SAN FRANCISCO — It wasn’t just a showdown for early-season supremacy in the rugged NFC West. It was a brawl to determine the baddest bruisers in the NFL.
And until the Seahawks prove otherwise, that title belongs to the San Francisco 49ers.
These teams aren’t twins. They may look alike, but the 49ers are a better and more polished version with distinct winning traits that set them apart from the burgeoning Seahawks.
The 49ers took the Seahawks’ blueprint and shoved it down their throats in a 13-6 victory Thursday at Candlestick Park.
In a game that was as contested and grimy as expected, San Francisco rushed for 175 yards against the Seahawks’ stellar run defense, held Seattle scoreless over the final 45 minutes, probably chuckling as the Seahawks dropped five passes and turned in their most inefficient passing performance of the season.
It’s no surprise the Seahawks lost to San Francisco, which is the NFL’s best team, if you ask me, just four days after a taxing comeback victory over New England. But it is a shock that they were hit in the mouth with such force.
For most of the season, the Seahawks (4-3) have been the punishers. They sent the Dallas Cowboys begging for league intervention after a 27-7 whipping in Week 2.
They sacked Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers eight times in a half. They were too much for Cam Newton and Steve Smith.
If you can depend on anything with these Seahawks, it’s that you will feel them for several days after the game, and their defense will eventually shut you down, one bruise at a time.
Not in this game. With an array of well-designed run plays, including lots of traps, the 49ers opened holes against the Seahawks that we haven’t seen all season.
Frank Gore ran for 131 of San Francisco’s 175 rushing yards, and he averaged 8.2 yards per carry.
The Seahawks entered the game ranked No. 2 in the NFL in rushing defense, allowing just 70 yards a game. They hadn’t given up more than 87 in a game this season.
“I’m not pleased with what we did on defense,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “That’s really unfortunate. I think we’re better than that.”
While the Seahawks have forced many teams to grow impatient or feel defeated and abandon the run, San Francisco, the NFL’s best rushing offense, was determined to impose its will. The 49ers won the battle of strength vs. strength in convincing fashion.
“Hard running, physical football,” San Francisco guard Alex Boone said. “That’s what we knew we had to do in this game.”
Boone thought the 49ers wore down the Seahawks as the game progressed, and he pointed to the only touchdown drive of the game as evidence. In a 10-play, 86-yard drive in the third quarter, the 49ers held the ball for six minutes and 20 seconds and ended the drive with Alex Smith’s 12-yard touchdown pass to tight end Delanie Walker. The play gave San Francisco a 10-6 lead and control of the game.
“We just kind of felt them start to give up a little bit, and they knew that we were just going to keep running the ball on them,” Boone said. “They’re a tough team, very physical team, one of the best run defenses, so we knew we had to bring it.”
The run game provided San Francisco with just enough offensive production to overcome a shaky game from Smith. That’s because the Seahawks were a disaster on offense after field-goal drives on their first two possessions.
Seattle gained 105 yards on its first two drives. On its final eight possessions, it had just 146 yards.
Marshawn Lynch rushed for 103 yards to lead a rushing attack that did its job, producing 136 yards. But the passing game was as bad as it has been all season. Quarterback Russell Wilson was the victim of five dropped passes, and he finished 9 of 23 for 122 yards and an interception. Entering the last drive of the game, Wilson was 1 of 7 for minus-2 yards passing in the second half.
It was an awful performance in every aspect of the passing game. Golden Tate was so bad that Braylon Edwards replaced him for much of the second half. After Wilson threw an interception into triple coverage trying to complete a pass to Edwards in the third quarter, Sidney Rice slammed his mouthpiece into the turf. After the game, Carroll said Rice was upset because he thought he was interfered with as he ran his route during that play. Rice declined to talk to reporters.
The Seahawks are now 0-3 against the NFC West, all road losses. As physical as they are, as committed as they are to playing this rugged style, they’ve lost three smashmouth road games in a smashmouth division. It’s an odd reality because the Seahawks truly are a tough team. But it seems that, when pitted against other brutes, they need to counter with more offensive skill.
Of course, right now, they’d settle for simply catching the ball.