'Hawks hurt Alex, humiliate offenseless 49ers

Take no offense, 49ers fans, but the 49ers simply have no offense. And to make matters even worse, now they don't have their starting quarterback. On a shimmering San Francisco Sunday when they had so much to gain, the 49ers instead took a big step backward, getting humiliated 23-3 by the Seattle Seahawks in a lopsided battle for first place in the NFC West, while losing Alex Smith in the process.

In a harbinger of things to come on this desultory afternoon, Seattle defensive tackle Rocky Bernard ripped through San Francisco's offensive line on the game's third play from scrimmage, hit Smith hard and slammed him to the ground for the first of six sacks by the Seattle defense.

Smith, the NFL's youngest starting quarterback for the third consecutive year who has shown such toughness in the early stage of his career, got up slowly this time, gingerly holding his right arm to his chest. Smith's afternoon ended right then and there with a separated shoulder that will keep him out next week and perhaps several weeks beyond.

The afternoon ended right then and there for any San Francisco hopes of victory, too.

With an opportunity to grab sole possession of first place in the NFC West – not to mention going 3-0 in the division and dropping three-time defending NFC West champion Seattle to 0-2 in division games – the 49ers instead stumbled around the rest of the afternoon falling on their faces offensively as the Seahawks happily stole the show.

"We got our butts whupped," 49ers left tackle Jonas Jennings said. "That's it."

That sure was it, and it was the San Francisco offensive line getting their butts whupped worse than anyone.

In addition to the poor protection that got Smith hurt and gave backup Trent Dilfer little time to throw the rest of the day, San Francisco's offensive line also accounted for seven of San Francisco's nine penalties, several of them holding calls that pushed the 49ers backward.

But the poor play wasn't confined to only the five guys up front.

When asked if there could be changes coming on the offensive line, which has played poorly in every game this season, coach Mike Nolan indicated the 49ers' problems go much deeper than that.

"There could be some changes at 25 starting positions," Nolan responded. "There could be. That's not a threat, but I mean that's the fact."

There definitely will be a new starting quarterback next week as Dilfer takes the reins temporarily from Smith. Since Smith became the first quarterback in San Francisco's 61-year history to take every snap in a season last year, Dilfer hadn't taken a snap before Sunday since playing with the Cleveland Browns in 2005.

The rust showed.

Dilfer completed just 12 of 33 passes for 128 yards and threw two costly interceptions, both of which led to Seattle scores that allowed the Seahawks to pull away further.

"My job was to go in there and give (Smith) a save," Dilfer said. "When your defense and special teams give you a chance and create momentum, it is my job to capitalize on it and I immediately lost momentum for us (with interceptions). When the offensive line makes a mistake, my (job) is to save them, and I didn't do a very good job at that today either."

He wasn't the only one, of course. Frank Gore fumbled on consecutive series in the first quarter – his first fumbles of the season – and San Francisco receivers once again had trouble getting separation from defenders and dropped a few easy receptions when they did.

It all added up to another horrid offensive display by the 49ers, who finished with just 184 total yards – their third game of fewer than 200 yards in four games this season. The 49ers committed three turnovers, were just two-of-14 on third-down conversion attempts, and averaged just 3.1 yards per offensive play.

Gore, the Pro Bowl running back who had 356 yards rushing in two games against Seattle last year to lead the 49ers to a season sweep of the Seahawks, was limited to 79 yards rushing on 16 carries this time.

"It's just that we aren't together as an offense right now," Gore said. "Everybody is making mistakes. When everybody on the offense is making mistakes, we aren't going to play well."

But the San Francisco defense came to play, and that side of the ball kept the 49ers in the game through a scoreless first quarter, forcing Seattle to punt after each of its first three possessions, including after Gore lost his first fumble near midfield.

But with San Francisco going three-and-out or committing a turnover on its first six offensive possessions, Seattle took advantage after getting opportunity after opportunity to strike. The 49ers had minus-1 yards of total offense to show for those first six drives. San Francisco didn't get its initial first down until five minutes remained before halftime.

"We just don't have a rhythm yet," said 49ers receiver Darrell Jackson, who was the intended receiver on both of Dilfer's interceptions. "Until we catch a rhythm, we are just going to struggle in different areas. It seems like when we catch a rhythm, we hurt ourselves with penalties and it takes the air out of us."

Matt Hasselbeck and Seattle's pass-oriented offense ultimately took the air out of the 49ers, too.

Hasselbeck finished the afternoon 23 of 31 for 281 yards passing, throwing touchdown passes of 17 yards to Bobby Engram and 14 yards to Marcus Pollard. The first scoring pass was set up by Hasselbeck's 65-yard pass to Deion Branch. The second came after Dilfer's second interception, which came on the very first play after the 49ers had recovered Joe Nedney's craftily-placed onside attempt with the second-half kickoff.

That gave the Seahawks a 20-0 lead, deciding the outcome with just three minutes elapsed in the third quarter. Then again, the outcome really was decided after Hasselbeck's first touchdown pass put the Seahawks up 10-0 in the second quarter.

The 49ers never came close to the Seattle end zone. In fact, they ended only two of their 16 drives on Seattle's half of the field. They had only one drive that produced more than seven plays or 31 yards, and they avoided a shutout only after Nate Clements' interception gave them the ball at midfield in the third quarter, which set up Nedney's 43-yard field goal.

"(The Seattle defense) played a magnificent game," Seattle coach Mike Holmgren said. "They held Gore under 100 yards and that's quite an accomplishment. We needed them to play that way because we were sputtering around a little bit on offense and they really came through for us. Alex is probably a little more mobile than Trent is, but I have to give our guys credit. I think our defensive line and linebackers did a nice job rushing the passer, and quite honestly, we needed to be better at that."

The Seattle defense couldn't have been much better. And, once again, San Francisco's offense couldn't have been much worse.

It left the 49ers, who fell to 2-2 while watching Seattle improve to 3-1, with that back-to-the-drawing-board feeling.

"This is just the first quarter of the season," Clements said. "We're 2-2. This is who we are. This is where we're at. To move forward, we need to not only look at film and make corrections, but get better and improve as a team. We need to practice and apply it to game day. We have an opportunity to step forward next week."

But that opportunity also was there Sunday, and the 49ers whiffed. It was a missed opportunity that could linger well into the season.

"At this point, we're not quite good enough yet," Nolan said. "Maybe we're not ready for that challenge."

As far as the offense is concerned, there's no maybes about it.


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