By Brady Henderson
Little went right for the 49ers the last time they played at CenturyLink Field. Colin Kaepernick threw three interceptions and no touchdowns, Frank Gore averaged 1.6 yards per carry, San Francisco’s defense allowed 172 rushing yards and the 49ers left Seattle on the wrong end of a 29-3 blowout.
That was 18 weeks ago.
Fortunes can be altered in a moment in the NFL. Over the course of a season, they can turn around completely. The 49ers lost at home by 20 points after that Week-2 loss to Seattle then won 13 of their next 15 games. One of their wins came against Seattle, and their only two losses during that time were by a combined four points. They’re the hottest of the remaining four teams heading into Sunday’s NFC Championship game against the Seahawks.
For a closer look at the 49ers I reached out to Cam Inman, who covers the team for the Bay Area News Group and was nice enough to take part in “Double Coverage”.
Henderson: I’ll start with a question about the last time these teams met in Seattle, which seems like ages ago considering what the 49ers have done since then. In your estimation, what was the biggest reason why things went so wrong for San Francisco that night and what’s your sense of how the players are approaching another game at CenturyLink Field considering how the last two there have gone?
Inman: Lightning can’t strike twice, right? No, no, I’m not saying last game’s lightning delay threw off the 49ers. Instead, turnovers doomed them and Colin Kaepernick, then the 49ers lost their composure. When things go bad in Seattle for opposing teams, it can snowball fast, as has been the case their past two visits. Seattle’s defense protected its turf great, and I expect the same defensive struggle.
Wide receiver Michael Crabtree’s return from a torn Achilles has been a significant boost for San Francisco’s offense. (AP)
Henderson: It seems – based on his numbers – that Kaepernick started playing better right around the time Michael Crabtree came back from his Achilles injury. What has Crabtree’s return meant to the 49ers’ offense in general and his quarterback in particular?
Inman: Crabtree’s return is really an amazing story. When I heard he tore his Achilles on the first day of OTAs in May, I thought not only was his season over but the 49ers’, too. Since his return, he and Kaepernick have picked up where they left off last season. Better yet for the 49ers, they have a complementary wideout in Anquan Boldin, not to mention Mr. TD, Vernon Davis. Crabtree’s presence has opened up the field for the 49ers to work, meaning defenses can’t double everyone or stack the box so often against Frank Gore.
Henderson: It doesn’t seem like there’s been much dropoff in the secondary over the past two games even though Carlos Rogers has been out with a hamstring injury. What’s your sense of Rogers’ readiness to play and if he’s not at full strength do you see the 49ers sticking with Tarell Brown?
Inmam: The 49ers’ scheme typically prevents big plays, a credit to defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and, of course, his players. Tarell Brown and Tramaine Brock are expected to start and Rogers serve as the nickel back if all goes well in practice this week. Safeties Eric Reid and Donte Whitner have had great years, and that comes from a purely objective opinion. Rogers struggled last season in the slot but not so this year.
More coverage previewing Sunday’s NFC title game between the Seahawks and 49ers.
|“The Pete Carroll Show” | Blue 42 | Cold Hard Facts||• O’Neil: Errors may decide NFC championship||• O’Neil: Stopping the 49ers starts with Frank Gore||• Henderson: Russell Okung vs. 49ers’ Aldon Smith||• O’Neil: How the rivalry became so heated | Timeline||• Moore: Pete Carroll, Jim Harbaugh deny animosity||• Moore: Crowd isn’t enough for Hawks to beat 49ers||• Henderson: ‘No better matchup,’ Pete Carroll says|
Henderson: And now for the obligatory question about Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh. Carroll has downplayed the animosity between the two, yet he’s tweaked Harbaugh on numerous occasions and sure seemed to revel in those two blowout wins over the 49ers. Based on what you’ve seen from Harbaugh, do you think their rivalry is overstated?
Inman: Harbaugh and Carroll is such an old story. But it could heat up again. Their Stanford-USC battles didn’t have stakes as great as this game, nor any of their six regular-season NFL tilts. What’s their deal? They’re intense competitors who have goofy sides that simply show their adoration for the sport of football.
Henderson: I think anyone who is certain that Seattle will win this game is falling into the trap of defining teams by what they do in the first month of the season. Plenty has changed since Week 2. That 49ers win over the Seahawks last month is probably a much better indicator of where these teams are now relative to the other. That one, though, was in San Francisco. If you believe these teams are evenly matched on a neutral field, which I do, then you have to give the Seahawks the edge in the din of CenturyLink Field, which should be as loud as ever given what will be at stake on Sunday. As hot as the 49ers are, I trust Russell Wilson more than Kaepernick to avoid a game-altering mistake. Seahawks 23, 49ers 17.
Inman: Go back to September when the 49ers got blown out in Seattle. At that point, what did the 49ers need to do to reverse that result? Check list: Add offensive weapon, stay healthy on defense, prove their kicker is clutch and, most of all, get hot. Riding an eight-game win streak, the 49ers ticked off all those to-do chores. 49ers 23, Seahawks 20.
Follow Brady Henderson on Twitter @BradyHenderson.