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Take 2

A different spin on sports by The Seattle Times staff and readers.

December 15, 2014 at 6:00 AM

Seahawks vs. 49ers: Media say goodbye to Jim Harbaugh, look ahead to Arizona showdown

Seahawks players congratulate defender Michael Bennett, center, after Bennett made a stop against the San Francisco 49ers in the first half on Sunday. John Lok / Seattle Times staff

Seahawks players congratulate defender Michael Bennett, center, after Bennett made a stop against the San Francisco 49ers in the first half on Sunday.
John Lok / Seattle Times staff

The Seahawks‘ fourth straight victory had barely ended, and the national media and major newspapers were looking ahead.

They looked ahead to a huge game between the Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals next Sunday night in Phoenix. Looked ahead to whether the Seahawks can clinch the NFC’s No. 1 seed and make the rest of the conference come to Seattle in the playoffs. Looked ahead to the end of the Jim Harbaugh era with the San Francisco 49ers.

The media wrote about the game, of course. They marveled about how good the Seahawks‘ defense was in the second half. About how Marshawn Lynch carried them to victory when they need him. They debated about how bad a roughing-the-passer penalty that went against the 49ers was.

But the focus was clearly on what is ahead for the Seahawks and Harbaugh.

Here’s The Seattle Times coverage, in case you missed it, followed by a roundup of what the media had to say about the Seahawks‘ victory.

“MONDAY MORNING QUARTERBACK: ONLY IN THE NFL!”

By Peter King, SI.com

“Only in AMERICA!” Don King used to bellow, and some story about a long-shot palooka who toiled his way from Loserville to Las Vegas and into a championship fight would spill out of King’s mouth, the drama making it Must-Pay TV. Or so the legendary boxing promoter hoped.

The home stretch of the NFL season is often like that. Weren’t we all thinking a few days ago that the road to the Super Bowl in the NFC would lead through Green Bay? Few times in recent history has home-field in the playoffs been as significant as this year in the NFC. I asked a friend of mine who gambles a lot: If Seattle and Green Bay met in the playoffs, with neither team changing appreciably between now and then, what would be the difference in the spread if the game were played at CenturyLink Field in Seattle versus Lambeau Field in Green Bay. He thought for a minute, then said: “Packers by five at Lambeau. Seahawks by seven in Seattle.”

To win home-field, Green Bay would have to beat three teams with a combined record of 18-21 in the final three games. Seattle would have it slightly tougher, against archrival but flailing San Francisco, then at division leader Arizona, and then St. Louis at home.

And this is why every chapter in The Season That Went Too Fast has some Grisham in it, some element you never, ever expected:

Buffalo, hosting Green Bay for the first time in Aaron Rodgers’ career, scored one touchdown Sunday. It came on a 75-yard punt return by the team’s sixth wide receiver and punt returner, Marcus Thigpen, who was cut by Tampa Bay last month. Tampa Bay is 2-12.

Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the presumptive front-runner for his second MVP award, threw his fourth and fifth interceptions of the year at Buffalo on Sunday, both to safety Bacarri Rambo, cut by Washington three months ago. Washington is 3-11.

Buffalo 21, Green Bay 13. Marcus Thigpen and Bacarri Rambo, men no one in Wisconsin had heard of at noon on Sunday, playing the big roles in sending the Packers trudging back to the Tundra.

Seattle 17, San Francisco 7. Which figured. So now it could be setting up for the playoff road to go through Seattle.

Unless Dallas stays hot.

Only in the NFL!

The Seattle Effect. “It’ll be interesting to see how Philadelphia comes out of the Seattle game physically,’’ said one Dallas Cowboy last week, before his team’s trip to Philadelphia for the Sunday night game. This player remembered how physically spent the Cowboys were after playing Seattle earlier in the year, and said it could be a big factor in how the team recovered to play the next week. Well, maybe he is on to something. The Eagles are the eighth team in a row to lose the week after playing Seattle; Philadelphia, San Francisco, Arizona, Kansas City, the New York Giants, Oakland, Carolina and St. Louis all lost the week after playing the Seahawks. The Seattle Effect bodes well for San Diego’s playoff chances. Not only do the Chargers play San Francisco, which lost to Seattle on Sunday, but the game is on Saturday, so the Niners have one fewer day to recover from playing the Seahawks.

FINE FIFTEEN RANKINGS

2. Seattle (10-4). After the Niners showed some life in the first half, the ‘Hawks crushed it out of them in the last 30 minutes. For the past two seasons, it appeared Seahawks-Niners was on its way to being a rivalry for the ages. Still might be. But the two mismatches in 2014 have pretty much killed that for now.

