Jim Harbaugh was exuding his typical confidence Friday before facing the Seahawks, talking with the media about his team's great week of practice heading into a vital Week 2 showdown against his heated division rival. He was secure about the plan in place to combat the noise of CenturyLink Field and looked like a coach believing last season's 42-13 drubbing in Seattle was a distant aberration.
But come Sunday night it was more of the same. Colin Kaepernick's worst two starts of his career have come in the grunge capitol. He's just one more away from it becoming a trend that can oppose the rapid ascension of his career path like a dammed creek.
"We're not going to win games if I play like that," Kaepernick said after setting a new career high with four turnovers a week removed from the best passing game of his career against Green Bay.
If Sunday's night's game leads to San Francisco earning a Wild Card berth instead of a division crown, then a return trip to the Super Bowl might lead through Seattle, where the 49ers have been outscored 71-16 in their last two visits.
The only weight still on San Francisco's side of the scale reads "Defending NFC Champions." Without that label, the 49ers looked like just another domino in the way of a perfect home record for the risen power in the conference.
The silver lining? San Francisco has a chance to redeem itself at home Dec. 8 - Kaepernick's first home start against that kryptonic Seahawks defense.
Just like poor play and injuries marred last December's performance, the battered and frustrated 49ers were unable to get off the ground in the Seahawks' wet and noisy arena of 2012 perfection. Their win gives them the early one-game lead in the division – a hill that could be tougher to climb than Kilimanjaro.
San Francisco incurred 12 penalties for 121 yards, their highest yardage output of the night. The offense mustered 100 rushing and 107 yards passing. And despite Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks dominating the game on the defensive side, their two key personal fouls deep in 49ers' territory helped the Seahawks to a pair of touchdowns and perhaps an eight-point swing.
Adding injury to insult is the presumptive loss of starting nose tackle Ian Williams for the season after suffering a broken ankle on cut block in the first quarter. Talented rookie safety Eric Reid also suffered a concussion early. His presence was missed immediately as reserve Craig Dahl became a weak point in an otherwise sturdy group defending Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch.
"Very pleased with the way the defense played," Harbaugh said following the game. "Didn't get enough first downs to put points on the board."
Without its full compliment of receivers, Seattle's elite secondary keyed on Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin, allowing a combined four receptions for 27 yards. Boldin has just one after his 13-catch, 208-yard performance in Week 1.
The inability to win one-on-one battles down the field helped the Seahawks clog up the running game in a way that made it impossible for San Francisco to win. Frank Gore, Anthony Dixon and Kendall Hunter amassed a whopping 13 yards on 11 caries combined. Only Kaepernick's 87 rushing yards salvaged an otherwise indigestible night for the ground attack.
But the real key to Seattle's dominating performance came up front.
San Francisco's offensive line - regarded as the premier unit in the entire league - was pummeled in both the running and passing game. Kaepernick never got comfortable in the pocket and his accuracy suffered from spending his night on the run. The line's inability to create holes for the 30-year-old Gore made him look his age as he was unable to shake free for a run longer than five yards.
A 26-point kick in the teeth, Sunday night was.
But like 2011's overtime loss in Week 2 to Dallas, or last season's loss in Candlestick to the New York Giants, defeats like the one suffered Sunday can be flipped into a blip on the radar, or even spun positively going forward. Ask the 2012 Ravens, who lost to the eventual 4-12 Philadelphia Eagles in their second game last September.
As the 49ers lick their wounds in preparation for Andrew Luck and Indianapolis Colts this week, they will have to reestablish their dominance up front and regain the physicality that made them one of the most formidable teams in the conference over the last two seasons.
They face a Colts team that has struggled against the run in the early going, which could help the offensive front regain some of its confidence that took such a beating over the weekend. If not Gore, who hasn't registered a run longer than eight yards in his two games, then Hunter, Dixon, or even LaMichael James (who could return from his knee injury in the next two weeks) needs to step up and help the 49ers re-establish a running game.
All is not lost for the 49ers. But a message has been sent and received. The Seahawks are the favorite in the NFC and perhaps the entire NFL until further notice can be served in December's rematch at Candlestick.
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