Carbon copy—check. Diametrical opposite—done. Superior mirror image—oh boy.
The 49ers made it to the Super Bowl in 2012, lost and returned a championship-caliber team in 2013.
They would clearly like to make it back to football’s promised land and win.
Any such winning road to the NFL’s end-all, be-all game, however, travels through the Pacific Northwest—a losing and desolate wasteland that’s controlled by a malevolent troll as far as the 49ers are concerned.
San Francisco is in for the mother of all punch-you-in-the-mouth, grind-it-out, play-till-you-bleed postseason battles if it intends on playing in Super Bowl XLVIII.
The Seattle Seahawks are the NFL’s version of an arrogant older brother that continually has the upper hand over its precocious younger brother—played in this case by the 2013 49ers.
The Seahawks, like the elder sibling, achieve great success week in and week out, and completely disrespect what their similarly skilled younger sibling accomplishes.
They talk a lot of smack, bullying the family relation toward an inferiority complex.
They’ll even capitulate for a time, to give the up-and-comer a taste of the high life, only to immediately belittle its accomplishment to no end.
They can’t wait to crush the inferior in the most devastating fashion when they meet again (See: Richard Sherman).
In a case of hypothetical-turned-inevitable, here would arrive the Seahawks and 49ers in the NFC Championship Game.
Let’s hit the rewind button for just a moment.
The top dogs in the league’s preeminent division split their season series in 2013.
Pete Carroll’s Seahawks crushed their rival 49ers 29-3 at CenturyLink Field behind a 24-point scoring outburst in the second half.
Marshawn Lynch accounted for everything offensively with 135 yards and three touchdowns from scrimmage.
“Beast Mode’s” stellar production compensated for Russell Wilson’s poorest outing of the year. Wilson totaled season-lows with a 42.1 completion percentage and 142 yards passing, while notching his second-worst passer rating of 63.9.
He completed just eight passes and threw an interception into the hands of rookie free safety Eric Reid.
Yet, it was the Seahawks No. 1 defense that deserved the most attention.
The 4-3 front seven created consistent pressure with three sacks and 18 combined quarterback hits and hurries. Defensive ends Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril starred with 10 total pressures against Colin Kaepernick.
As a result, Kaepernick suffered through the most dismal Sunday of his young career.
The “Legion of Boom” picked him off three times and forced an awful 46.4 completion percentage and 20.1 passer rating.
Ringleader Richard Sherman was in his usual illegally good form with one interception, one pass breakup and a 33.3 percent completion rate and 8.3 passer rating allowed.
Kaepernick’s running prowess was also absent from this game. He appeared timid throughout, with most of his 87 yards rushing amounting to inconsequential scrambles.
The trenches, for their part, were an overall source of defensive ownership for the Seahawks and offensive failure for the 49ers.
Brandon Mebane and Red Bryant won their interior matchups all game long. Frank Gore rushed for 16 total yards on nine carries with just six yards coming between the tackles.
By game’s end, Seattle’s epically raucous crowd helped reduce San Francisco’s offense to a collection of head-scratchers after coughing up five turnovers and holding the ball for just 23:17.
The 49ers, thankfully, achieved a sense of comforting retribution with Seattle last week.
Gore, in a lovely sense of football irony, served as front man for the divisional payback.
The franchise’s all-time bell cow nearly placed a “times seven” next to his Week 2 rushing aggregate with 110 yards despite just eight additional carries.
The most critical, of course, arrived late in the fourth quarter.
Gore rushed left off tackle Joe Staley and lead fullback Bruce Miller before cutting right, beating free safety Earl Thomas and bursting down the sideline for a 51-yard gain.
It was a classic showcase of the 49ers’ run-blocking dominance and Gore’s considerable football intelligence.
Kaepernick then reciprocated in equally decisive fashion with a first down-netting QB sweep off left end on 3rd-and-7. Phil Dawson kicked the go-ahead 22-yard field goal shortly thereafter.
With nine seconds left on the clock, San Francisco’s top-five defense did the proverbial icing-on-the-cake dance, as nickel cornerback Eric Wright intercepted Wilson’s Hail Mary attempt.
