The 49ers began 2013 with a rousing victory over the Packers – and then crashed to earth the next week in a 29-3 loss at Seattle.
It’s been that kind of a year for the 49ers, who’ve been up one week and down the next and had problems against good teams. This season, in fact, San Francisco has just one victory aginst a team with a winning record (the Arizona Cardinals).
That Week 2 loss to the Seahawks still stings. Niners safety Donte Whitner says he and his teammates are motivated to come up with a big game Sunday at Candlestick when the 49ers (8-4) host the Seahawks (11-1).
“They embarrassed us last time we were there,” Whitner told Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee this week. “The quarterback (Russell Wilson) likes to run around and make plays with his feet. They have one of the best running backs in the National Football League (Marshawn Lynch). But we feel like we’ll be ready for the test, and it’s going to be a really, really big game and we’re looking forward to it.”
In order to come up with a victory over the NFC West leaders, however, the 49ers have two big tasks. First, stop the Wilson-led offense. Second, score points on one of the NFL’s best defenses.
Wilson, in his second year, has been even better this season than he was in 2012. He’s coming off a terrific game in a win over the Saints on Monday night and he seems to come up big in the biggest games.
“He’s a fantastic player,” said 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh this week. “Wonderful, wonderful player, competitor. Skills of arm talent and mobility. Great field awareness. Understands the scrambling lanes, escape routes out of the pocket. And (has) that feel that only so many quarterbacks have who have ever played the game to extend plays.”
As good as he’s been, however, Wilson has been significantly better at home than on the road. In his only game at Candlestick Park, a 13-6 49ers victory last year, Wilson completed just 9-of-23 passes for 122 yards, no TDs, an interception and a career-low quarterback rating of 38.7.
Niners linebacker Patrick Willis told the media this week that stopping Wilson is the primary goal – but it won’t be easy.
“We’ve got to make sure that we try to keep him contained and just get after him.”
On offense, the 49ers face just as big a task. The Seahawks held the 49ers without a TD in their first meeting and have allowed just 186 points, the second fewest in the league. Seattle, in fact, has the best point differential in the NFL, having scored 340 and allowed 186 for a plus-154 total. By contrast, the 49ers are fourth in the league at plus-100 (297 scored, 197 allowed).
The 49ers usually rely on an assortment of power running plays to move the ball, but this week they might have to get more creative. That may mean trying to hit some big passing plays downfield or coming up with change-of-pace screens and draws and misdirection plays against a very aggressive front seven.
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman this week said the only common denominator in Seahawks losses the past few years has been in opponents hitting on big-yardage plays against them.
“We’ve played them five times,” Roman said this week, referring to the San Francisco-Seattle matchups since the teams have been coached by Harbaugh and Pete Carroll. “And in all those games that we’ve won (three), and really when you see anyone that beats Seattle, one of the common threads is that they’re going to make chunk plays against them. Whether it be in the run game or the pass game.”
As Barrows pointed out this week, the Seahawks’ only loss this season came on the road at Indianapolis where the Colts not only hit some “chunk plays” on offense – 73- and 29-yard touchdown passes by Andrew Luck to T.Y. Hilton – but also scored on a 61-yard return of a blocked field-goal attempt.
And then, there’s this: Sunday’s game might mean more to the 49ers. Harbaugh this week called it an opportunity to earn validation. San Francisco is one game ahead of two teams in the race for the final wild-card spot with four games to go. A win over Seattle would be enormous for them.
Terry Blount, who covers the Seahawks for ESPN.com, predicts a 49ers victory because of the circumstances, with the ‘Hawks coming off a big Monday night win and having a short week.
“This is a short week to go on the road and play a bitter rival that has something to prove and, frankly, needs the victory more than Seattle does,” wrote Blount. “The Seahawks would love to clinch the (NFC West) title at Candlestick, but San Francisco gets it done this time.”
Oddsmakers have made the 49ers 21/2-point favorites.