Here’s what national media are saying about the Seahawks-49ers game for the NFC Championship on Sunday.
(Jim) Harbaugh is on his way to being considered one of the great head coaches in NFL history, though he is as far removed from the original 49ers role model as possible. There is nothing of the reserved white-haired professor about him. He runs onto the field and gets a well-deserved flag for his antics, pirouettes in anger, throws tantrums and looks ready to spontaneously combust.
But in a game high in emotion, where a head butt is fine as long as it isn’t called, Harbaugh is beloved by his own. Outsiders might see him as a jerk. But to his players, he’s their jerk.
The West Coast defense is refreshingly simple. Seattle and San Francisco use old-fashioned tactics and outperform offenses. Plus, nobody on either defense takes a down off, which is more important than it might seem. Nobody quits on a play, even when the ball is going the other way — also, important. And of course Seattle and San Francisco have good players. But most NFL defenses have good players; the Seahawks and 49ers have good players who reach their potential, and they’re doing it the old-fashioned way.
Who would have thought the West Coast, known for fads, high-tech, casual dress, laid-back evenings and now for legal marijuana, would be shining the light on traditional football? The West Coast’s Chargers can play some defense, too — three of Denver’s four lowest-scoring games this season were versus San Diego.
The read-option was dialed back across the league in 2013, but San Francisco’s 23-10 victory was a potent reminder that it hasn’t died. It’s just another tool at the disposal of coordinators like Roman, who sprinkle it in like a pinch of salt for seasoning. It’s also a reminder that change is inevitable. This has been an important season for the NFL’s young quarterbacks, particularly since their surprising success last season raised a valid question: Do they have staying power? The answer: Four of the eight QBs in last weekend’s divisional round had no more than three seasons of experience (Kaepernick, Newton, the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson and the Colts’ Andrew Luck).
This year’s playoffs have an oddly scripted feeling. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning in the AFC Championship Game; Kaepernick and Wilson for the NFC title. It’s a perfect dichotomy, one conference championship game featuring the old guard and the other the new guard of NFL quarterbacks. Might we look back upon this postseason as the passing of the torch?
If any team is equipped to cope with the din and weather associated with Seattle’s raucous venue, it’s the 49ers. Yet Harbaugh has suffered his two worst defeats as an NFL coach there, and the Niners were shockingly not competitive in those visits. Still, they won’t be cowed by the hostile surroundings and having (Michael) Crabtree obviously changes the equation from the 29-3 Week 2 debacle. Meanwhile, the Seahawks have appeared unusually vulnerable at home recently and dropped their first game there in two years last month to the Arizona Cardinals. Wilson has been pedestrian (157.6 passing yards per game, 4 TDs, 3 INTs) and so has the team lately, going 3-2 since the Niners snapped their seven-game winning streak Dec. 8. The Hawks may get home cooking, but more heat is coming out of the 49ers’ kitchen right now.
Give me San Francisco at Seattle. What with all of the rule tweaks and changes geared toward the offensive side of the ball, it’s nice to see two old-school, defensively aggressive football teams meeting in a game of this magnitude.
I get the Brady-Manning thing, but enough already. If we didn’t have to hear about it ad nauseam all week, it would make for a more attractive matchup. The NFC bout is enticing on multiple fronts, not just at quarterback. Throw in the fact that these two clubs are divisional rivals, and it makes for great television … or radio … or Game Rewind … or iPhone app … or … Ah, you get the point.
It’s rare for NFL teams in the salary-cap era to be loaded with defensive talent and still have a top-flight quarterback. That is unless you’re the two teams still standing in the NFC championship game, the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks.
That’s what happens when you mine young quarterback gems such as Colin Kaepernick (second round, 2011) and Russell Wilson (third round, 2012). It won’t be long until 49ers and Seahawks will need to break the bank to keep their athletic franchise passers, but in the meantime, they are taking full advantage of their financial situation.
Harbaugh’s latest maneuver is to leave during Friday’s “rush” hour (4:45 p.m.) to get up to Seattle. That’s a day earlier than the 49ers’ normal trips up the coast, the last two of which ended in 42-13 and 29-3 blowout losses.
