A big step in the right direction

After a slow start, the Seahawks started making plays in their season opener on Sunday. As a result, they were able to slap a 31-6 loss on the NFC West favorite San Francisco 49ers at Qwest Field.

The Seahawks had tiptoed to the edge of the precipitous pratfall they tumbled into so many times last season.
The San Francisco 49ers were dominating the game – if not the scoreboard – in the season opener between the NFC West rivals. The preseason favorites to win the division held huge advantages in time of possession, total yards and big plays during the first 24 minutes at Qwest Field.

Instead of falling in, however, the Seahawks began flailing back.

“We could have fallen in the tank a little bit,” defensive tackle Colin Cole said. “But we rose. We rose to the opportunity and we came out of this thing really knowing who we are.”

That would be a resilient bunch that continued to compete, and a team that rallied to score 31 unanswered points in slapping the disbelieving 49ers with a 31-6 setback before an approving and boisterous crowd of 67,044.

Behind Matt Hasselbeck, who bounced back after throwing an interception on the first play of the game, the offense scored three touchdowns and also put together a ball-control drive to an Olindo Mare field goal that consumed 6½ minutes of the fourth quarter. Hasselbeck threw for two scores and ran for a third.

The defense also scored, on Marcus Trufant’s 32-yard interception return, and then scored even more points by making life miserable for 49ers QB Alex Smith. The Seahawks got sacks from defensive ends Red Bryant and Dexter Davis, but they also got 11 hits on Smith and their hands on seven of his passes.

Stretching that old bend-but-don’t-break line fiber-optic thin, the Seahawks let the 49ers drive to their 5- (once) and 6-yard lines (twice) on their first three possessions. But the 49ers came out of it with only a pair of Joe Nedney field goals.

“This was a very challenging day for us early on,” coach Pete Carroll said. “We couldn’t get anything going on offense. Field position was totally weighed in their favor.

“But the defense refused to give up a touchdown, and won on fourth down as well, and kept us in the game to give us a chance to find our momentum. All we needed was one score. Once that happened, we just had a chance.”

And, they never gave the 49ers a chance to make amends.

“I will say this: Today, we are going to thank Pete Carroll and his staff. They did an outstanding job,” 49ers coach Mike Singletary said. “It was good medicine for us. We have to swallow it. Bitter. There’s no sugar coating it at all.”

The 49ers did not score in the final 36 minutes. After rolling up 99 yards in the first quarter – compared to 9 for the Seahawks – the 49ers generated 40 yards in the third quarter and 65 in the fourth.

“Yeah, it was a tough one,” said 49ers Pro Bowl middle linebacker Patrick Willis, who finished with a game-high 10 tackles but not one game-altering play. “I give the Seahawks all the credit. They came out and did what they needed to do to win.”

In took a while, but the Seahawks did just that.

After that palm-to-forehead pick by Hasselbeck, he settled down to complete 18 of his next 22 passes for 170 yards. He did the Deon/Deion double on his TD throws, passing for 13 yards to Deon Butler and 13 yards to Deion Branch – to opposite sides of the North end zone.

But before he passed the Seahawks to leads of 14-6 and 28-6, Hasselbeck got that elusive first score that Carroll alluded to – and did it not with his arm, but his legs. Hasselbeck’s dive to the goal line for a 1-yard TD late in the first half gave the Seahawks a 7-6 lead – one they would not relinquish.

“Matt showed off his legs – that he developed in the offseason; that he owes to the strength and conditioning program,” Carroll said. “He had an opportunity to run on that play. He had guys in the end zone to throw to, and he just made the choice.

“He looked pretty good.”

Hasselbeck did, indeed, and it went well beyond that one run – not matter how significant the points he produced turned out to be.

Butler, the second-year receiver whose role has grown considerably this season, also deserves some credit for planting the seed that blossomed on Sunday.

“Deon Butler was teasing me about it this week (in practice),” Hasselbeck said of the bootleg play. “He side, ‘You could probably run that in.’ And I said, ‘Nah, I don’t think so. He said, ‘Nah, I think you can get there.’

“Maybe it was the confidence he showed in me. Maybe that helped me decide to do what I did.”

While Hasselbeck was running it in, the Seahawks defense was rubbing it in. They really turned up the heat on Smith, especially after he was forced into a throw-it-or-else situation when the score started spiraling in the Seahawks’ favor. The Seahawks also held Frank Gore to 38 yards on 17 carries, for a 2.2-yard average. This after he ran for 207 yards, and scores of 80 and 79 yards, in San Francisco during a Week 2 game against the Seahawks last season.

It was only the season opener, but what an opener it was. The Seahawks now share the division lead with the Arizona Cardinals as they set their sights on next week’s first road game – at Denver against the Broncos.

“It’s definitely a step in the right direction,” said defensive back Jordan Babineaux, who also had an interception and 20-yard return to set up Hasselbeck’s first TD pass. “Defensively, I think we did an outstanding job on Frank Gore; we did a great job on the run.

“We took a step in the right direction. We’re going to go back, we’ll watch the film, make the necessary corrections that we need and get ready for the next one.”

That they will. Carroll will make sure of that.

“There was just a lot of really good stuff that happened,” Carroll said. “And yet, we have a million miles to go.”

At least the journey began without falling into the trap that turned to defeat so many times last season.