Seattle’s most anticipated regular-season home game in years found the Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers bringing different attitudes into CenturyLink Field on Sunday night.
The Seahawks took the field with a purpose. Their disposition was edgy, aggressive and menacing. Some of this had to do with achieving revenge on a national TV stage, against a division archrival that beat them on an another national TV stage in October.
Some of this had to do with clinching a playoff berth. Although the Seahawks were virtually assured an NFC wild-card spot, hey, you never know. Besides, it’s much more fun barging into the playoffs SWAT-team style: kicking down the front door, than backing in on the basis of a tiebreaker formula.
But most of all, the Seahawks’ 42-13 ambushing of San Francisco was the consequence of a mind-set. Pete Carroll’s team has come to revel in Seattle’s identity as the NFL’s newest bullies on the block.
With a confidence that’s grown into a conviction, the Seahawks appraised the visitors and seemed to say: We’re gonna be your worst nightmare. Wanna make somethin’ out of it?
The 49ers’ response to that challenge was to retreat a few steps and look away. A home game against Arizona awaits them next week in San Francisco. If the 49ers win — and they will win — they’ll advance to the playoffs as NFC West champions.
It wouldn’t be accurate to say Sunday night meant nothing to the Niners. It just would be more accurate to say Sunday night meant everything to the Seahawks.
Seattle took a 7-0 lead two snaps into its first possession, when Marshawn Lynch ran a sweep to the left that had San Francisco’s vaunted defense looking like a collection of tackling dummies. The Seahawks took a 14-0 lead seven snaps into their second possession, when quarterback Russell Wilson noticed there wasn’t a defender within a 10-minute cab ride of Lynch.
Wilson’s touchdown pass to Lynch was pivotal, because on the previous snap, the 49ers managed to hold the running back for no gain — the first time, in 10 attempts, Seattle’s offense ran a play that didn’t advance the ball.
No problem, no sweat. Moments after Lynch was swarmed at the line of scrimmage, he was alone in the end zone.
The Seahawks took a 21-0 lead while the offense was on the sideline, watching San Francisco’s David Akers attempt a 21-yard field goal. Akers’ kick got off the ground, but not beyond the reach of 6-foot-4 defensive end Red Bryant. The blocked ball was scooped up in stride by cornerback Richard Sherman, who raced 90 yards toward the end zone.
“The play of the game, for me, was Red’s block,” Carroll said afterward. “The bell rang right there. You think you have a chance to beat these guys — you can feel it from the start — but that really sent the message.”
Sherman scored with 14:05 remaining in the second quarter. A less determined, more accomplished team might relax once it’s up 21-0, but the Seahawks had invested too much energy toward Sunday night to go through the motions for three quarters.
And so the beating went on.
The Seattle defense revealed 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick as the inexperienced second-year player he didn’t resemble in five previous starts. It held the great Frank Gore — the guy who gained 131 yards on the Seahawks at San Francisco — to 28 yards.
Which poses a question: How does a defense reduce a potential Hall-of-Fame running back into a non-factor?
The defense makes him a non-factor because its teammates on offense are scoring three touchdowns en route to a 28-6 halftime lead. San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh might be a disciple of the ground control principles once espoused by Bo Schembechler (his college coach at Michigan) and Mike Ditka (his first NFL coach), but even Harbaugh realized his team’s only chance at a comeback was to throw and throw some more.
Kaepernick ended up attempting 36 passes, 15 more than Wilson. But Wilson’s efficiency, once again, was off the charts: four touchdowns out of 15 completions. Between Wilson’s knack for extending plays on the run with his dart-frog reflexes, and Lynch’s typical impersonation of a battering ram, the Seahawks converted 11 of 13 third downs.
“Actually, 11-for-12 on third downs,” Wilson pointed out. “Because we took a kneel-down on the last one .”
By then Matt Flynn had replaced Wilson, and some of the fans in the rain-drenched crowd were heading home. The beat down of the 49ers was complete.
“It’s not our first loss,” concluded Harbaugh, who added: “We will wake up tomorrow with a half-game lead on the division.”
As for the Seahawks? They wake up today a half-game down in the division, but believing they can win a playoff game or three anywhere, against anybody.
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