under the lights in high school, ‘Friday Night Lights’ and I think that’s where everybody kind of got their real love for football. Just being back in that atmosphere, I think everyone still has that childhood in them, so we all get amped for it.”
Gore gets it, and insists the Niners will have no trouble getting energized for another night game with so much on the line at this late stage of the season. A year ago, the 49ers ran away with the NFC West and clinched early.
“In December, you want to be the hot team,” Gore said. “We know that if we get the win we can win the division. They’ve been playing great. I think they got better as a team each week since they played us. We want to claim the division and the playoffs.”
49ers head caoch Jim Harbaugh said on his radio show Tuesday he expects defensive tackle Justin Smith to play after he sustained an arm injury against the Patriots and had an MRI exam. It would be his 186th straight start. “Everybody affectionately refers to Justin Smith around here as ‘The Cowboy,’” Harbaugh said. “I expect we’ll see The Cowboy. Knowing what I know of Justin Smith and the situation, I think The Cowboy will be around, saddled up, roping and riding. If it’s humanly possible, The Cowboy will be out there, roping and riding.” … 49ers defensive line and special teams regular Demarcus Dobbs said he won’t need surgery on his right knee after he sustained a partially torn medial collateral ligament and posterior cruciate ligament in the third quarter of a Dec. 9 win against Miami. “No surgery, that’s a blessing,” Dobbs said. “Just rehab, take it easy and try to let it go back and do a lot of treatment. … It looked a lot worse and felt a lot worse. I thought it was my whole knee, my ACL and everything. I thought the worst.” He expects to use the crutches for a few more weeks. … WR Mario Manningham offered little update regarding his injured right shoulder that kept him out the last two games. “I’m getting there,” he said.