SAN FRANCISCO — The Seahawks don’t lose blithely, or frivolously.
They’ve been defeated eight times now in the last two years, and each loss has been a grudging affair, ending with their mindset that if only quarters were 16 minutes long in the NFL, they would have prevailed.
It’s no wonder 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh on Sunday compared his team’s twice-a-year (or more) showdowns with Seattle as “three-and-a-half hours of getting root canal work done.”
The Seahawks don’t always triumph, but at least they can realistically see that outcome as a missed opportunity as they trudge off the field.
San Francisco won the latest dental battle by two points at Candlestick Park, needing a field goal with 26 seconds left for the final 19-17 margin.
The Seahawks’ only other defeat this year was by six points at Indianapolis. Last year, they lost, all on the road, by margins of 4, 6, 7, 4, 3, and, ever so agonizingly in the playoffs to Atlanta, 2.
But perhaps these periodic disappointments, however bitter, serve the valuable purpose — especially this season — of reminding us that the Seahawks, contrary to growing belief, aren’t infallible.
And that the Super Bowl, while still firmly in their sights, is not a fait accompli for this team.
That’s not to say this rare loss should lead to any soul-searching, teeth-gnashing, or finger-pointing.
“I didn’t feel like the season was going to end today, one way or the other,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said wryly.
The Seahawks were beaten, and just barely, by a very-good-and-getting-better, battle-tested 49ers’ team that had the dual advantage of being at home (as bedraggled as their soon-to-be extinct ballpark is) and being desperate.
Throughout the 49ers locker room, the defending NFC champions spoke of the game as being a “statement” — one that became more loudly expressed once it was completed.
“You guys kind of counted us out already,” linebacker NaVorro Bowman said. “I felt like Seattle had our number. I think it was a statement game to the world. As you guys know, this is still our division. Until a team takes that from us, we will continue to rep this division the right way.’’
“The statement is, they might have a better record than us, and we squandered away a couple football games early in the season, but when playoff time comes, you have to look out for the 49ers,” added safety Donte Whitner.
Allowing that sentiment to bubble back to the surface might have been the most damaging aspect of this game for the Seahawks, in fact.
The loss in isolation will scarcely be a deterrent to their ultimate goal; all they need to do is win two of their final three (and two of those are at CenturyLink) to attain vital home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
The mistakes that led to this defeat — a slew of penalties, one particularly damaging busted play and a lackluster offensive performance — are very fixable.
But instead of burying the 49ers, at least psychologically, as a third straight defeat — especially another blowout — might have done, now San Francisco will have restored swagger should a third meeting occur in the postseason. And many Seahawks are prepared for just that.
“We will see them again, and it will be a different result,” declared Richard Sherman, who added that the Seahawks “expected to blow them out, but they got the benefit of a few calls tonight.”
As you can see, the Seahawks weren’t exactly shellshocked after this one. Earl Thomas echoed Sherman’s confidence, saying of a potential playoff meeting with the 49ers: “I don’t know. I’m not a psychic or anything like that. If we do, it’s going to be a good game, and I guarantee we’ll come out on top.”
For the 49ers, the game swung their way on a scoring play with just six seconds left in the first half and the late fourth-quarter drive to the winning field goal. The latter was set up by Frank Gore’s 51-yard run, the play that will sit in the Seahawks’ craw more than any other.
“We weren’t disciplined,” Thomas said. “When we’re not on the same page, and we’re not connected like that, runs like that are going to bust. ... That was all it was, just a bust.”
Thomas said the game was “a good experience for us.”
It was definitely a rare one, at least in this new era of Seahawk football.
The root-canal era.