Can a team even be considered a rival when you stomp them in two straight games by a combined score of 71-16?
Perhaps the biggest insult to the San Francisco 49ers was that the Seattle Seahawks didn’t even have to play well to deliver a 29-3 spanking at CenturyLink Field in front of a national prime-time audience and a record crowd of more than 68,000.
This wasn’t as much a statement game as a convincing declaration of superiority. It didn’t just provide evidence of the Seahawks’ talent but delivered a fearsome statement of how good they can be when they have everybody healthy, when their best players perform at their highest level.
And when, if ever, they learn to follow the rules and quit crippling themselves with penalties.
Coach Pete Carroll acknowledged that it wasn’t “clean” and “we have a lot of room for improvement,” but “what a frickin’ night.”
That’s probably the way San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh would summarize the evening as his team, which won the NFC last season, managed to do nothing all night.
It was a night of flawed predictions in so many ways – from the oddsmakers, who set the over/under at 44.5, to the meteorologists, who suggested thunderstorms would likely miss
Equally errant were those who ranked San Francisco as the NFL’s best team in last week’s power polls.
The Seahawks owned these guys, despite 10 penalties, by forcing the Niners into five turnovers.
The CenturyLink crowd played a role, of course, but it was an absurdly disjointed evening from the start — a game that was raw and flawed, with penalties, injuries, turnovers, and an hour delay for a storm that brought lightning strikes too close for comfort.
Did the delay bother the Seahawks? Carroll said his team was “having a blast” in the locker room.
Be reminded that the Seahawks did this without pass rushers Chris Clemons (knee) and Bruce Irvin (suspension), starting corner Brandon Browner (hamstring) and Pro Bowl left tackle Russell Okung, who suffered a foot injury and was out for most of the game.
And they did it without the customary output by quarterback Russell Wilson, who completed only eight passes and was sacked four times.
Wilson got spotty protection and took a few wicked hits, one being a shot to the chest from linebacker Ahman Brooks long after he handed the ball off to running back Marshawn Lynch.
It was exactly the kind of targeting of a read-option quarterback that Harbaugh lobbied against to officials before his team played Green Bay last week. It was a molar-jarring hit, but Wilson had to bounce back from other indignities, as penalties kept pushing the Hawks backward, even when he was making plays.
On one key drive in the third quarter, the Seahawks scored on a Lynch run despite a false start and a dropped pass in the end zone. They had two more holding calls on a drive that ended with a touchdown pass to Lynch early in the final quarter.
But the defense responded, holding San Francisco to 207 total yards and 12 first downs. Last week against Green Bay, Kaepernick passed for 412 yards. Against the Seahawks, he passed for 127 and a rating of 20.1.
With Browner out, Walter Thurmond took his place and deflected a ball that turned into an interception. Cliff Avril, who was injured all exhibition season, made his first appearance and came up with an important sack and forced fumble.
When Okung went down, guard Paul McQuistan moved from left guard to left tackle and James Carpenter stepped in at left guard and came through with a nice block against All-Pro Niners defensive tackle Justin Smith on a Lynch TD.
The Seahawks’ offense doesn’t have to be clean, or even efficient, as long as the defense plays this way. In two games, they’ve given up 10 points.
And that’s without all hands on deck.
Cornerback Richard Sherman said it’s part of the deal the Seattle defense has with the offense.
“If things aren’t going your way, don’t lose your confidence, we’ll get the ball back,” Sherman said.
They did exactly that. And the statement was made.
“We’re learning how strong we can be,” Carroll said. “In all circumstances.”
Of the combined 71-16 advantage over the 49ers, Sherman made a simple assessment: “That’s real.”