THINGS I THINK I THINK

I think this is why the crown-of-the-helmet-into-Russell Wilson was called Sunday, giving the Seahawks a fresh set of downs at a critical time late in their win over the Niners: Prohibited contact against a defenseless player, which includes a player in the act of passing or just after releasing a pass, came into play on this call. Wilson, in this case, was a defenseless player. According to strict interpretation of the rules: “Lowering the head and making forcible contact with the top/crown or forehead/”hairline” parts of the helmet against any part of the defenseless player’s body” is illegal. The officials ruled Wilson was struck with the helmet either at the hairline or crown level. It’s close, very close. I watched the replay at least 10 times and it’s hard to tell if the helmet was in the right position or not.

SEAHAWKS, LYNCH KEEP THE POWER ON, SWEEP 49ERS TO ASCEND IN PLAYOFF RACE”

 By Doug Farrar, SI.com

Then the second half started, and everything turned radically around. The 49ers got themselves clamped down by a defense that went with a different level of intensity, gaining just 67 yards total in the second half, and the Seahawks offense started to peck away at a 49ers‘ defensive unit that had played extremely well through the first 30 minutes.

More specifically, it was one player and one drive that moved things decidedly in Seattle’s direction. The drive started at the Seattle 40-yard line with 7:40 left in the third quarter, and the player in question was running back Marshawn Lynch. Lynch finished the day with 91 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries, but he gained 50 rushing yards and seven receiving yards on this drive, and ended things with a show-offy barely-walking-in touchdown.

“It means everything to us,” receiver Doug Baldwin told me after the game of Lynch’s efforts. “Marshawn is our engine. Without him, I don’t know where we would be. He powers this team, and especially in situations like that when he needs that extra inch, he’s gonna find a way to get it. He does that so often, it’s kind of natural for us, but when you see some of the things he does, you’re just in awe.”

Pete Carroll, Lynch’s head coach, seems no less awestruck.

“He’s a unique football player, as well as a very unique person, which we all know,” Carroll said. “He’s got this tremendous competitiveness, and this great will. They love blocking for him, and seeing him do what he does. He’s an extraordinary player, and we love what he brings to this football team.”

“THE BATTLE OF SEATTLE: IS THE SEAHAWKS/49ERS RIVALRY OVER”

By Kenneth Arthur, Rollingstone.com

Now, Seattle is fighting for a repeat Super Bowl championship, while San Francisco is playing for nothing, for the first – and probably last – time in in Harbaugh’s tenure. And once he leaves, he’ll be taking a major part of the rivalry with him.

“I’ll still have a rivalry with the 49ers,” Seattle receiver Doug Baldwin, who played for Harbaugh at Stanford, said after Sunday’s win. “Obviously the Seahawks and 49ers have a lot of history. But if [Harbaugh] does leave, wherever he goes, that’ll start a new rivalry for me as well.”

At the moment, Seattle’s biggest test could come from the resilient Arizona Cardinals, who lead the NFC West at 11-3. The two teams meet next Sunday, with a divisional title – and home-field advantage in the playoffs – on the line. It’s a big game; though, if we’re being honest, it doesn’t feel quite as big as Seahawks/Niners. There’s no history or real acrimony there, though perhaps beggars can’t be choosers.

Had San Francisco won on Sunday, they wouldn’t just have kept their playoff hopes alive, they would have also ensured that this rivalry remained significant to the landscape of the entire NFL. But they didn’t. So it’s not. Instead, we must convince ourselves that the Battle of the Birds – ‘Hawks vs. Cards, for nesting rights – is an acceptable substitute. And the fans aren’t the only ones that need to be talked into it.

“It’s still San Fran,” Seattle linebacker K.J. Wright answered, when asked if Arizona can fill the rivalry void. “This game was nationally televised. Best against the best. I love playing them.”

Not as much as we loved watching.

“RICHARD SHERMAN A LITTLE QUIETER THIS TIME ABOUT WINNING”

By Scott Ostler, San Francisco Chronicle

This time, there was no postgame braying or taunting from Richard Sherman.

Beating the 49ers has become so routine for the Seahawks’ outspoken cornerback that he had relatively little to say. Maybe he has decided to be kinder to the team that has done so much to enhance his football reputation.

After the game, Sherman slipped into a hip outfit of blue plaid shirt, white sports coat, blue jeans and snow-white high-tops, then pretty much dismissed the 49ers with a wave of his hand.

The stats will show that Sherman didn’t dominate the 49ers as he often does. He was coming off three straight games in which the opposition didn’t complete a pass on him (in eight targets), but Colin Kaepernick completed his first five passes to Sherman’s man or his area Sunday.

I asked Sherman if it surprised him that Kaepernick and the 49ers’ passing attack looked so revitalized in that first half.

“Uh, I don’t know what you were lookin’ at,” he said.

He was ticked that the 49ers scored seven points on the league’s No. 1 defense.

