Despite the 49ers’ 4-8 record, the Seahawks enter Sunday’s big rematch against them in San Francisco with a one-game-at-a-time approach – and an ample amount of deference.
A lot has changed since the Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers opened the regular season at Qwest Field on Sept. 12.
“They’re the team that everyone – I mean, everyone – picked to win our division this year,” quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said this week, as the Seahawks were preparing for their rematch with the 49ers in San Francisco on Sunday.
Instead, the 49ers are 4-8 and a loss to the Seahawks would mathematically eliminate them from the division race. The Seahawks, meanwhile, are 6-6 and share the NFC West lead with St. Louis, although the Rams hold the tiebreaker because of their Week 4 win over Seattle.
So the Seahawks can knock two items off their late-season to-do list with a win on Sunday, when the Rams travel to New Orleans to face the 9-3 Saints. Then there’s that Jan. 2 regular-season finale between the Seahawks and Rams at Qwest Field.
“We’re not on that at all. It’s just this game, and it is obviously important because you’re playing a division team and you can put them behind you,” said coach Pete Carroll, who grew up in the Bay Area and was the 49ers defensive coordinator in 1995-96.
“I like this particular challenge of beating an opponent twice. That’s hard to do, and hopefully we can get that done.”
But back to how things have changed since that first meeting between the Seahawks and 49ers.
The 49ers don’t have rampaging running back Frank Gore, who fractured his hip against the Arizona Cardinals two week ago and has been placed on injured reserve. Gore has had some of his biggest days against the Seahawks – including a career-high 212 rushing yards against them in San Francisco in 2006 and a 207-yard outing against them at Candlestick Park last season that included TD runs of 80 and 79 yards.
Despite being limited to five carries against the Cardinals and missing last week’s game against the Packers in Green Bay, Gore still leads the 49ers in rushing (by 677 yards) and receiving (by two catches).
“Anytime you lose a player of his caliber, it’s difficult,” quarterback Alex Smith said this week. “He does so much for us. He’s such a versatile back in the run game and in the pass game, in protection. So you look at how much production he’s had for this season, obviously it’s an adjustment.”
Another adjustment for the 49ers this week is going back to Smith at quarterback. He has not played since spraining his non-throwing shoulder in Week 7. In his absence, Troy Smith was 3-2 as the starter, compared to Smith’s 1-6 mark to start the season.
“It was a very tough decision,” 49ers coach Mike Singletary said of going from one Smith back to the other. “We just continue to go forward. We don’t rule out Troy’s possibilities. We know what he brings to the team and we feel very good about what he’s done. But, for right now, we just feel like Alex was better suited as the starter.”
Alex Smith is 2-5 in previous starts against the Seahawks, and both wins came in 2006.
The changes aren’t restricted to the 49ers. The Seahawks now have Marshawn Lynch as part of their four-legged running attack. The hard-running back, who grew up in Oakland, was acquired in a trade with the Buffalo Bills during the Seahawks’ Week 5 bye.
Last week, Lynch ran for 83 yards and a career-high three touchdowns.
“There are a number of guys that they’ve added, and of course some guys have matured,” Singletary said when asked about facing the Seahawks with Lynch sharing the load with Justin Forsett.
“I just think that the first time that we played them, they were a team trying to figure out what they were going to be, who they were going to be, and I just think through the progression of the additions and the maturity of their guys, they’ve become a better football team.”
Good point regarding the roster additions. In addition to Lynch, the Seahawks will have four other new starters from that opening game against the 49ers – first-round draft choice Russell Okung at left tackle, Stacy Andrews at right guard, former 49ers Kentwan Balmer at defensive end and whoever starts at flanker. It could be five, depending on whether leading receiver Mike Williams can play with the left ankle he sprained last week.
Despite all the changes, and the opposite directions their seasons have taken, one thing remains the same for the Seahawks: Their respect for the 49ers, especially when they’re playing at home.
“There’s a lot of respect there,” Hasselbeck said. “They’ve got weapons. They’ve had some really tough losses this year and they’ve had some injuries. But there’s definitely respect there from us.
“They’ve earned it by the way they’ve played.”