Seahawks and 49ers square off in season opener
Sep 10, 2011, 8:28 PM | Updated: 9:42 pm
By NOEY KUPCHAN
(AP) — The San Francisco 49ers haven’t posted a winning record in eight seasons. There seems to be plenty of optimism, though, that a new coach can help them put an end to that streak.
Jim Harbaugh makes his NFL coaching debut as the 49ers host the defending NFC West champion Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.
San Francisco went 6-10 under Mike Singletary last season and is among three teams that have not finished over .500 since 2002, when it went 10-6 and made its most recent playoff appearance.
“I’m not getting any younger,” four-time Pro Bowl linebacker Patrick Willis said. “It’s about now and tomorrow. Not about trying to develop and become.”
Enter Harbaugh, who guided Stanford to a 12-1 record in 2010 and will try to lead the 49ers back to the postseason and to prominence.
“A lot of enthusiasm. A lot of emotion,” quarterback Alex Smith said of Harbaugh. “You can just see it kind of just pours out of him. He loves being out here, he loves coaching, he loves the game of football.”
Harbaugh recently named Smith his starting quarterback despite a lackluster preseason, as the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2005 failed to throw a touchdown in four starts.
“He played with a very cool head and made good decisions,” said Harbaugh, who passed for 26,288 yards during a 14-year NFL career. “He played the way you want him to out there – calm, cool, collected.”
While Smith will lead the offense, Harbaugh will depend on All-Pro Frank Gore to shoulder the ground game.
Gore, who has missed 10 games over the previous four seasons, compiled 1,305 yards from scrimmage with five touchdowns in 2010 before suffering a season-ending hip injury Nov. 29.
After getting a chance to recover during the lockout, Gore enters 2011 healthy – and happy – after signing a three-year, $21 million contract extension at the end of last month.
“We haven’t been having winning seasons but the fans have been 100 percent behind us,” Gore said. “I see Coach Harbaugh and this coaching staff, they’re football guys. I have no doubt, I know we can get it done. I know we have talent in that locker room, probably more than any NFL team.”
Gore has thrived in four career home games versus Seattle, rushing for an average of 148.0 yards. He ran for a career-best 212 yards in one of those, a 20-14 win Nov. 19, 2006, and rushed for 207 and two TDs on just 16 carries in a 23-10 victory Sept. 20, 2009.
While San Francisco returns most of its key players, the Seahawks could have trouble replicating last season’s surprising success with quarterback Matt Hasselbeck no longer around.
Hasselbeck, who spent 10 seasons in Seattle, led the Seahawks (7-9) to a 41-36 upset of New Orleans in a wild-card game before they fell 35-24 to Chicago in the divisional round.
With Hasselbeck now taking snaps in Tennessee, former Viking Tarvaris Jackson will start at quarterback after signing a two-year deal.
“Tarvaris brings so much continuity to us, I think it’s the best thing for our club,” coach Pete Carroll told the Seahawks’ official website. “… I think this guy is a heckuva prospect … What he brings us is something special. He’s a very talented kid.
“He’s going to own that position.”
Jackson was joined in Seattle by receiver Sidney Rice, who also left Minnesota to sign a four-year contract. Rice, though, has a sore shoulder and is doubtful for Sunday.
It’s also unlikely that fellow offseason acquisition Robert Gallery will play. The offensive guard sprained his right knee during the preseason finale.
A priority for the Seahawks will be improving their pass defense, which finished 27th last season with 249.6 yards allowed per game. Seattle should be immediately tested in that area, as they’ll face a 49ers receiving corps that added Braylon Edwards to go with potential star Michael Crabtree, who could break out in his third season in the league.
“(Edwards) brings a lot to us,” said tight end Vernon Davis, who led the team with 56 receptions in 2010. “He’s a big-time playmaker.”
San Francisco has won the last two home meetings with Seattle, taking last year’s matchup at Candlestick Park 40-21 on Dec. 12.
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