Though the San Francisco 49ers didn’t blank their first opponent, their victory over the reigning NFC champions was no less impressive.
The Seahawks and the Niners look to build on encouraging season-opening wins and improve to 2-0 within the NFC West on Sunday when they meet at Candlestick Park.
In large part because it was plagued by injuries, Seattle stumbled to a 4-12 finish in its final season under Mike Holmgren. Holmgren’s retirement opened the door for Mora, whose new-look Seahawks cruised to a 28-0 win over St. Louis last Sunday.
Seattle’s first shutout since Nov. 12, 2007, also was its easiest win to open a season since a 38-0 victory over Philadelphia in 1998.
“It was especially emotional for me, because there is some significance to it. I’d be lying if I told you there wasn’t,” said the 47-year-old Mora, Atlanta’s coach from 2004-06. “It was kind of a surreal experience.”
Matt Hasselbeck, who missed nine games last season with a bad back, completed 25 of 36 passes with three touchdowns, two interceptions and 279 yards – his most in an opener. The rest of the Seahawks showed some feistiness, swarming on defense and sometimes scrapping with Rams players after the whistle.
“The whole offseason, they said our team was soft,” said rookie outside linebacker Aaron Curry, the fourth overall pick who scuffled repeatedly with Rams running back Steven Jackson. “We’ve got to change our image.”
There might be more adjustments to come. Despite the lopsided win, Mora wasn’t happy with his team’s three turnovers in the first quarter or the fact that his defense gave up 109 of its 247 total yards allowed on St. Louis’ final two drives.
“There were a lot of opportunities for us to get better. And we will do that,” he said. “I think the most positive thing besides the win … was that we overcame some adversity early, three turnovers in the first quarter. Our defense went out the first three series and in 14 plays (allowed) 7 yards and one first down.
“When you go through a season, you have to be able to lean on each other a little bit, because it’s rare really that all three phases of the game are working at the same time at maximum efficiency.”
Like Mora, San Francisco’s Mike Singletary got his first full season as coach off to a good start last weekend. Handed the full-time job in the offseason after serving on an interim basis for nine games in 2008, Singletary guided the Niners to a hard-fought 20-16 win over reigning division and conference champion Arizona last Sunday.
“To come in their backyard, after everything they’ve accomplished, we knew it was going to be a tremendous challenge,” Singletary said.
While the Niners answered that challenge, their rushing attack was almost completely contained. They came into the season strongly devoted to Frank Gore and the running game but totaled 21 yards on 25 carries, the fewest yards rushing in a victory in franchise history and third-lowest ever by the team.
“I don’t think anybody was as sharp as we wanted them to be in this game,” Singletary said. “Yes it was indeed an ugly game. But it was beautiful to see our guys continue to fight, persevere, work through the adversity, work through the issues, work through the noise, work through all this stuff and come out with a win.
“The biggest thing we did is we stayed together. We hung together, we fought together and we ended up winning together.”
Singletary lost his head coaching debut 34-13 at home against Seattle last season as San Francisco settled for a split of the season series. The Niners have dropped nine of 12 against the Seahawks since 2003, including five of six at Candlestick Park.
While San Francisco came out of its opener without any major injuries, Seattle is hurting again with linebacker Leroy Hill expected to miss at least six weeks with a groin injury.
Nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Walter Jones, though, could play Sunday, one month to the day after knee surgery.
Jones had his most extensive practice on Friday since undergoing his second knee surgery in eight months. He did some team drills and is listed as questionable.
Mora said Jones has progressed more than expected, but cautioned “we can’t be greedy” and play the star too soon.