A December matchup between fierce rivals that only months ago looked to be a for-sure NFC West championship decider has instead become the 49ers’ chance to show it still belongs in the playoff mix. Period.
If the two-time reigning division champion 49ers (8-4) can’t beat the Seahawks (11-1) at home today, they will certainly have a far more daunting task of trying to beat them in Seattle if the teams meet again in the NFC playoffs.
“If this doesn’t fire you up, if this doesn’t fire up the fans, then what does?” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. “I suppose Abraham Lincoln riding across the field with a frock and a top hat, riding a horse, waving an American flag. I doubt that would fire them up, if this game doesn’t fire them up. The people that really love football would be fired up by this matchup.”
Seattle clinched the NFL’s first playoff berth with a rout of New Orleans on Monday night, and would wrap up the West with a win at Candlestick Park and possibly a first-round bye.
The Seahawks are thinking far beyond the rivalry, or that a team that reached the last Super Bowl is on the other side.
“Well, we’ve been in the midst of these for a long time,” coach Pete Carroll said. “We’ve looked at every game like it’s a championship opportunity for us, and we’ve continued to see and feel it that way.”
The 49ers are calling for a “red out” this weekend, as in all fans wear red. Anything to help boost the energy at Candlestick for a game of this magnitude.
Sure, the Niners would love to establish a home-field advantage similar to what Seattle has.
“I would hope for that this week, that Candlestick, we get it cranked up,” Harbaugh said. “Make it a real great environment, because it’ll be a great football game.”
Not that Seattle isn’t accustomed to noise. The Seahawks’ own home games help them prepare — and on Sunday they will try for a franchise-best sixth road victory.
“Our crowd is sensational,” Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson said. “They’re so loud every week. So, yeah, I think it definitely does [help]. We’re not afraid to go on the road and play in a tough environment.”
Harbaugh doesn’t have enough good things to say about Wilson, and the 49ers coach has one of football’s talented young quarterbacks himself.
“He’s a little bit quicker than some defensive linemen, I guess,” defensive end Justin Smith said of Wilson. “I’m one of them.”
That MVP talk for Wilson, 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio calls it “legitimate.”
“He’s a fantastic player. A wonderful, wonderful player, competitor,” Harbaugh said. “Skills of arm talent, mobility. Great field awareness. Understands the scrambling lanes, the escape routes out of the pocket. A lot of wonderful qualities about him.”