By Danny O’Neil
On a team with a running back who doesn’t answer questions and a cornerback who can’t stop talking, it was Seattle’s defense that made the biggest statement Sunday night with a nation watching.
That’s it. No need for an exclamation point or really an explanation. The Seahawks lined up against a 49ers team that has been among the league’s most efficient teams since coach Jim Harbaugh arrived and turned that offense on its ear. Again. And then, after Seattle finished off a 29-3 beating at CenturyLink Field, the Seahawks basically shrugged.
“We did what we expected to do,” cornerback Richard Sherman said.
And that made a truly dominant performance even more impressive. Running back Marshawn Lynch may have scored three touchdowns, and quarterback Russell Wilson had to rally from his worst quarter of pro football to make some important third-down conversions, but this game was won by Seattle’s defense.
“We did everything we needed to do tonight on defense,” coach Pete Carroll said.
That was true for the secondary – which didn’t allow a completion of more than 20 yards – and it was also true of the pass rush that was such a concern in Week 1 but produced three sacks and a turnover.
A game that was supposed to be a showdown between two of the best young quarterbacks in the league became a showcase for a defense that allowed the fewest points in the league last year.
“We made them look normal,” safety Earl Thomas said.
Actually, Seattle made the 49ers look much worse than that.
The defense was responsible for Seattle’s first points, getting a safety after San Francisco was penalized for holding in the end zone in the second quarter. The defense set up Seattle’s second score, too, as defensive end Cliff Avril introduced himself to Seattle with a sack and forced fumble that was recovered by linebacker K.J. Wright. Six plays and 17 yards later, Seattle had a field goal to take a 5-0 lead.
The Seahawks would have won without having to score again, but that only scratched the surface of the most complete game by Seattle’s defense under Carroll.
Seattle has allowed fewer points, shutting out Arizona a year ago. And the Seahawks have held opponents to fewer yards than the 207 the 49ers amassed, but Seattle has never taken an offense as dangerous as San Francisco’s and made it look like that.
“They got nothing done,” Carroll said. “What were Gore’s numbers?”
Frank Gore? He rushed nine times for 16 yards.
“What did Anquan do tonight?” Carroll continued.
You mean, Anquan Boldin, the newly acquired wide receiver who caught 13 passes for 208 yards in his 49ers debut last week? Well, he was followed by Sherman for a good portion of the night and didn’t catch a pass until there was 5:13 left in the game.
As for quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the guy who threw for 412 yards a week ago? Well, he was picked off three times, threw for 107 yards – the fewest of any game he has ever started – and had a passer rating of 20.2. And while Kaepernick did rush for 87 yards, that was largely the result of two runs when Seattle lost contain on safety blitzes.
Coming out of Week 1, everyone was wondering how Seattle was going to keep pace with the 49ers after their 34-28 victory over the Packers. Turns out, Seattle’s 12-7 victory over Carolina was the more telling hint.
“It wasn’t that dissimilar from this one, was it?” Sherman asked afterward. “OK. Just making sure.”
It was a statement no one could miss, actually.