Sunday night’s game for the 49ers against the Seattle Seahawks may be even more important than last week’s statement win over the New England Patriots because their postseason standing is at stake.
The 49ers have virtually clinched their division because they’d have to lose their last two games, including a home game against the Arizona Cardinals, to give the Seahawks a chance to slip in. They aren’t going to lose to the Cardinals.
They could easily lose to the Seahawks, though, and would open the possibility that they’d wind up with the third-best record among NFC divisional champions. Atlanta needs just one win in its final two games to earn the right to host all playoff games. Green Bay trails the Niners by a half-game, which means if they win Sunday and the 49ers lose to the Seahawks, they’d leapfrog San Francisco in the standings.
The Seahawks played the 49ers tough in the early season game in San Francisco, losing 13-6. The 49ers offense was held down by the Seahawks defense, and Niners coach Jim Harbaugh complained to the league office that the Seattle cornerbacks were holding 49ers receivers, a complaint that Seattle coach Pete Carroll correctly characterized as an attempt to influence future officiating.
At that point, the Seahawks were struggling on offense, trying to work rookie quarterback Russell Wilson into their schemes. Since then, Wilson has taken charge and looks like a proven quarterback, completing almost 63 percent of his passes, with 21 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He’s also rushed for 402 yards and a 5.2 average. With former Cal star Marshawn Lynch also running very well, the Seahawks have been an offensive powerhouse the last two weeks, scoring 58 and 50 points in consecutive games.
Sunday, they’re playing at home in the noisiest stadium in the league. The 49ers’ young quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, has struggled to get plays called in time, even at home. In the Seattle atmosphere, where it’s impossible for teammates to even hear his play calls, he’ll have even more problems.
This rivalry has been all 49ers in the three games the teams have played since Harbaugh took over the Niners, but the Seahawks may make a statement Sunday night that will resonate through the league.
The opposing coaches have a history, which has been a popular subplot this week. At Stanford, Harbaugh famously went for a two-point conversion when his team was already up 48-21 against USC. Carroll did not accept that graciously, saying “What’s your deal?” to Harbaugh as the two coaches met after the game.
We’ve since learned that Harbaugh does not get along any better with opposing coaches than he does with the media. It doesn’t matter. This game will be won or lost by the players, not the coaches.
Bad news for the 49ers’ chances: Defensive tackle Justin Smith may miss the game because of an injury suffered in the win over the Patriots. Ricky Jean Francois, his replacement, is a good player; he made a key fourth-quarter sack against the Patriots. But Smith has been the leader of the team’s defense, a non-stop force.
But a Super Bowl team has to prove it can overcome adversity, which is the real reason this game is so important to the 49ers.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.