“We’ve got to clean that up,” Sherman said of the 49ers’ lone score. “We had them on fourth down. We should have stopped them on that drive. … Their passing game wasn’t really effective today. They shouldda got nothing.”

49ERS SEASON DOOMED BY LOSSES THAT SHOULDN’T HAVE HAPPENED”

By Mark Purdy, San Jose Mercury News

The 49ers have not functioned properly in 2014. And there is a primary reason. The players have not been on board with a certain aspect or certain aspects of the weekly preparation machinery — the machinery that gets them from game planning to game-plan installation to the actual games.

And whether or not you are sympathetic to the way coach Jim Harbaugh’s future status has been blowing in the wind for most of the season, creating an unnecessary distraction … well, guess who still faces the responsibility for those malfunctions on the field?

Jim Harbaugh.

Thus, he was asked in the moments after Sunday’s final play if he could put into perspective what had gone so amiss over the last four months.

Harbaugh chose to respond with one word: “No.” Which he was entitled to do, of course. Sunday, Harbaugh did have his team very prepared. The 49ers played their guts out in defeat.

49ERS DISASTER OF A SEASON OF THEIR OWN MAKING”

By Tim Kawakami, San Jose Mercury News

49ers management killed this season with a thousand little pinpricks, sideswipes and unidentified gut punches.

This is owner Jed York and general manager Trent Baalke’s work, and I guess they’re proud of it.

Now here lies the franchise, dead and buried for 2014, a season sacrificed at the altar of political intrigue and high-stakes gossip.

Officially, the 49ers were knocked out of playoff contention Sunday when they lost 17-7 to Seattle at the same time as Detroit beat Minnesota a half-continent away.

Really, what’s worse than the 49ers‘ season ending at CenturyLink Field for the second consecutive year as the Seahawks move on?

How about the 49ers‘ hopes coming to an end … and the hated Seahawks actually stepping back and looking as if they took some pity on the 49ers in the last minutes Sunday?

How far the fall …

“SHUTDOWN CORNER WEEK 15: THE DROP THAT MIGHT CHANGE THE SEASON”

By Frank Schwab, Yahoo.com

It was kind of sad that the 49ers-Seahawks game was a bit of an afterthought on a busy Sunday.

This San Francisco team is nothing like Jim Harbaugh’s first three 49ers squads. It is now officially eliminated from the playoff hunt after a 17-7 loss at Seattle. It was the same hard-hitting affair – the 49ers lost running backs Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde to injuries, so fullback Bruce Miller had to play some tailback – but the stakes weren’t as high. It was just the Seahawks, who along with the Patriots are the hottest team in the NFL, getting a win it needed as it tries to win the NFC West.

With Harbaugh probably on the way out after the season, the rivalry will continue to change. It might never be as hot as it was the last couple seasons before this one. That’s too bad.

“MOMENTUM BUILDS FOR REPLAY REVIEW ON HITS OF DEFENSELESS PLAYERS”

By Mike Florio, profootballtalk.com

Sunday’s roughing the passer call in the 49ers-Seahawks game has a strong similarity to last Sunday’s unnecessary roughness call in the Patriots-Chargers game.  Both calls flow from the rule against certain types of hits on defenseless players.

For a quarterback in the pocket and a receiver in the process of making a catch, the relevant rule is identical.  No hits are permitted to the head or neck area, and no hits can be made elsewhere to the defenseless player with the hairline or crown of the defender’s helmet.

In the aftermath of the flag thrown on Patriots cornerback Brandon Browner for the hit against Chargers tight end Ladarius Green, PFT reported that the question of whether such hits will be subject to replay review could be placed on the Competition Committee’s offseason agenda.  In the aftermath of Sunday’s hit by 49ers linebacker Nick Moody against Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, a source with knowledge of the situation tells PFT that the issue will be placed on the Competition Committee’s agenda.

But here’s the catch.  For the same reason the Browner penalty wouldn’t have been overturned via replay review, the flag thrown on Moody most likely would have been upheld.  The replays of the hit do not show indisputable visual evidence that the ruling on the field was incorrect.

Despite the hue and cry against the call from referee Ed Hochuli (including an admission by NFL V.P. of officiating Dean Blandino that a mistake was made), the rules expressly prohibit “[l]owering the head and making forcible contact with the top/crown or forehead/’hairline’ parts of the helmet against any part of the defenseless player’s body.”  It appears that Moody put the forehead/”hairline” of his helmet into Wilson’s chest.

“SORTING THE SUNDAY PILE: JOHNNY MANZIEL CRUSHED IN FIRST BROWNS START”

By Will Brinson, CBSSports.com

Not that we need another reason to get rid of ridiculous early-season proclamations, but the Seahawks are giving us one with their incredible defensive play down the stretch in 2014. They opened the season snuffing out the Packers (how long ago was that game?) but proceeded to struggle out to a 3-3 record.

