While the beatings the 49ers have taken on their last two trips to Seattle remain fresh in our minds, they did manage to pull a game out against the Seahawks last season en route to their NFC championship.
It came all the way back on Thursday night Oct. 18 of Week 7, following up a 26-3 loss to the New York Giants in a rematch of the previous NFC Championship Game.
It was San Francisco's second loss in the season's first six weeks. But the way the Giants dominated on the road, the 49ers appeared exposed and a whole lot worse their 4-2 record would indicate. Coming in it was a big game for the 49ers, who wanted to prove to New York their overtime loss in the NFC title game the previous year was a gift. After all, 10 of the Giants' 20 points came off Kyle Williams' turnovers in the three-point overtime loss.
But after the Giants trounced San Francisco on their home field in Week 6, the 49ers had just three days to put it behind them before welcoming the upstart Seahawks that Thursday night. Behind rookie quarterback Russell Wilson, Seattle also got off to a 4-2 start and were coming off a huge 24-23 win over the New England Patriots.
The balance of power of the NFC West could have been at a tipping point if San Francisco was unable to fend off the budding NFC power.
-It was a typically ugly Thursday night affair. It was a physical, hard-fought defensive slug fest. After San Francisco had swept the season series the previous season, Seattle was hoping their promising rookie quarterback could help even the score. But the 49ers' defense wouldn't let it happen on that night at Candlestick.
Seattle opened with field goals on their first two possessions while the 49ers managed one on their second drive. It was 6-3 at the half and both Marshawn Lynch and Frank Gore were averaging over six yards-per-carry while Alex Smith and Wilson struggled to get things going through the air. Those six points were all the visiting team got.
San Francisco forced a punt on Seattle's opening drive of the half and would score the game's only touchdown on their first possession of the third quarter. Smith hit Delanie Walker on the left side for a 12-yard touchdown to make it a 10-6 game. The 49ers went 86 yards on 10 plays, chewing up 6:20 of game time.
The score was set up by three check-down passes to running backs and a third-down conversion to Michael Crabtree that put the ball at Seattle's 15.
Wilson would throw an interception to Dashon Goldson on the ensuing drive that gave the ball back to the 49ers at their 27. Trying to put the game away with a second-straight scoring drive, Smith took six plays to go 67 yards to get the ball down to the Seahawks 6-yard line. After backup QB Colin Kaepernick came into the game to attempt a run over the left side for one-yard loss, Smith would scramble left and look for Randy Moss in the end zone on the third down.
But corner Brandon Browner jumped in front to make the interception and give Seattle the ball back with a chance to take the lead and deal San Francisco its second-straight loss. Smith had uncharacteristically given the ball away in the red zone after throwing just five interceptions in all of 2011.
San Francisco's defense forced a three-and-out, making the Seahawks punt from their own 9. Ted Ginn would return the punt back 16 to Seattle's territory. Gore then gashed the middle of the defense for runs of 10 and 20 yards while it took just four plays to get back into the red zone. On 2nd-and-7, Anthony Davis was flagged for tripping on a Kendall Hunter run that would have put the ball on the 5 for a first down. Instead, it pushed the ball all the way back to the 23. The 49ers tried two runs but couldn't get a first down and settled for a 28-yard field goal from David Akers to make it 13-6. It was still a one-score game.
Then the two teams exchanged punts, giving Seattle the ball back at their own 11 with just 1:36 left looking to tie it. A sack by Aldon Smith and a false start pinned the Seahawks back at their own 4.
It came down to 4th-and-17 with just 56 seconds remaining for Wilson. He would complete a pass over the middle to Ben Obomanu for a first down. But Paul McQuistan was called for a chop block in the end zone that would have resulted in an automatic safety. The 49ers would decline the penalty as the official review overturned the first down and ruled Seattle was short of the line to gain.
That decision took on an interesting narrative afterwards. Most sports books had the 49ers as either 7.5 or 8-point favorites. Taking a safety would have made it a 15-6 game covering the spread. But they took the ball on downs and ended the game after the first down was overturned, winning by just seven.
-Given the way the next two meetings between the two teams went in Seattle, that win by the 49ers wasn't a good indicator for the match up going forward. They have since been outscored by the Seahawks 71-16 in two games. And those lopsided wins have given Seattle ammunition toward becoming perhaps the most feared team in the NFL. They can claim themselves as the kryptonite to the defending conference champs heading into Sunday's tilt.
Plenty has changed since last October's quarrel for both teams. First, the 49ers have a new starting quarterback. The days of Alex Smith check-downs are long gone. Replacing those was the down-field passing game of Colin Kaepernick, who struggles in the area Smith excelled the most: finding his options underneath coverage. That included Gore, who was San Francisco's leading receiver in that win with five catches for 51 yards. Gore had a game-high 182 all-purpose yards.
Wilson completed just 9 of 23 passes for 122 yards. It was the worst passing performance of his young career. It didn't help that his receivers dropped four balls, which could have easily swung the low-scoring game. Smith was an efficient 14 of 23 for 140 yards, but didn't have a pass longer than 18 and threw the red zone interception that could have cost the 49ers in a big way.
With Kaepernick at the helm, San Francisco backed up their win in New England in Week 15 with their trip to Seattle and got shellacked 42-13 in a game that was never close. It was clear San Francisco didn't have the energy to compete at a high-level in the league's toughest road environment.
At 10-3-1 heading into that game with Arizona ahead the week after, the loss in Seattle meant much less than it would have if they had lost the previous week to the Patriots. Still, that game gave the Seahawks confidence against their rivals that spilled into Week 2's showdown this September.
That game was far more competitive, although the 49ers' struggles in CenturyLink field were no less apparent. Kaepernick threw for just 127 yards and three interceptions, but the Seahawks were up just 12-3 heading into the fourth quarter. Then they reeled off 17-straight points to put San Francisco away.
The big question heading into Sunday's game is whether or not the Seahawks' dominance of the 49ers can travel outside of Seattle. Monday night's 34-7 win over the Saints indicated San Francisco isn't the only team capable of getting blown out in the Pacific Northwest in prime time.
Should the 49ers defend their home field and earn their first signature win of the season, perhaps the narrative of Seattle's dominance over their division rival flattens out.
But win or lose Sunday, it appears San Francisco would have to travel back to Seattle in the playoffs in they want to make a return trip to the Super Bowl.
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