It bears noting that Harbaugh’s 49ers are undefeated when they’ve departed on Fridays for playoff games. That includes the past two Sundays, as well as last season’s NFC Championship game in Atlanta. (They arrived in New Orleans on a Sunday night before losing last season’s Super Bowl a week later.)
Somebody get Colin Kaepernick some Skittles.
So for his next touchdown celebration, he can chew them before Kaepernicking. Or pour them on the end zone turf in Seattle and stomp on them while kissing his biceps. You know, a “shout out” to Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch.
Call it what you want, but such an antic would let you know Kaepernick is in that against-all-odds mode. It’s his preferred way to gloat after being bombarded with doubt. And you want him with that mindset because that’s what gets him to another gear.
To beat Seattle in Sunday’s NFC Championship game, another gear will be required.
The San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks hate each other. We have heard this every day for going on a year and a half now, and we all have come to believe it enough to use it as a staple of pregame analysis for Sunday’s NFC Championship.
But as a central motivator for either team . . . uhh, no.
The problem is that hatred is a tough enough thing to manufacture, let alone nurture, when all around you are saying, “You have to maintain your composure, you can’t take stupid penalties, you have to keep your focus.”
If every game from here on out was on a neutral field, I’d pick the 49ers to win it all. Now, that’s why the regular season matters, and why Sunday’s NFC title game is at Seattle. The Seahawks earned the right to host, and they have the best home-field advantage in the NFL. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if that carried the Seahawks to the Super Bowl. But right now the 49ers are playing great defense and the offense is much more diverse with Michael Crabtree back. They have three viable threats for Colin Kaepernick (Vernon Davis, Anquan Boldin and Crabtree) and compare that to the Seahawks’ options. The running game is strong. They’re well coached. And they’re on a 13-2 run with the two losses coming by four combined points to Carolina and New Orleans.
That doesn’t mean the 49ers are going to win the Super Bowl. Home-field advantage this weekend can’t be dismissed, and any one of these four teams can beat the other. But right now, it’s hard to argue that the 49ers are playing the best of all the teams who still have a shot at the Lombardi Trophy.
Russell Wilson is in a statistical slump.
The Seahawks’ second-year QB hasn’t passed for more than 206 yards in more than a month, and he has just three TD passes in his last five games. In last week’s NFC divisional playoff win over the Saints, he passed for a career-low 103 yards.
Good thing Seahawks coach Pete Carroll doesn’t care about stats.
Marshawn Lynch is a beast in the playoffs. Lynch has only played in five postseason games in his career, and he has topped 130 rushing yards in three of them: He had 140 yards in Sunday’s win over New Orleans, 132 yards in last year’s win over Washington, and 131 yards in Seattle’s playoff win three years ago over New Orleans, the game in which Lynch reeled off one of the greatest runs in NFL history. Only two players in NFL history — Terrell Davis with five and Thurman Thomas with four — have more 130-yard games in the playoffs than Lynch’s three.
If the Cowboys hope to one day compete with the San Franciscos and Seattles for NFC titles and Super Bowls, they need to do two things: Run the ball and play defense.
Both are foreign concepts to this coaching staff.
The 49ers and Seahawks, who meet for the NFC title on Sunday, finished in the NFL’s top five this season in both rushing and defense. That combination provides the backbone of their Super Bowl aspirations.
Essentially, the 49ers and Seahawks are the anti-Cowboys.
Wilson noted after the game he was trying to keep the football down in the wind, so as to avoid having it sail on him, and this could have accounted for some of the accuracy issues that cropped up again – even thinking about or aiming the football can be what caused him to miss behind on two slants and low on a couple others. This can all be traced to a mentality for avoiding turnovers. In turn, Seattle’s third down percentage ended up in the 30’s. So, fail on third down? Punt it and play the field position game. Trust your special teams. Trust your defense. Stick to the bread and butter on offense, repeat.
Beating the Green Bay Packers in a brutally cold Lambeau Field and the Carolina Panthers in sunny Carolina in back-to-back weeks means the 49ers truly can beat anybody anywhere. But can they, as they haven’t done since Tarvaris Jackson coughed it up, beat the Seahawks in Seattle—or even come close?
Want to be a reader contributor to The Seattle Times’ Take 2 blog? Email your original, previously unpublished work or proposal to Sports Editor Don Shelton at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Not all submissions can be published. The Times reserves the right to edit and publish any submissions online and/or in print.