This prompted concerns about the makeup of the Seahawks locker room (doubled down once Percy Harvin was traded for peanuts), fretting that — no joke — Russell Wilson wasn’t black enough and a lot of hand-wringing over a loss of personnel, rule changes and an inability to sustain performance on defense. Put another way: the Seahawks defense wasn’t the same as last year.

Fast forward eight weeks and seven wins later and turns out it might be better?

No one actually thinks the defense is better just yet. 2013’s Seahawks D was historically great. And beating the 49ers twice, the Cardinals once and the Eagles isn’t a murderer’s row of offenses. But we’re talking about the Seahawks’ chief NFC West rival, the No. 1 seed in the NFC and one of the top offenses in the NFL on the road.

Seattle’s rolling at a really impressive clip right now. There have been 15 games in the 2014 NFL season where a team held its opponent to less than 205 total yards yards and 14 points or less. The Seahawks have four of them. In the last four weeks.

“NFL WEEK 15 GRADES: BILLS PROVE  THAT PACKERS ARE BEATABLE”

By John Breech, CBSSports.com

Seahawks: The Seahawks defense is starting to play like the one that led the team to a Super Bowl win last season. Since losing to the Chiefs in Week 11, the Seahawks have only given up 6.75 points per game in the four weeks since (4-0). As for Sunday’s win, beating the 49ers was extra sweet for Seattle because it officially eliminated San Francisco from the playoffs. Grade B.

49ers: Every week seems to be the same thing with the 49ers: The defense does just enough to keep them in the game, but then the offense falls flat on its face. The 49ers have been held under 250 yards of offense three times this season and all three times came in the past three weeks in losses to the Seahawks, Raiders and Seahawks again. Grade: C.

Marshawn Lunch avoids tacklers by 49ers defenders in the second half for the Seahawks.  John Lok / Seattle Times staff

Marshawn Lunch avoids tacklers by 49ers defenders in the second half for the Seahawks.
John Lok / Seattle Times staff

“PAINFUL FINISH FOR AN ERA OF TRIUMPH”

By Lowell Cohn, Santa Rosa Press Democrat

Their season is over.

An era is over — or will soon end. Harbaugh almost surely is gone after the final two games. And the 49ers will look different. They will be different. Will they be better?

Maybe Harbaugh deserves to go. This season is no good. But his first three seasons were special. And you have to wonder why Jed York started badmouthing Harbaugh at the beginning of the season. I believe Jed is the bad-mouther and the leaker to the national press. You wonder why Jed put doubt into the team from the start. How can a team play and how can coaches coach when things are so tense?

And there’s something else that sucks. The 49ers’ offense is unspeakable. The 49ers are a horrible second-half team. They lived down to their reputation in the second half against the Seahawks when they scored no points. And please don’t say their guys were hurt. Everyone’s guys are hurt. Football teams never cop that excuse.

“HOLIDAY WISH: YORK CHANGES MIND, HARBAUGH RETURNS TO 49ERS”

By Ray Ratto, CSNBayArea.com

Wouldn’t it be beyond hilarious if Jed York flew back to Santa Clara, drove home, had a couple of drinks and decided, “You know, I really don’t have a better idea on this coach thing, and I don’t think I can get trade value back for that pain in the ass. Screw it. I’ll keep him.”

Yes, we all know it won’t happen. Owners don’t back down from a position firmly held, because in the immortal words of Jack Woltz before he ended up with the horse’s head in his bed in The Godfather, “A man in my position can’t be made to look ridiculous.”

So yeah, Jim Harbaiugh will be someone else’s PITA – the Raiders, the Jets, the Giants, the Bears, the Cowboys, somebody’s. Every owner who needs a coach thinks he can tame the wild mustang, and as it usually happens with tempestuous players, it ends badly.

But while it’s good, it’s very good. And wouldn’t it be a total screech if York got nostalgic right at the moment when you’d expect him to get administrative, and decide Harbaugh will serve out his sentence . . . er, complete his contract . . . er, fix what he helped break.

You know, the offense. The horse whisperer (Harbaugh) who went all in with the wild colt (Colin Kaepernick) now has an offense that was at best workmanlike when everyone was healthy and is now nearly unwatchable. In fact, that offensive shortcoming will probably be the cover story the team tries to trot out when he does get cranked.

“LAST CALL WEEK 15: REASON TO REJOICE IN AFC”

By John Clayton, ESPN.com

Predictable end to Jim Harbaugh era: Injuries and Jim Harbaugh’s likely exit as head coach after the season have been the main storylines for the 2014 San Francisco 49ers. A 17-7 loss to the Seattle Seahawks only firmed up the inevitable. Harbaugh is expected to leave, the 49ers‘ three-year run of NFC Championship Games officially ended and the offense once again underachieved.

For Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, the game came down to being patient, working his formula of having a simple defense and a running offense to claim victory. Harbaugh’s team held its own in the first half with a 7-3 lead. The 49ers‘ defense caused the Seahawks to check out of some running plays and use passes four or five times. The Seahawks had only 11 runs in the first half.

“What we do is no mystery,” Carroll said. “We run and we play defense. It’s so clear.”

In the second half, the Seahawks took control of the game with 21 runs for 105 yards and two touchdown drives. The Seahawks‘ formula worked well in stuffing 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick in the second half. The 49ers had only 36 rushing yards on 13 plays in the second half.

The loss wasn’t the only bad news for San Francisco. Running backs Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde were injured. The team put defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey and linebacker NaVorro Bowman on injured reserve Saturday and started the game without starting cornerbacks Chris Culliver and Tramaine Brock because of injuries. Linebacker Chris Borland was hurt during the game.

Ownership wanted Harbaugh to win a Super Bowl to earn a contract extension. After 15 weeks, the 49ers‘ run is over and so is the Harbaugh era.

WILLIAMS AND HILL BIG FINDS FOR SEATTLE’S  SURGING DEFENSE”

By Terry Blount, ESPN.com

Sometimes you can lose something important that causes you to find something you didn’t know you had.

The Seattle Seahawks lost nose tackle Brandon Mebane a month ago. They found Kevin Williams and Jordan Hill.

The defense had another dominating performance Sunday in the 17-7 victory over the San Francisco 49ers, and Williams and Hill led the charge up front.

Seattle had 11 stops behind the line of scrimmage, including a season-best six sacks. The Seahawks also had a key stop in the fourth quarter by defensive end O’Brien Schofield when the 49ers had a fourth-and-1 at the Seattle 38.

Seven different players were involved in those 12 plays, but it all starts up front and in the middle with a wily old pro in Williams and an emerging young talent in Hill. Those two defensive tackles combined for seven tackles, including three sacks and another tackle for a loss.

Mebane was having, arguably, the best season of his career at nose tackle before a hamstring injury ended it five games ago. Since the Seahawks don’t have another true nose tackle on the roster, there were major concerns about how the interior of the defensive line would hold up.

Williams and Hill have stepped up to fill the void in Mebane’s absence. Williams had a sack and a stop for a loss in his four tackles Sunday. At age 34 in his 12th season, the six-time Pro Bowler is playing like he’s 24 again in stepping into Mebane’s starting spot.

“ELIMINATED 49ERS LEFT TO PLAY OUT THE STRING”

By Paul Gutierrez, ESPN.com

I’m very proud of them,” Harbaugh said. “The effort was plus-plus. They fought like champs.”

But against the defending champs, the Niners lost both on the scoreboard and the battle of attrition.

Sure, the 49ers played with more passion this week than they had since before Thanksgiving, before these same Seahawks feasted on them and turkey on their midfield logo at Levi’s Stadium and the Oakland Raiders knocked them around and upside down and laughed when they conquered and won.

It was a familiar theme for a .500 team that reared its head in the Emerald City — it simply was not enough.

“SURGING SEAHAWKS KNOCK 49ERS OUT OF PLAYOFF RACE”

By Marc Sessler, NFL.com

Seattle owns a legitimate chance to win the NFC West after nipping the Niners at CenturyLink Field. Sunday’s affair was another classic example of the Seahawks wearing down the competition with their clock-chewing ground game and a defense that looks primed for another Super Bowl run. Allowing 6.75 points per game over the past four weeks, the Legion of Boom shut down passing lanes and made the play of the game with a fourth-quarter stop on fourth-and-1 in Seahawks territory. With six sacks, six hits on the quarterback and 10 tackles for a loss, Seattle on Sunday looked like what they are: Still the team to beat in the NFC. San Francisco, meanwhile, has been eliminated from playoff contention.

… Soon to be a goner, Jim Harbaugh was rightfully livid after the 49ers were slapped with a highly questionable roughing the passer penalty in the fourth quarter. We saw linebacker Nick Moody hit Russell Wilson cleanly in the midsection and former VP of officiating Mike Pereira told Fox that he agreed. Coming after a Wilson incompletion on third down, the flag set up a Seattle touchdown for a 17-7 lead they wouldn’t lose.

Seattle’s showdown with the Cardinals (11-3) next Sunday looms as a mega-doozy. If they win that game and take care of the Rams in Week 17, the Seahawks might very well own home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

“ED HOCHULI EXPLAINS NICK MOODY PENALTY”

By Paul Gutierrez, ESPN.com

While the San Francisco 49ers took umbrage with the controversial roughing-the-passer penalty that extended a game-clinching Seattle Seahawks touchdown drive, referee Ed Hochuli explained his rationale for throwing the flag at Niners linebacker Nick Moody.

