By Mychael Urban
Special to The Examiner
In advance of the 49ers’ divisional debut against visiting Seattle at Levi’s Stadium Sunday, the chatter was simple. Were the Seahawks still a worthy rival?
We got the answer.
Much has changed since former Seahawk Richard Sherman was crushing turkey legs on the 50-yard line and Marshawn Lynch’s “Beast Mode” moniker was cemented. But until the 49ers exhibit some semblance of an advantage, the debate is borderline laughable.
The rivalry is alive and well following Seattle’s 28-21 victory Sunday. Bonus drama? We might just have a full-blown quarterback controversy on our hands.
Jimmy Garoppolo was Good Jimmy early, mostly Bad Jimmy thereafter, and then Injured Jimmy for the entire second half, out with a calf injury. Rookie Trey Lance marched in, but was largely unimpressive much of the time, although he did enough in leading a late, meaningless touchdown drive to give this fire more life.
Here’s how we got there, and what else we learned:
That escalated quickly!
Such an odd game. The winners didn’t pick up a first down for 25 minutes to open the game. The losers moved the ball with relative impunity throughout the first half, spreading the field and spreading the ball around as they do. It’s hard to explain. Again, it was odd. Very odd. Like, punters-missing-field-goal-tries-and-extra-points odd. Previously sure-handed special teamers going all Kyle Williams. Dogs and cats living together. You get the idea.
Jimmy G vs. Trey is back with a vengeance. Woot!
Not like we didn’t see it coming. It started when the Niners moved up to pick quarterback Lance at No. 3 in the draft overall. What does this mean for the star-crossed incumbent?
It grew louder when Lance lit up training camp. Even teammates who’ve pledged allegiance to the Jimmy G flag — he did get many of these guys to a Super Bowl, remember — had to admit they were impressed.
Things got louder still when head coach Kyle Shanahan rotated the two in the preseason. Most of us were thinking: He’s not really gonna do this all year, is he?
It died down a bit with a 2-0 start, but for reasons unreasonable, it started to pick back up after the last-second loss to visiting Green Bay last week, even though Jimmy G was one of the heroes of the late TD drive, securing the lead with 37 seconds left to play.
Now? It’ll be louder than ever. Unless we find out almost immediately that Jimmy G’s reported calf injury, which was offered as the reason he didn’t play the second half, is serious and he’s medically unable to go for a while. And I’m not trying to go conspiracy theory here, but the strange lack of information provided during the game and shortly thereafter gets the gears grinding.
Linebacker Fred Warner certainly didn’t clear anything up, saying, “I didn’t really know what happened with Jimmy. Next man up mentality.” And onto the next question he moved.
Look, Warner has a ton of responsibility as the leader of the D, but at the very least it seems curious that he didn’t know what happened to his starting QB, who spent the entire second half on the sidelines with the kind of look on his face one gets with a good, long chug-a-lug of chunky, way-expired whole milk.
And if Jimmy G isn’t seriously hurt and is cleared to play sooner than later, but gets Alex Smith’d by the kid? I’m telling you, it ain’t gonna be pretty.
The D had a bad day
Not sure if the above phrase has been said around here in a while. Defense is what they’ve used to stabilize things when the offense is struggling, and what they used to bludgeon opponents when they’re at their best.
It’s why the Niners often defer when they win the coin flip, trusting Warner, Nick Bosa, Dee Ford and the rest of the unit to get them a positive vibe from the jump.
That’s exactly what happened Sunday. They made Seattle QB Russell Wilson look old on the opening drive, a Chuck Atlas sand-kicking into the mug of a probable Hall of Famer. One of three early sacks highlighted the three-and-out, and when Jimmy G’s six-for-six (for 70 yards), dart-throwing show was punctuated by a 21-yard TD pass to Ross Dwelley, the D ran out there for another three-and-out capped by a sack.
The next couple of Seattle possessions were pretty fruitless, as well. Heck, the first 25 minutes was one long “No soup for you!” for the Seahawks.
Then came the tying score at the end of the half. Then came a much brisker Wilson attack, getting the ball out early to negate the pressure up front. Then came the penalties. Absolute killers like a PI on a deep third-down pass, and a holding penalty way over on the weak side that wiped out another brilliant stand.
“Tough plays to overcome,” said Shanahan.
The D just looked … off.
“We were,” said Warner. “Bottom line, you gotta make stops on third down. We did that in the first half. The second half …”
His voice tiled off. He didn’t need to finish. The fans surely felt it, too. For the first time in a long time.
Robbie Gould is very important
Niners punter Mitch Wishnowsky is fantastic at his job. He’s got boom, he’s got touch, and he helps win the field-position game.
He’s not so great at place kicker Robbie Gould’s job.
Gould was a fairly late scratch with a groin issue, so Wish was pressed into taking over, and like the game itself, it started out quite well. He hit the extra-point to cap the opening drive, and on his ensuing kickoff, he made the tackle to prevent a potentially long return.
And like the game itself, it was almost all ugly thereafter. He missed a 41-yard field goal try that would have made the lead 10-0, and he missed the extra point after Deebo Samuel scored late in the third to cut Seattle’s lead to 21-13. He wasn’t trusted again.
Get well soon, Robbie.
Trey needs work
Somebody needs to teach Lance that having a howitzer doesn’t mean you’ll be successful. Remember Jeff George? Jim Druckenmiller, anyone?
In acknowledgment and appreciation of the day’s joyous Bay Area sports news, I’ll do this in baseball terms.
Look, everyone likes to see the radar gun hit triple digits, but big-league hitters will turn on 100-plus if they know it’s all you’ve got. Trey, right now, is Rob Dibble in a helmet and pads.
The reality in baseball is this: You don’t need to go higher than 90 to find success if you’ve got a few more staples in the gun. See: Maddox, Gregory.
Think about it, Mr. Lance.
The word is out on Deebo
Two more TDs, several bull-rushes over hapless defenders, and all kinds of love from the duo in the booth for Fox. We’ve known he’s a beast for a while in these parts. Now the world knows.
And watch, he’ll still be killing it every week he’s healthy.
His second TD was a classic, a you-can’t-possibly-think-you-can-stop-me score that left bodies in his wake with under two minutes to play. Trey ran for two points to close the scoring, so at least there was something positive late.
Sadly, it was a baby aspirin for a world-class migraine.
Mychael Urban has been covering Bay Area sports for the past 30 years.