SEATTLE – In Sunday’s non-Manziel NFL, attention was more or less funneled toward our sliver of soil – at issue just how much of it could be shoveled over Jim Harbaugh’s current employment.
All of it, as it happens.
Is this really it? Have the Seattle Seahawks and Santa Clara 49ers really danced their last meaningful dance? Will the Clinksters ever be able to get as worked up over Arizona or anyone as they did over Captain Snappy Comeback and his merry men?
What will y’all do with your “12 > 49” signs now?
Eleven months ago, the sheer theatre of the Niners and Hawks in the NFC Championship game was too much for lesser humans, to say nothing of Erin Andrews’ field mic. On Sunday, the betting spread for what was the league’s best rivalry was 10 and the game was over when Marshawn Lynch walked into the end zone for Seattle’s first lead, though the final accounting would be a 17-7 victory for the World’s Most Dangerous Football Team.
Still, a Clink record 68,526 turned out, either out of habit or a sense of history. Surely it won’t be as much fun hollering at Harbaugh when he’s wearing a Raiders hat.
Just how much more fun the dysfunction in Santa Clara can get will take a couple weeks to cook. Yes, the Seahawks bounced the Niners from playoff contention Sunday, but the string must be played out before owner Jed “Jed” York can make his move and trade Harbaugh to Elba for a couple of wild boar. In the meantime, feel free to get all nostalgic for the rivalry that used to be. One of the Seahawks seemed to be, and an unexpected one at that.
“You guys are going to miss him because that’s a storyline gone,” cornerback Richard Sherman pointed out. “I guess I’ve got to give you something else.
“I don’t know too many people who’d get rid of a coach who’s gone to three consecutive NFC Championship games and a Super Bowl. But crazier things have happened, I guess.”
How about a defending Super Bowl champion that seemed to be taking on serious water a month ago now very much in the conversation for home-field advantage through the playoffs?
“I feel so alive right now,” said safety Earl Thomas.
Perhaps this why, as teammates like Sherman and Bobby Wagner and Michael Bennett were getting sucked into assessing the legacy and stature of the Seattle defense in a reprise to the run-up to Super Bowl XLVIII, Thomas was a holdout.
“It’s about now,” he insisted. “We in the present.”
They certainly are.
If Sunday’s defensive performance (245 yards) was not specifically as dominant as the three previous games against the Cardinals (204), Niners (164) and Eagles (139), only a “7” made it up on the scoreboard. And that actually amounted to an improvement for the visitors, who managed all of three in their Thanksgiving Day turkey. On that day, quarterback Colin Kaepernick was allowed 29 passes and four other tries that ended in sacks.
So having seen the folly of trusting Kaepernick to win with his arm, Harbaugh would not make that mistake again. He would run his guy instead.
Or how did Bennett put it?
“When you pay a quarterback as much as they pay him, they want to see if he can throw the ball,” Bennett said. “This time they went back to what got him that contract.”
And for a half, it worked, sort of. Then star running back Frank Gore went down, and backup Carlos Hyde soon after, leaving Alfonso Smith and fullback Bruce Miller as the only other ground options besides the quarterback.
“We didn’t even know who No. 38 (Smith) was,” Bennett said. “We were going, ‘Is there a DB playing running back?’ ”
After halftime, the Niners managed 67 yards. On their last-chance drive, they converted one fourth-and-1 with a fullback dive. Four plays later, they went to that well again and tripped over the pail. Depending on your point of view, that was either Harbaugh’s surrender or his idea of going down with the ship.
The Seahawks offense didn’t exactly light it up either, but you should be used to that by now. Throwing on their first two downs probably knocked them off their axis, and whenever rhythm appeared imminent a false start was hastily improvised. Then they figured out the ball should be handed to Lynch – he’d been limited to six carries before halftime – and the sun got a little brighter.
“The defense is playing well, the running game is there for us week in and week out,” coach Pete Carroll said. “As long as we continue to do a great job of taking care of the ball, we have a chance to beat people with that formula. There’s no mystery about it. I love that it’s so clear.”
OK. But if he could help Sherman out with that storyline business before the next Niners game, that would be nice.
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