After beating a good solid team like Chicago on the road earlier in the season and thrashing Carolina last week to take control of their own playoff destiny, they wandered into Candlestick Park today and looked as bad as a team can look.
Nothing seemed to work, and if not for the standout play of Leon Washington, there would have been few highlights worthy of regurgitation.
Seattle’s super-return specialist raced 92 yards in the third quarter for the only Seattle score in the second half until Deon Butler’s season-ending catch in the last minute of the game. Washington almost had done the same thing earlier in the game on a punt.
But sadly, the rest of his team looked and played bad. Former all-pro QB Matt Hasselbeck had possibly his worst game as a professional, with four drive-killing interceptions and lost a fumble.
And it wasn’t as if the ball was being dropped or booted, because most of the interceptions were the result of terrible choices into double or triple coverage, or inaccurate throws that missed several dozen feet above or below receiver heads.
Ironically going into the match, it had been the other quarterback who was feeling the heat. Former No. 1 overall draft pick and Utah Ute Alex Smith had been beaten up on both blogs and talk radio, with 49er fans on the verge of running both him and coach Mike Singletary out of town amidst tar and feathers for their very unimpressive 4-8 start.
Both teams needed to win this game badly, but if the 49ers lost, it would mean their season would be over—they would be eliminated from the playoffs.
So coach Michael Singletary, desperate for a change in direction, decided to go with Alex Smith. Smith had missed the previous five games, but he had much wider play options and versatility.
San Francisco’s stud running back Frank Gore, who last year mutilated Seattle's defense with 207 yards in the game at the same stadium, is out the rest of this season with a fractured hip.
They would have to count on former Pittsburgh Steeler Brian Westbrook at running back, who had been released and signed in August. Westbrook hardly produced knee-knocking and sweating fear in Seattle, but perhaps he should have, given what was about to happen.
This was the first time Pete Carroll would coach the Seahawks in the city where he had grown up. But his alma mater, nearby Larkspur High School, probably had more depth at wide receiver than the Seahawks did, since both Mike Williams and Ben Obomanu were out from injuries.
As the game started, 49er fans were in a testy mood given their dismal performance this season. And indeed, on the first play of the opening drive, Candlestick Park erupted into boos and cat calls when Smith avoided a horrid Seattle blitz and dumped the first pass of the day into the ground for a routine throwaway.
And on the second play when Vernon Davis dropped another short pass, fans were already cranky and on the verge of a mutiny.
But when Smith hit Davis for 22 yards up the right side to midfield on the third play, followed by two quick Brian Westbrook running plays up the middle and finished with a 42-yard TD to Davis for an almost immediate 7-0 San Francisco lead, fans suddenly morphed into downright giddiness—especially since these were the first points the 49ers had scored at home since Week 10!
Finally, they looked like the team most pundits listed as the preseason division favorite, albeit for only one opening drive.
Seattle got a quick first down on their opening drive on a Hasselbeck pass to Golden Tate at midfield, but three plays later punted and San Francisco was in business again, only to go three-and-out themselves.
The Seahawks then marched 52 yards on seven plays, finishing with a touchdown when Hasselbeck hit mostly unknown fill-in wide receiver Ruvell Martin with just over four minutes left in the first quarter.
San Francisco answered with a nine-play drive and an ugly field goal that Aaron Currey nearly blocked when he leaped over the line and had the ball go between his arms, to make it 10-7 to end the first quarter.
It seemed to be a fairly competitive tight game at this point, but the Seahawks were about to roll out one of their worst quarters of the year and quite perhaps in their history.
It started innocently enough with Seattle moving the ball on four plays to midfield again, but Hasselbeck’s perfect throw to Michael Robinson, a former college QB, sailed through his hands and right into the bread-basket of former Auburn great Takeo Spikes.
The 49ers then used seven plays to get another field goal, this time from 42 yards to make it 13-7, after Ted Ginn muffed a couple of easy throws that should have been sure catches.
With 10 minutes left in the half, Seattle started their next drive from their own 17-yard line. Three plays later, San Francisco’s Travis LaBoy stripped Hasselbeck and the 49ers recovered the ball in the red zone, where they put the game away when Smith hit Josh Morgan at the nine-yard line with a quick slant, and he raced home for a 20-7 San Francisco lead.
Ten points in two minutes.
Another kickoff and Seattle used six plays to get the ball clear up the San Francisco 15-yard line after Marshawn Lynch scampered up the middle for two dozen yards, only to have it called back on a mystery hold that replays couldn’t find.
Two plays later it was 4th-and-4, and Seahawks, now desperate to get back in the game with the ball on the 35-yard line, decided to go for it.
But with some of the strangest play-calling of the season, Hasselbeck threw a wobbly hanging pass intended for his new favorite target, Ruvell Martin, who ran into the defender as the ball sailed over both their heads.
Fans and TV announcers both questioned why Hasselbeck hadn’t opted for two wide-open Seattle receivers closer in, but he didn’t, and the San Francisco now had the ball again with three minutes left in the half, and two plays later Westbrook raced up the middle for a 62-yard touchdown romp and the game was effectively over.
San Francisco had a 27-7 lead.
But the Seahawks weren’t done with their holiday charity just yet. Hasselbeck again made just an awful choice, trying to hit a triple-covered Deon Butler at midfield with just over a minute left, which Reggie Smith of San Francisco picked off for the third SF interception of the half and returned to Seattle’s nine-yard line.
And with the aid of terrible clock management by San Francisco, the half ended with the game over. The 49ers sat on a 30-7.
And then just to make sure we could declare this one of Matt Hasselbeck’s worst games ever, to open the second half Hasselbeck tried to hit a wide open tight end Chris Baker, which Dashon Goldson intercepted at the 39 and returned for an easy San Francisco touchdown to take a 37-7 lead and nail down the blowout with less than a minute gone.
By now, most of the Seattle TV fans had decided to clean their gutters, and although Seattle did manage to score a couple more pointless TDs, including one late in the game that injured Deon Butler, the game was over after the fourth interception of the day.
Most fans in Seattle have their doubts that this team is worthy of playoffs, and with 11-2 NFC South division leading Atlanta coming to town next week and about to deliver a spanking, we may have seen the last of playoff hopes for Pete Carroll’s first year Seattle Seahawks!