It took less than a minute for the 49ers’ Ted Ginn Jr. to blow away the Seahawks in this season’s opening game.
With the Niners clinging to a narrow, fourth-quarter lead on Sept. 11, Ginn returned a kickoff 102 yards with 3:56 remaining. Then, with 3:05 left on the clock, his 55-yard punt return sealed the 33-17 decision to get Team Harbaugh off to a winning start in its turnaround season.
Now, with the Niners getting set to play the Seahawks again Saturday in Seattle, Ginn’s status is in doubt.
Ginn injured an ankle in Monday night’s 20-3 victory over the Steelers and he missed two practices this week. If he can’t play Saturday, his presence will be missed both as a return man and as a receiver, as the Niners try to improve on their 11-3 record and keep pace with the Saints in the battle for the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs.
Ginn this season is averaging 27.6 yards on 29 kick returns and 12.3 yards on 38 punt returns – with three over 40 yards. As a receiver he has 19 catches for 220 yards, but has yet to score a touchdown.
Since that opening game, the Seahawks (7-7) have improved their special-teams coverages – they’ve allowed just one punt return for a score since – but Seattle coach Pete Carroll remembers the opening-game fiasco at Candlestick Park.
“That was about as horrific a demonstration of special teams as you could throw out there, giving up two kicks to lose a football game in the fourth quarter,” he told Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle earlier this week. “I’ve never seen that happen like that. And it hasn’t happened since like that.”
Since their early-season struggles, the Seahawks have been improved, winning five of their past seven games thanks in part, Carroll says, to much better special teams play.
In addition, the Seahawks running game has blossomed with ex-Cal star Marshawn Lynch rushing for five TDs over the past three games. He has 1,011 yards rushing in 2011, the first Seattle back to go over the 1,000-yard mark since Shaun Alexander in 2005.
Seattle is coming off a 38-14 win over the Bears at Chicago in which quarterback Tarvaris Jackson threw for 227 yards and a TD. Jackson, after throwing 12 interceptions in the first 10 games, has thrown none in the past three.
The Niners – whose defense is the best in the NFL against the run and is fifth-best overall -- go into the game as 1½-point favorites.
But left tackle Joe Staley says playing the Seahawks at CenturyLike Field isn’t easy.
“It’s the loudest stadium in the NFL, so it’s very difficult to play there,” he told Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group this week. “It’s so loud and you can’t hear anything. Huge home-field advantage.”