Seahawks manage hour-long weather delay, throttle 49ers with timely defense
SEATTLE — “What a frickin’ night.”
Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll perfectly summed up his team’s 29-3 Sunday night dismantling of the San Francisco 49ers with those four words. Carroll was referring to a CenturyLink Field crowd that set the Guinness World Record for the loudest communal roar ever measured at a sporting event. But Carroll could have been referring to any number of things — the lightning storm that pushed the game an hour back, the way in which his quarterback started the game, or the way Seattle’s defense converged on Jim Harbaugh’s team like they were the bugs in “Starship Troopers,” and the 49ers were the outmatched mere humans.
“I’ve been coaching for a long time and UoP [University of the Pacific, where Carroll played in 1971 and 1972, and coached from 1973 through 1976] didn’t sound like that. I’ve never heard a crowd like that. That was so cool, to see them elevate for the night and really sustain it all night long. To me, that’s the first thing to talk about. It was so much fun to be in the stadium, and our guys felt it and they played to it, and they put together a really good night.”
This game wasn’t pretty on either end. It was as old-school as you can get — a smashmouth street fight in which players on both teams were twirled right off their feet on a regular basis, and physical dominance determined the winner. And as a result, it was a near-perfect present for Carroll’s 62nd birthday.
Carroll, who preaches the gospels of defense, the power run game and select levels of opportunism with the elimination of one’s own mistakes, had a national stage in which to show off his young charges and what they’ve learned since their coach came up here from USC four years ago under some “interesting” circumstances. It was perhaps the most decisive win of Carroll’s career as an NFL head coach — even more so than last season’s 42-13 beatdown of the 49ers in Seattle — precisely because there were parts of the Seahawks’ attack that were questionable, at best.
“It was not clean,” Carroll said. “We had a lot of problems offensively, just moving forward and staying out of our own way. But the defense was so on it tonight, that it didn’t matter. We overcame a lot of stuff that we hurt ourselves on. What I saw is that we really took this game dead serious, just like a championship game, and just like in the opener [a 12-7 win over the Carolina Panthers].”
Russell Wilson started the game by completing one of his first nine passing attempts, but during the hour-long lightning delay that started at 9:05 p.m., Seattle’s second-year quarterback was able to set things straight. While his teammates were blaring music in the locker room and his coaches were going through game adjustments, Wilson took a shower and washed the inconsistencies away — well, most of them. He had completed zero passes in six attempts at the delay, and finished the game looking very little like the quarterback who tied Peyton Manning’s rookie record for touchdown passes with 26 in 2012. He finished his day with eight completions in 19 attempts for 142 yards, one touchdown pass and one interception.
Through two games in 2013, Wilson has been bedeviled by the occasional failures of his offensive line, occasional miscommunications with his receivers, and a few timing issues on the anticipation throws he has mostly mastered through his short NFL career.
“I think the biggest thing is … not taking ourselves out of the situation,” he said. “I felt like going against the 49ers defense, if I had a hair bit more time, or if I would’ve made the right read a little bit quicker, whatever it was. And that goes with continuing to watch the film, that’s continuing to study. I’m continuing to learn every day. You just continue to adjust, continue to stay in the moment, continue to believe in your guys, and we’ll make the plays. I trust in every single guy no our football team to make the play when we need it, and we definitely did that when we had to.”
And yet, the smile on Wilson’s face at his post-game press conference was entirely genuine. Because when you play defense like Seattle did on this night, very little is going to slow you down. And when your franchise-defining running back scores three total touchdowns, as Marshawn Lynch did, the other stuff tends to fade into the mist.
One week after the Green Bay Packers played 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick soft, waiting for him to act so they could react and allowing 412 passing yards as a result, the Seahawks eliminated him as a thrower by attacking him with all the force they could muster. They were seemingly unconcerned with Kaepernick’s athleticism, and his ability to make defenses pay for taking incorrect angles — they brought the house over and over, and Kaepernick finished his night with 13 completions in 28 attempts for 127 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions. He led the team with 87 rushing yards on nine carries, but Seattle seemed willing to accept that little bit of collateral damage as the inevitable effects of a quarterback who had been bottled up for too long, was running out of air, and was thrashing around in desperation as a result.
“The scheme worked out really well tonight,” Carroll said. “We’ve been practicing for a long time, and it’s not an issue for us right now. He did a nice job scrambling, and he had a couple nice plays where he got some yards. He’s a great football player, and it’s a great scheme that they run. But all in all, it didn’t matter. They had 62 yards at halftime, and they took every shot they could at us. We were really fired up about that.”
The Seahawks dictated from start to finish in the parts of the game that both Carroll and 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh respect the most, and Harbaugh was left to wonder just what happened to the team that had the Packers so discombobulated last week.
“I’m certainly not proud of the way we played tonight or coached.” Harbaugh said. “It was not our finest hour.”
The only people who could claim that it was their finest hour were the guys on the side of the Seahawks’ defense. Receiver Anquan Boldin, who riddled the Packers with 13 catches for 208 yards and a touchdown in his 49ers’ debut, was limited to one catch on four targets for seven yards in the follow-up. Cornerback Richard Sherman led the way in Seattle’s determination to stop Boldin, but it was a group effort. Sherman played Boldin tough at the line, and when Sherman went elsewhere, Seattle’s defenders would rotate coverage, switch out their concepts, and force Boldin to win extreme physical battles to even get open, never mind catching the ball. For a receiver who is known to “out-physical” every defender he plays, this was a different experience.
“I asked coach for a challenge,” Sherman said of his mission to stop Boldin. “There’s been a lot of things said this week, and he had a great game [against the Packers]. He had a resurgence, but there’s been a lot of talk about elite cornerbacks, and who follows who. I wanted to negate that.”
He also wanted to stand up for his quarterback, who “came out during the break [the weather delay], he came out with a shower and he looked like a baaaad man.”
Good-bad and bad-bad, which leads one to wonder: If the 2013 Seahawks can accomplish this when they’re firing on some cylinders, what will it look like when everything’s rolling?
“One thing as an offense that I wish we did better was when the defense made some plays and got us the ball, I wish we had capitalized a little bit more,” Wilson concluded. “We want to be 100 percent in the red zone, and we weren’t able to do that tonight. But we’re going up against a tough defense, and you’ve got to remember how good the 49ers are.”
In this case, you’d excuse the 49ers for forgetting that altogether. What a frickin’ night, indeed.