“I felt that he hit the quarterback in the chest with the hairline,” Hochuli told ESPN Seahawks reporter Terry Blount, “and that’s a foul unless he has his face completely up and would hit it face on with the face mask. It’s a foul, and that’s why I called it.

“The first thing that hit (Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson) was the hairline of the helmet.

“WEEK 15 WINNERS AND LOSERS: Did Aaron Rodgers lose game and MVP?”

By Nate Davis, USA Today

Winners:

Seahawks defense:The Legion of Boom and Co. continued their late-season surge and have allowed just 27 points over the last four games after knocking out the 49ers 17-7. Only one of the Seahawks’ last nine opponents has surpassed 300 offensive yards.

Losers:

Jim Harbaugh:His 49ers saw their season torpedoed for the second straight year at CenturyLink Field, home of the archrival Seahawks. Just 7-4 three weeks ago, the Niners fell to 7-7 after losing twice to Seattle over the last three games. It is the first time San Francisco won’t reach the playoffs under Harbaugh, and maybe the last time he’ll visit Seattle for a while given he and the 49ers are widely expected to part ways once the season ends.

“SEATTLE SEAHAWKS CLOSER TO HOME-FIELD ADVANTAGE WITH WIN OVER SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS”

By Ryan Ratty, Rant Sports

Many questioned the Seahawks earlier in the season, and many were unsure that they would make the playoffs in the tough NFC. Now 10-4, the Seahawks are not only looking like the team we saw last year, but they are in Super Bowl form. In 2013, the Seahawks got hot at the right time, and that hot streak led them to winning the Super Bowl. Pete Carroll‘s bunch is as confident as any team in the league, and that confidence drives them to victories.

Seattle usually doesn’t win pretty, but they grind out victories, and that is a trait that is needed for NFL teams to win football games in this league. Finally healthy on the defensive side of the ball, the “Legion of Boom” is starting to take form, and the rest of the NFC, and the league for that matter, needs to be cautious.

With Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch excelling on offense, this Seattle team is going to be difficult to beat going forward. If the Seahawks get home-field advantage, not many teams are going to go into CenturyLink Field and come out with a victory. Seattle is hotter than any other team in the league, and the rest of the playoff teams in the NFC will want to avoid this team for the foreseeable future.

“LOSS TO SEAHAWKS ELIMINATES 49ERS FROM PLAYOFF PICTURE”

By Eric Branch, San Francisco Chronicle

Yes, thanks to injuries before and after kickoff, the 49ers leaned on a host of inexperienced and anonymous players unrecognizable even to die-hards in a 17-7 loss to the Seahawks on Sunday at CenturyLink Field.

And, really, the who’s-he lineup was a fitting way to finish a defeat that eliminated them from playoff contention: After boasting a 36-11-1 record and three trips to the NFC Championship Game the previous three seasons, the 2014 49ers haven’t looked like their once-mighty selves all season.

The 49ers’ fifth loss in their past six games against their bitter rivals dropped them to 7-7, gave them their first three-game losing streak of the likely-to-end-soon Jim Harbaugh era and had left tackle Joe Staley haunted by memories of his first four seasons when the 49ers went 26-38.

What’s it like to have two meaningless games left on the schedule?

“I’ve been in that situation before,” Staley said. “It sucks. This is not fun. This is my life. This is what I put all my work into. I don’t show up on Sunday and hope it goes well.”

49ERS OBJECT TO KEY ROUGHING-THE-PASSER PENALTY”

By Eric Branch, ESPN.com

A fourth-quarter roughing-the-passer penalty hurt the 49ers far more than Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson did.

In the 49ers’ estimation, the Seahawks’ second touchdown in their 17-7 win Sunday came with gift wrapping. With his team leading 10-7 in the fourth quarter, Wilson threw an incompletion on a 3rd-and-5 at the 49ers’ 15-yard line while being pressured by safety Antoine Bethea and linebacker Nick Moody, who was flagged for roughing on what appeared to be a clean hit.

Two plays later, Wilson threw a 10-yard touchdown to Paul Richardson with 13:20 left to finish the scoring.

San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh, who was livid on the sideline, said after the game that he disagreed with the call, and that sentiment was echoed in the locker room.

“I think it was a bad call,” Bethea said. “It’s so up and down with those type of calls. One week, you see something, another week, you see another. … It was a tough call, crucial moment on third down.”

49ERS LOSE TO SEAHAWKS, ELIMINATED FROM PLAYOFF CONTENTION”

By Cam Inman, San Jose Mercury News

Any momentum seemed to leave once (Frank) Gore exited with a concussion on the next series. His backup, (Carlos) Hyde, injured his back when tackled awkwardly on the 49ers‘ first snap after the Seahawks went ahead in the third quarter.

