The 49ers insist they are limiting their focus to one opponent this week. But they are packing for two. When they take off this afternoon for Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers, the 49ers will be embarking on the mother of all road trips, one that first takes them to Charlotte, N.C. and then onto London, England to play the Denver Broncos. The trip spans eight time zone, covers nearly 12,000 miles total and takes players out of their own beds for 10 nights.
That's in stark contrast to the Broncos, who opted to make their trip overseas as brief as possible. After hosting the Raiders Sunday, the Broncos will begin their week like they normally do - by practicing at their home facility on Wednesday and Thursday. Then they'll take a 3:45 p.m. Thursday flight out of Denver, arrive in London at 7:45 a.m. Friday and go through a light practice that afternoon. Their Friday arrival is the latest in the four-year history of NFL's London game. "The goal for us for that week is to keep the heaviest days or preparation as normal as possible," team spokesman Patrick Smyth said.
The 49ers, meanwhile, will take off from North Carolina Sunday night and arrive in London on Monday, four days before the Broncos. They'll stay at a resort outside the city and practice there Wednesday-Friday. What's better, the 49ers' acclimation or the Broncos' adherence to their own routine?
"I think there are advantages for both," quarterback Alex Smith said. "... To get over early and get adjusted to the time and the area and climate and things like that are all advantages. But at the same time, their week of preparation being at home in Denver, sleeping in their own beds, the same routine they always have will be an advantage as well through the week of preparation, you know. So, it's kind of a give and take."
Before that debate is settled, Smith and the rest of the team's veterans have been trying to make sure their younger teammates don't get preoccupied with London and overlook their Sunday opponent in North Carolina. The Panthers are winless on the season but are coming off a bye week. In addition, receiver Steve Smith, who missed the team's last game with an ankle injury, returns to the lineup as does quarterback Matt Moore, who began the season as the Panthers' starter.
"We've got one game, and that's Carolina," coach Mike Singletary said. "And when we're done with that game, then we'll look toward the next game. All of the other things with London, that London trip, hopefully most of the guys have gotten everything ready for that for the most part, and can really focus on the Carolina game."
Linebacker Takeo Spikes, a 13-year veteran, said the 49ers can't take the Panthers lightly. After all, they're just as hungry as San Francisco was before its first victory on Sunday. "That team is the San Francisco 49ers of the East Coast," Spikes said. "That's us. We're 1-5. We shouldn't even have that thought process in this locker room and be overlooking anybody."
-- Matt Barrows