Game over, ego preserved—the 49ers exhaled.
The final play solidified a superb afternoon by particular members of the secondary and defense overall.
Wright, Tramaine Brock and Donte Whitner did their part in shutting down Golden Tate and Jermaine Kearse.
The trio of defensive backs held Seattle’s pass-catchers to just one catch on six targets, not to mention a 33.3 passer rating allowed in their coverage area.
Up front, Ray McDonald experienced his own deliverance. The seldom-healthy defensive end notched one sack, two stops and his second-highest rating of the season by Pro Football Focus.
Nose tackle Glenn Dorsey followed suit with his PFF-best and further domination of Seattle’s running game.
Indeed, Lynch’s one rushing touchdown was more aberrant than norm in this game. He averaged just 3.6 yards per carry, including 2.6 between the teeth of the 49ers’ front line.
Linebackers NaVorro Bowman and Aldon Smith, meanwhile, provided the majority of their team’s vital pass rush with five quarterback pressures.
Bowman’s bone-crushing sack of Wilson on Seattle’s opening series set the tone for the entire game.
Fortunately, Patrick Willis’ two rare lapses in coverage did not completely undermine the efforts made by his defensive teammates.
Rookie tight end Luke Willson burned the 49ers’ perennial All Pro twice in the second quarter.
The first was a 29-yard catch that brought the Seahawks across midfield on their first touchdown drive. Willis’ second gaffe resulted directly in Willson’s 39-yard touchdown and a 14-9 Seattle lead.
Pro Football Focus docked Willis with a negative rating in pass defense for the only time this season.
Before moving further along with the negative outlook, here is what bodes well for the 49ers in their potential future matchup with the Seahawks.
- Kaepernick and Vernon Davis maintained their season-long mutual connection with the tight end’s 11th touchdown reception.
- That red-zone score on third down won the first half—and possibly the game—for the 49ers.
- Michael Crabtree showed burst and vertical leap, especially on an acrobatic 17-yard catch.
- Anquan Boldin clearly benefited from Crabtree’s presence. He had another 90-yard outing with No. 15 on the field.
- 49ers receivers induced multiple penalties on the Seahawks’ notoriously aggressive secondary.
- Gore and Kaepernick rejuvenated their team’s offensive strength with two timely runs on the game-winning drive.
- San Francisco managed the clock and killed 5:54 on that final series. It won overall time of possession with 32:28 on offense.
- The front seven generated multiple sacks for the second-straight game against Seattle. McDonald and Bowman served as a newfound source.
- The back end picked off Wilson and limited him to one touchdown pass once again. Brock and Wright were two new additional difference-makers.
- Lynch did not register a single catch in the passing game. Credit Bowman.
- Seattle lost in the trenches and recorded fewer than 100 yards rushing.
- San Francisco forced four Seattle drives into either zero first downs or negative total yardage.
- The Seahawks scored just 17 points, well below their top-three average of 27.5.
- Bowman and Company “out-physicaled” the Seahawks. Crucial—not cliche.
Unfortunately, all of this positivity occurred in San Francisco.
The 49ers have not experienced the taste of victory in Seattle since 2011. They have not proven their championship mettle at “The C-link” over the past two seasons.
The Seahawks, from top to bottom, have maintained their superior big-brother status on their home field.
They win the trenches, pound the rock, stop the run, create turnovers, produce big plays and outsmart the opposition—all at higher levels than the 49ers.
What the 49ers do best, the Seahawks simply do better.
Call it smash-mouth, opportunistic football at it’s finest—with game-altering production from a more advanced dual-threat quarterback sprinkled on top.
Let’s conclude with some factual tidbits.
Two stats pertaining to win-loss records assume ownership over all others in this unavoidable Super Bowl-qualifier.
Wilson is 14-0 at home since taking over starting duties as a rookie in 2012. He is 2-0 against Kaepernick and the 49ers.
As the lowest playoff seed based on current league standings, the 49ers’ second postseason stop will materialize in CenturyLink Field against the top-seeded Seahawks.
If they could avoid it, they would. But they can’t, so they won’t.
Want another shot at Super Bowl redemption, San Francisco 49ers?
Beat the best at their best—on their own turf.