For context: The lowly San Francisco 49ers are awful, a team and franchise in disarray. And that takes some of the gee-whiz out of the Seattle Seahawks’ 29-13 drubbing of them Sunday at CenturyLink Field.
But until the Seahawks remember how to play a consistent 60 minutes with the explosiveness they have managed in sporadic bursts this season, the balanced nature of the NFL is going to keep them in contention.
And exceptional performances by a pair of rookies — back Thomas Rawls and receiver Tyler Lockett, who scored four touchdowns between them — provided what could turn into crucial impetus for the Seahawks heading down the stretch.
Rawls took over for injured Marshawn Lynch again and rushed for 209 yards, the second-most yards in a Seahawks game (Shaun Alexander, 266, 2001). And Lockett pulled in a pair of touchdown passes from quarterback Russell Wilson.
Against the lowly 3-7 Niners.
The Seahawks’ offense has been inconsistent and at times ineffective, with a shaky line and the capacity to fall asleep late in games.
But the youthful and combustible Rawls and Lockett seemed to awaken the entire team on Sunday.
“You just feed off runners like that,” safety Kam Chancellor said, who called Rawls “little baby Marshawn.”
How does tough running by a back inspire the defense, Kam? “He has that hunger, that desire to win.”
Toss in Lockett’s emergence as a receiver, and Wilson’s 260 passing yards with three touchdowns, and the offense came up with a season-high 508 yards.
“It’s growth,” Chancellor said. “Those guys understanding who they are and what they can do and the weapons they have on that side of the ball … it’s those guys showing their desire to win.”
Against the lowly 3-7 Niners.
It might not take much more than that boost from the offensive rookies to get the Hawks heading in the direction they’ve sought. While last week’s loss to Arizona seemed to doom their divisional chances, Sunday’s win lifted them to 5-5 and revived their long-term prognosis.
Only two nondivisional leaders have better records than the Seahawks’.
The Packers and Vikings are each 7-3 in the NFC North, but Green Bay earned the tiebreaker with a head-to-head rout on Sunday (30-13), and the Seahawks get a shot to take the Vikings down themselves on Dec. 6.
And Atlanta, at 6-4, has lost three straight, including one recently to the lowly Niners.
The rest of the way, they’ve got Pittsburgh (6-4) at home next week. Then they visit lowly Baltimore (3-7), which also already lost to the lowly Niners.
Lowly Cleveland is 2-8. St. Louis (4-6) beat the Hawks in the opener but have slipped to 4-6 and somehow lost this season to lowly Baltimore.
The Hawks finish on the road against Arizona, which might have the NFC West title in the bag at that point and be inclined to rest some stars for the regular-season finale.
Sunday’s win was not nearly the complete game the Hawks made it out to be afterward. Coach Pete Carroll saved us the trouble of criticizing a dubious timeout call late in the first half that helped the lowly Niners start an offensive burst that got San Francisco back in the game early in the second half.
“I made a mistake there with my timeout call,” he said.
He was also correct in pointing out how important it was for the Hawks to play hard and tough at home against a division foe and former rival. They needed to come out of this game with more than just a win, preferably the sense that they could once again dominate.
“This is what it’s supposed to look like for us,” he said.
It can look a lot better, and Carroll knows it.
“There’s a lot of football to be played,” Carroll said. “We have a chance to have a good team, we still do.”
And until then, there’s enough lowly teams out there to keep the race to the playoffs pretty interesting for the Seahawks.