Monday, September 16, 2013

Shoved Off The Floor

It's really no secret to anyone that the 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks are going to be the two teams duking it out not just for supremacy in the NFC West, but perhaps in the entire NFC altogether. This particular rivalry has become one of the NFL's hottest. It was always a good rivalry, albeit a fairly recent one since they weren't in the same division until the NFL realigned in 2002. Since then, the 49ers and Seahawks have rarely been good at the same time, so nobody paid much attention. But now, their home-and-home matchups have become must-watch. And on the big prime time stage, the Seahawks threw a haymaker at the 49ers, controlling the game behind their raucous home crowd and booting them out of the building in a 29-3 blasting that showed just how dangerous a team the Seahawks are.

It's hard not to overreact to the results of big matchups like this, and I know everyone has basically anointed the Seahawks as NFC Champs here in Week 2, but it's important to remember that it is, indeed, only week 2. There's still a lot of season to be played, and another matchup between these two teams forthcoming in San Francisco in December. That being said, for the 49ers, this game was probably worse than the score might indicate. In a game that was overall a pretty sloppy, chippy affair marked with multiple penalties on both sides, it was the Seahawks who eventually exerted their will , getting ahead and rather methodically putting the game out of reach.

The game kicked off in a pouring Seattle thunderstorm that would eventually cause an hour's delay late in the 1st quarter. By that point, the 49ers had come out prepared to hang tight in the noise tunnel that is The Kingdome Pearl Jam Starbucks Century Link Field (or, The Clink, as it's appropriately referred to). When the 49ers got smoked there late last season, Colin Kaepernick had trouble in the huddle and calling plays. Last night, he came out prepared with a system of codes and hand signals and a semi-no-huddle offensive attack. This was good by design, but Seattle's defense was ready for whatever Kaepernick had to throw at them. The 49ers defense was prepared, too, coming after Seattle Quarterback Russell Wilson early and scored the first break with a blocked punt that occurred when a rogue whistle may or may not have blown and distracted the Seattle punt squad enough to let the rush slip by. Pete Carroll bitched and moaned about it plenty, but the resulting 49ers drive was snuffed out when a Kaepernick pass was batted and then intercepted in the End Zone by Earl Thomas.

This, unfortunately, was probably the best sequence for the 49ers all night. Following the weather delay (prompting me to muse as to why Seattle, a city where it probably rains about 65% of the year, decided to build a Football stadium with a giant hole in the roof as opposed to a retractable roof stadium like their Baseball team has, directly across the street), the Seahawks took charge and never looked back. Buoyed primarily by their defense, Seattle forced 5 turnovers and didn't give the 49ers an inch. For the second week in a row, Frank Gore and the 49ers running game couldn't get an inch. Gore was stymied in week 1, but last night he was functionally useless, as were Kendall Hunter and Anthony Dixon. The 49ers ended up with 100 yards rushing for the game, 87 of which were by Kaepernick, a majority of which were gained after the game was out of reach. Kaepernick found no luck passing either. Anquan Boldin, who ran wild last week, was blanketed by the loathsome Richard Sherman (who is loathsome, and yet oddly during a pregame interview came off as surprisingly well-spoken and intelligent) and was shut down completely. All told, Kaepernick threw 3 interceptions and lost a fumble in what was easily his worst performance since he took over as starter last season.

Defensively, the 49ers did whatever they could to keep the game somewhat in reach. Unfortunately, the multiple turnovers (and a Safety caused by an unconscionable holding call in the End Zone by Bruce Miller) resulted in the Seahawks having short fields on multiple occasions. They did their best—after 3 Quarters, the score was only 12-3—and Russell Wilson had a performance not much better than Kaepernick's (his one interception was in the midst of an 0-for-8 start), but Marshawn Lynch, who just has the 49ers' number, plowed and plowed and plowed his way for 3 Touchdowns, ultimately wearing down the 49ers defense to the point where he was just blowing defenders away by game's end.

The 49ers lone score came late in the 3rd Quarter on a Field Goal that came at the end of one of their few sustained offensive drives (comprised primarily of Kaepernick scrambling). At that point, down 12-0, I questioned the move. From the Seahawks 3 yard line, they might have been wise to at least attempt to get a Touchdown. That being said, they'd had such little success to that point, that the thinking there could very well have been to just take the points and not get shut out. And whatever momentum they had from that drive was given right back when a pair of damaging penalties, one a 40-yard Pass Interference on Nnamdi Asomugha and the second a Facemask on Aldon Smith, extended the drive long enough for Seattle to score a Touchdown and for all intents and purposes put the game to bed.

The lack of a running game was alarming enough. Although Kaepernick certainly won't have many games as bad as last night, he also won't through for 412 yards every week either, and the running game has been so important to the success of the team these past few seasons. Gore, who through 2 games has mustered a paltry 60 yards on 30 carries, and company really need to find themselves and quick. But even more alarming were the undisciplined penalties (the most egregious of which I've mentioned) and the injuries. One key to the success of the 49ers has been their ability to stay healthy these past two seasons. Already without Michael Crabtree, the 49ers also saw injuries to Ian Williams, whose broken ankle may cost him the remainder of the season, Eric Reid, the rookie who performed so well in Week 1 and had an Interception last night suffered a concussion, and Vernon Davis, who came up with a hamstring injury. Reid and Davis' injuries didn't appear serious, but the 49ers could ill afford to lose them for any extended period of time. So...yeah. This game was about as disastrous as you can get. But, one of the trademarks of the Jim Harbaugh-era 49ers is how well they've responded after losses, particularly bad losses. This isn't a team that wallows in self-pity for too long, which is why they're usually able to bounce back quickly.

There's very little to defend about the 49ers performance in this game, but I suppose if anyone is willing to take any solace, it's that nobody was going to win that game in Seattle last night. I know that they pipe in crowd noise at the Clink, and the walls are built out of some reverberating aluminum material that makes sound carom all over the place, but this team just feeds off the crowd noise and it drives them to another level. Or maybe it's all the amphetamines Pete Carroll keeps feeding them. Whatever it is, they went undefeated at home last year, and if they took the 49ers apart like this last night, I have a very hard time believing anyone is going to go into that building and win this season. And the rest of the NFC better hope they don't end up as the #1 seed, because if they're at home through the Playoffs, they probably will justify the hype everyone's casting on them and go all the way to the Super Bowl.

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