Other casualties: outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks (thumb), tight end Garrett Celek (ankle) and inside linebackers Michael Wilhoite (unknown) and (Chris) Borland (ankle).

The 49ers had to start their seventh offensive combination line this season and their third center with Joe Looney stepping in for Marcus Martin (knee). Injuries also brought a new-look cornerback corps, as rookie Dontae Johnson got his first start while season-opening starters Chris Culliver (knee) and Tramaine Brock (hamstring) did not suit up.

Said Boldin: “It is tough when you’re down the way we were: out two backs, down to our third center, down to our second right tackle. I mean, so on and so forth. I thought we ran out of linebackers as well.”

San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbuagh leaves CenturyLink Field after 17-7 defeat from the Seahawks. Many expect this to be his final game as 49ers coach. Mike Siegle / Seattle Times staff

San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbuagh leaves CenturyLink Field after 17-7 defeat from the Seahawks. Many expect this to be his final game as 49ers coach.
Mike Siegel / Seattle Times staff

“NFL SCORES, NEWS AND HIGHLIGHTS: WHAT HAPPENED SUNDAY IN WEEK 15”

By Danny Kelly, SB Nation

It wasn’t pretty, but in the NFC West, that’s par for the course.

The Seahawks rode their defense in Sunday’s 17-7 win over the 49ers.  They held Colin Kaepernick to 11-of-19 passing and 141 yards, harassing him constantly while racking up six sacks and 10 quarterback hits. The Niners had to do their damage on the ground and managed 140 yards against the NFL’s best run defense, which helped keep them in the game, but it ultimately wasn’t enough.

Russell Wilson finished 12-of-24 for 168 yards, a touchdown and a pick against the Niners‘ tough defense, but came up big when the Seahawks needed him to (with some help from a bad roughing-the-passer call), connecting with Paul Richardson for a touchdown with 13:20 remaining.

That touchdown put the Hawks up by two scores, and the Niners weren’t able to match it on their subsequent two drives. Seattle ran the clock out after taking over with 2:38 remaining.

For the Seahawks, it puts them among a logjam of NFC teams looking to win their final two games to grab the conference’s No. 1 seed. With the Cowboys, Packers, Lions and Cardinals all in contention, the Seahawks hold several tiebreakers in head-to-head matchups and currently have an NFC-best 8-2 conference record that could help them get the top seed for the second year in a row. As we saw last year, home-field advantage at CenturyLink Field could pay huge dividends for the Seahawks.

Seattle has now won seven of its last eight. During that stretch, teams are averaging a paltry 12.25 points. During the Seahawks‘ last four wins, teams are averaging seven points and 188 yards of total offense. That’s absurd. Pete Carroll’s crew is red hot at the right time and will attempt to finish the year strong against the Cardinals and Rams.

“QUESTIONABLE CALLS DOOM 49ERS, DOOM WHAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN AN EPIC RIVALRY GAME”

By Giancarlo Ferrari-King, Bleacher Report

The San Francisco 49ers are officially out of the playoff hunt. Let that sink in for a second.

In what could be the last meaningful game of the Jim Harbaugh era, questionable calls by the officials marred what should have been an epic showdown between two of the most physical teams in the National Football League.

The biggest call that turned a 10-7 Seattle Seahawks lead into a 17-7 game came during the fourth quarter. That’s when the refs in charge of the contest decided to throw a flag for roughing the passer.

Coming with pressure on a 3rd-and-5 play, 49ers linebacker Nick Moody and defensive back Antoine Bethea closed in on Russell Wilson. Almost immediately after Wilson throws an incomplete pass to wide receiver Paul Richardson, both 49ers defenders tackle him to the turf.

With his helmet pinned against Wilson’s chest, Moody was flagged for the infraction.

On the broadcast view and on the replay, it looked like the refs really botched that call. Moody didn’t appear to be leading with the crown of his helmet when he wrestled down the mobile QB.

49ERS‘ POSTSEASON HOPES DASHED; FOCUS SHIFTS TO HARBAUGH’S FUTURE”

By Matt Barrow, Sacramento Bee

The 49ers’ loss, coupled with a win by the Detroit Lions, means San Francisco isn’t going to the playoffs for the first time since Jim Harbaugh took over as coach in 2011. It also accelerates the discussion of Harbaugh’s tenure with the 49ers.

He has one more year on his five-year, $25 million contract but is expected to move on – either via trade or his release – when the season is over. Asked if he would speak with general manager Trent Baalke and owner Jed York about his future, Harbaugh said, “I’m always available to sit down with the owner or general manger, absolutely.”

Does he expect to sit down with Baalke and York? “Yes, at some point I expect that,” Harbaugh said.

