Seattle Seahawks

Seahawks return home for 49ers rematch, playoff push

Melting in San Diego. The trade of Percy Harvin that stunned them for weeks.

A 3-3 start. Answering unsubstantiated national reports of locker-room strife. Then the reel of injuries to 60 percent of the offensive line and their three most important defenders up the middle.

All that’s as old as Jim Zorn right now to these soaring-again Seahawks.

Three straight dominant performances for a revitalized and unified defense have Seattle (9-4) three wins away from another NFC West title. The next division test is Sunday against suddenly sunken San Francisco (7-6) at CenturyLink Field.

“These weeks as they come on now, the home stretch, it’s as good as it gets. This is as good as it gets in the NFL,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “You play football at the end of the year and are involved in regular-season championships and all that stuff, playing in the division … this is really as good as it gets.

“And we’ll see it next week (at first-place Arizona). And again the week after that (in the regular-season finale against St. Louis).”

Carroll knows “as good as it gets.” He, Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer are the only coaches to win a national college football championship and a Super Bowl.

Now he and his team are halfway on their mission for six consecutive wins to end the season. They don’t care right now that the Cardinals (11-3) keep winning despite having half their defense hurt and being forced to play just about every Arizonan but John McCain at quarterback.

The Seahawks especially don’t care that the 49ers are seemingly imploding. San Francisco has lost to Seattle and the 2-11 Raiders in consecutive weeks while quarterback Colin Kaepernick has struggled and coach Jim Harbaugh has had his name attached to open head jobs ranging from Oakland to his alma mater of Michigan.

“We don’t think about them, at all,” Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman said of the Niners. “We don’t watch them.”

Sherman watched them long enough to intercept Kaepernick twice on Thanksgiving, when Seattle held San Francisco to 164 yards. Two of Kaepernick’s three lowest-rated passing games of his four-year career have been in the last 15 months against the Seahawks. His regular-season record as a starting QB against Seattle is 1-3. He’s 23-9 against all other teams.

He’s completed 51.6 percent of his passes with two touchdowns and seven interceptions against the Seahawks, compared to 60 percent with 45 touchdowns and 14 interceptions against everyone else.

How have the Seahawks capped Kaep?

Sherman and fellow defensive backs have crowded San Francisco’s receivers at the line. And in the two recent meetings the pass rush has gotten to him soon after to force a play — or, as on Thanksgiving, poor throws right at Sherman.

The Seahawks also have Bobby Wagner.

Kaepernick romped for 130 yards on 11 dashing runs that almost doomed Seattle in that NFC title game 11 months ago. You might remember it took a tipped pass by Sherman to Seahawks teammate Malcolm Smith for an end-zone interception in the final minutes to get Seattle past San Francisco and into the Super Bowl.

Some of those were called runs that January day at CenturyLink Field, yet many others were Kaepernick taking off when Seattle’s coverage clamped.

But he — and the Niners — have suddenly stopped running.

The Seahawks still respect the heck out of 31-year-old Frank Gore, who has 1,392 yards in 17 career games against the Seahawks — his most against any team (an average of 81.9 yards per meeting). But Gore had just 28 yards in the meeting two weeks ago.

Asked Wednesday what the Seahawks did to stop him, Gore said: “I didn’t really touch the ball, really.”

Really. He had 10 rushes in San Francisco’s 51 plays.

Kaepernick had just three rushes last week at Oakland. Two weeks ago in Santa Clara against the Seahawks he ran just three times for 17 yards. It seemed he was choosing to stay in a collapsing pocket and trying to throw — which he did 29 times that night, completing just 16 for only 121 yards while getting sacked four times.

The Niners have allowed 43 sacks. Only two-win Jacksonville has surrendered more. The 49ers have slipped to 27th in the NFL in passing (205.9 yards per game), 24th in total offense (319.4 yards) and 26th in points (18.8 points per game).

Trying the run Sunday — albeit against the NFL’s No. 1 rush defense — might be a better way to go against the Seahawks.

Kaepernick also had one of the fastest and sharpest Seahawks shadowing him on Thanksgiving.

Wagner, Seattle’s exquisite, invaluable middle linebacker, was the Kaepernick spy about three yards behind the line. When Kaepernick dropped to pass, Wagner didn’t rush and didn’t drop. He just hovered and waited for the quarterback to take off, which Kaepernick rarely did.

That 49ers game was Wagner’s second one back from a torn ligament and broken bone in a tendon of his right foot that cost him five games. These last three games of Seahawks defensive domination has coincided with Wagner’s return — plus the improved health of strong safety Kam Chancellor, who took two games off last month to rest his hip, groin and bone spurs in his ankles.

“I knew I could make an impact; I feel like I am an impactful player,” Wagner said. “Everybody’s getting healthy. And I just add to that.”

Gore agrees with that — in the veteran running back’s own, unique way.

“That 54, Bobby, he’s (expletive) fast as (expletive), man!” Gore said Wednesday.

Indeed, the Seahawks’ team speed overwhelmed the 49ers in the last meeting, and the Eagles last week in Philadelphia, for that matter. But Seattle’s offense squandered many chances to win by far more than 19-3 at San Francisco. And the 49ers’ defense remains formidable, third overall in the league (308.5 yards allowed per game), seventh against the run (97.2) and fourth against the pass (211.2).

Look for more of what the Seahawks did in the last meeting — and for the last two months after Percy Harvin was traded in October: Hand the ball to Marshawn Lynch early and often.

Lynch, who grew up across the Bay from San Francisco in Oakland and played collegiately at California, had 104 yards on 20 carries on Thanksgiving. He is averaging 101 yards rushing per game in his last seven meetings with the 49ers.

“This is right in the middle of the finish of this season and this is a really exciting time,” Carroll said. “I really like how the schedule is; it just makes for so much interest. Coming home to CenturyLink, come home to the 12s … expecting to hear them to turn up.

“I know our players are really revved up to finish this season on a great note. And they’re ready to turn up also.”

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