The San Francisco 49ers went into the 2010 season as the predominant NFC West favorite, and beyond that they were a “team to watch.” They had a young hard-hitting defense, one of the best backs in Frank Gore and the fiery inspiration from head coach Mike Singletary.
The opener in Seattle appeared promising. The 49ers dominated the first 20 minutes, gaining an interception that led to a score, putting together a 15-play drive and, on their third try, getting another score. In their first three possessions San Francisco totaled 31 plays from scrimmage. In Seattle’s first three possessions, the total was seven.
It seemed like a blowout but except it wasn’t 21-0 but 6-0. Then something happened: Seattle figured out the 49ers offense and defense.
Seattle scored 31 straight points to inaugurate the Pete Carroll Era. Qwest Stadium, widely regarded as one of the loudest in the NFL, was rocking. And like a porcelain doll that falls to the floor, it seemed the 49ers suddenly and surprisingly had too many broken pieces to fix, such as:
- An unimaginative offense that went 1-for-15 on third-down conversions
- Holding Seattle to 243 yards but losing by 25
- Alex Smith’s penchant for throwing key interceptions, in this case a second-quarter pick that led to a TD return that turned the game to Seattle’s side.
It was the first of five straight losses. By mid-October, the Singletary era was on life-support and ultimately died in Week 16. For a team that had not reached the playoffs since 2002, the first 20 minutes of play in Seattle seemed so promising. The season ended with disappointment that requires quantum mechanics to measure.
A year later, Seattle comes to San Francisco to open the 2011 season. There’s a new coach in town, Jim Harbaugh. There’s an emphasis on execution. The team seems spirited, though inconsistent play during the preseason has kept the expectations of Niner fans somewhere between wary and hopeful.
Some teams don’t put as much pressure on early season games; it’s a long season in which all teams must evolve and adapt. But the 49ers’ 2011 season-opener is more than the first game. Here are the six reasons why it is 2011’s most important game.