“SEAHAWKS VS. 49ERS FINAL SCORE: 3 THINGS WE LEARNED FROM SEAHAWKS’ 17-7 WIN”

 By Louis Bien, SB Nation

The Seahawks want to destroy your soul

Watching the Seahawks play is exhausting. The defense isn’t forcing turnovers at the same rate it did last season, but it still ranks No. 1 in total defense. That’s more than enough to support an offense that prides itself on being suffocating. The Seahawks entered the game ranked first in the NFL in rushing yards and rushing yards per game. They love to run you over and — worse — they’re really good at it.

The Seahawks also rarely make mistakes, entering Sunday’s game with just 11 giveaways, the second fewest in the league. The sum is a team that demands perfection to be beaten, because one slip-up can mean you’re not getting the ball back for the rest of the quarter as the offense grinds out yards.

The Seahawks are in great shape heading into the final two weeks of the season.

SEAHAWKS CONTINUE PUSH TOWARD NO. 1 SEED”

USA Today

Going for No. 1: Seattle, which is 6-1 at home, has a legitimate shot to win the NFC and clinch 12th-man advantage through the playoffs. The Seahawks are at Arizona Sunday night, where the Cardinals will be forced to start third-stringer Ryan Lindley at quarterback. If they win that game and beat St. Louis in Seattle to close out the season, the Seahawks would finish 12-4 and hold tiebreakers over Arizona, Green Bay and Philadelphia.

Seahawks D getting stronger: Seattle’s defense might be even better than a year ago. It has allowed only 27 points in the last four games (that’s under seven points a game) and looked downright impossible to move the ball against in the second half. After giving up 178 yards in the first half, the Seahawks held the 49ers to 67 yards in the second half. The pass rush was the key to yet another dominating performance — Seattle sacked Colin Kaepernick six times.

“JIM HARBAUGH EXPECTS MEETING ON FUTURE, FIGHT FROM PLAYERS IN COMING WEEKS”

By Josh Alper, profootballtalk.com

With the Niners out of playoff contention, the topic of Harbaugh’s future was a popular one. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick was among the members of the team thinking about a future with a new head coach.

“That’s something I can’t fully wrap my mind around why that would be the situation,” Kaepernick said. “But he has my full support, no matter if he’s here or somewhere else. I hope he’s back here and I think he’s a great coach.”

No one knows exactly how things will play out, but Kaepernick’s hope is unlikely to be realized as the bitter end of the line for the 49ers in 2014 foreshadows the bitter end of a winning Harbaugh run with the organization.

“INSTANT REPLAY:  SEAHAWKS ELIMINATE 49ERS FROM CONTENTION”

By Matt Maiocco, CSNbayarea.com

In a season in which very little went right for the 49ers, Sunday proved to be the perfect microcosm for their season. They battled injury problems throughout the game and had a controversial call go against them at a critical moment.

Running back Frank Gore left the game in the second quarter with a concussion and backup Carlos Hyde was twisted awkwardly in the third quarter and hobbled off with a right knee injury. The 49ers started backup offensive linemen Joe Looney at center and Jonathan Martin at right tackle.

On defense, the 49ers did not have cornerbacks Tramaine Brock and Chris Culliver due to injuries. And leading tackler Chris Borland played one snap in the second half after sustaining an ankle sprain on the final play of the second quarter.

“SEATTLE KNOCKS S.F. OUT OF PLAYOFF CONTENTION WITH 17-7 WIN”

By Tim Booth, The Associated Press

Doug Baldwin was caught. Not in the sense of getting tackled, but caught being an observer.

Baldwin couldn’t help himself. When Seattle’s wide receiver saw that Green Bay had lost, he gave a little fist pump knowing what that meant for the Seahawks.

The NFC playoffs could be routed through the Pacific Northwest again.

“We can only control what we can control and so we’re focused on us,” Baldwin said.

The Seahawks knocked their most heated rival out of contention Sunday behind another stingy defensive effort and Marshawn Lynch’s 91 yards rushing and a touchdown in Seattle’s 17-7 win over San Francisco.

Gone are the 49ers from the postseason conversation. Now the question is whether Seattle (10-4) can win its final two games — at Arizona and vs. St. Louis — and potentially land the No. 1 seed in the NFC for the second straight season.

The opportunity at home-field advantage was implausible four weeks ago when the Seahawks were 6-4 and teetering in the NFC playoff picture. After four straight wins and the Packers’ loss at Buffalo on Sunday, the Seahawks have the chance at more than just a postseason berth.

Want to be a reader contributor to The Seattle Times’ Take 2 blog? Email your original, previously unpublished seattletimes.com or sports@seattletimes.com. Not all submissions can be published. Opinions expressed are those of authors, and The Times reserves the right to edit and publish any submissions online and/or in print.work or proposal to Sports Editor Don Shelton at dshelton@seattletimes.com

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