RENTON, Wash. – Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll called this week a beginning for him and his team.
It’s also a curiosity.
With so many questions surrounding the team, it’s hard not to wonder just what we’ll see when the Seahawks kick off the season this afternoon against the San Francisco 49ers. How will Carroll, who last coached an NFL game in January 2000, fare in is return to the NFL? How will the Seahawks, who won just five games last season and four the year before, respond to the team’s third coach in as many years? And how will the roster overhaul that took place last weekend affect the way the team performs today?
“There’s a lot of concern and interest about this new start, and I’m there too,” Carroll said. “I’m fired up to find out where we are, what we’re doing and how we play.”
The Seahawks certainly won’t have the luxury of easing into things this afternoon. The good news for Seattle is that it hasn’t lost a season opener at home since 1999. The not-so-good news, however, is that San Francisco, which finished 8-8 last year, appears to be a team on the rise and is nearly everyone’s pick to win the NFC West.
“I think it’s going to be real interesting to see where we stand in this division,” Carroll said. “San Francisco’s a very good team. … I think we’ll get an early gauge of where we are coming out of the offseason and camp and all that. We’ll find out what happens.”
For better or worse, we should know a lot more about these Seahawks after today’s game. San Francisco looks tough, but if the Seahawks are going to contend in the NFC West, they know they’ll need a strong showing today.
“You always love divisional games,” linebacker Lofa Tatupu said. “Not that any game is more significant than another one, but the underlying truth is that division games do mean more as far as the standings and everything. It’s your division and you take pride in that. We haven’t been on top of the division for the last two years, so we’re fighting to get that respect back. Respect is earned, so we have to go out there and match up with them.”
Matching up with San Francisco is no easy task. The 49ers feature an elite running back, Frank Gore, who can take pressure of relatively inexperienced quarterback Alex Smith. On the other side of the ball, All-Pro middle linebacker Patrick Willis leads the best defense in the division.
Perhaps most important, San Francisco, more than any other team in the division, has continuity on its side. Mike Singletary is in his third season, which surprisingly makes him the second-longest tenured coach in the division behind Arizona’s Ken Whisenhunt. But the Cardinals lost several key players over the offseason, which is why the 49ers now look like the team to beat.
Singletary doesn’t put a lot of stock in preseason prognostications.
“In terms of the division and people saying that we are the favorite or whatever that is, I think that it’s just important that we continue to not get involved in what people are saying,” Singletary said.
“It’s important what we do. And that’s really the only thing that matters. … I just think it’s very important for us to set our own expectations and set our own goals and make sure that each and every day that we go out and earn the right to talk about greatness, earn the right about being a great football team and a great football organization. And let everybody else do the talking. We just need to do the working.”
In a lot of people’s minds, San Francisco’s success this season could hinge on its quarterback. Smith, a former No. 1 overall pick, has failed to live up to his draft status in his five-year career. He did start all 16 games his second season, but since has started just 17 over the past three years.
He took over the starting job midway through last season, and if he can build off of the improvement he showed in 2009, that could be enough to lead San Francisco to a division title.
Like his coach, Smith isn’t reading into the preseason hype.
“I think this team has been through enough that we understand that that means absolutely nothing,” Smith said. “What people say outside this building, both good and bad, it doesn’t mean anything. We’ve got to go out there and prove it and we’ve got to go out and earn everything we’re going to get.”
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