BY Art Thiel 08:19PM 12/14/2014

Thiel: Farewell to Harbs; hello to No. 1 seed?

With another domination by the defense, Seahawks usher Harbaugh out of the division and set up themselves well as playoffs loom.

Bobby Wagner gets enough laundry belonging to 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick for a sack Sunday. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

As did a young John Connor at the end of “Terminator 2,” we wiped away tears as the beloved cyborg, Jim Harbaugh, was lowered Sunday into a molten vat of NFL playoff also-rans. Unless someone springs for a sequel, the Seahawks-49ers rivalry will take no shape we recognize.

“I am aware of it,” said Ah-nold . . .um, Harbaugh. “I understand what it means.”

Bloop . . . sisss. Gone.

With a heavy sigh, we turn now to news of humans.

The Green Bay Packers lost at Buffalo, 21-13, dropping to 10-4. The Seahawks beat the 49ers, 17-7, to rise to 10-4. The 11-3 Arizona Cardinals, who host the Seahawks Sunday, are looking in the basement and attic for spare quarterbacks.

Suddenly the road to a second consecutive Super Bowl, which at 3-3 and even 6-4 seemed full of mud, stumps and boulders, is now clearing. Chuckholes remain, but if Seattle beats Arizona and St. Louis, it can do no worse than be NFC West champs with good shot at a first or second seed and the reward of  a first-round bye. The Seahawks own tiebreaker advantages over the other potential four-loss teams except for Dallas.

Playoff permutations are not on the radar of coach Pete Carroll, who, having dispatched his foil, Harbaugh, for the fifth time in the past six meetings, including the three in 2014, refuses to look beyond the moment.

“That stuff is so far out of what we’re concerned about,” he said. “You think maybe I’m just saying that? I don’t care about that stuff right now. We have two more games to play.”

True coaching bedrock, there. For the rest of us, it can’t be helped, because the recent past includes such a startling return to form that the road has begun to look like 2013 . . . best conference record, bye, and two home games.

What looks even more remarkable is the defensive renaissance that in the second half held the 49ers to 67 yards, four first downs and no points.

But since they did allow the 49ers a second-quarter touchdown — the Niners’ first against Seattle in seven quarters — the lapse was deemed unacceptable by CB Richard Sherman.

“We got to clean that up,” he said. “We had them on fourth down — we should have stopped them on that drive and they should have got nothing.”

Increasingly, the Seahawks’ apparent intent on defense, already the No. 1 NFL outfit in terms of fewest points and yards, is not merely to deny points but oxygen.

“These past four or five games I feel like we’ve been better than last year,” said LB Bruce Irvin, sending a small shudder through the rest of the NFL. Irvin had one of six sacks of QB Colin Kaepernick, who tried valiantly to pick up after the 49ers lost their top two running backs to injury: Frank Gore to a concussion and Carlos Hyde to a gruesome right leg injury.

Kaepernick ran more than he did in Seattle’s 19-3 win Thanksgiving night in San Francisco, with 46 yards in nine carries. And he was without an interception, passing for 141 yards on 11 completions in 19 attempts. But with injury subs in the offensive line, the 49ers suffered 11 tackles for loss, two each from K.J. Wright, Michael Bennett and youngster Jordan Hill, who also had two sacks.

Whatever wasn’t already broken in San Francisco’s messy season was beaten Sunday. They were down to a third-string back, Alfonso Smith, for the fourth quarter.

“I didn’t even know who 38 was,” said Bennett of Smith’s number. “Didn’t matter.”

The Seahawks offense did just enough to not make the defense mad at them. Marshawn Lynch had 76 of his 91 yards in the second half, including a four-yard walk-in touchdown that put Seattle ahead for good. And rookie WR Paul Richardson caught a seven-yard TD pass in the fourth quarter to seal it.

But they were abetted by an opponent that did the unfathomable: The Niners had more penalty yards (78-50) than the Seahawks, the most football-criminalized team in the NFL. Included was a roughing the passer call on LB Nick Moody, a third-stringer in only because of an injury to impressive rookie Chris Borland. Moody was penalized for hitting Wilson with the helmet, not the facemask, even though replays showed otherwise.

It gave the Seahawks at first down at the 49ers’ 7-yard line, two plays before the Richardson game-breaker.

A pool reporter interviewed head referee Ed Hochuli, who offered the following:

“I felt that he hit the quarterback in the chest with the hairline (of the helmet), and that’s a foul unless he has his face completely up and would hit it face-on with the face mask . . . I’m differentiating between the crown, which is the top of the helmet. The hairline is up at the top of the forehead.” (Update on Monday: The NFL office ruled that Hochuli erred;  Moody tackled properly and no foul should have been called).

If you understand that hair-split, you may want to buy a whistle and send a resume to the NFL.

For a change, the call went Seattle’s way.

“I thought it was a good call,” said Wilson, grinning. “It helped us.”

And it sank Harbaugh, who despite three consecutive NFC Championship appearances, has burned up his relationships with the owner and GM and likely will coach elsewhere next season, spoiling a wonderfully tense relationship with Carroll.

“I would not even address that comment right there,”  said Carroll, smiling. “Sorry.”

That likely is the last word between them in the Seattle-San Francisco phase of their relationship. Finally, Harbaugh knows what the deal is with Carroll.

 


YourThoughts

  • jafabian

    After the Cardinals game I became convinced this team is going back-to-back. They’ve never lost their focus despite their troubles and haven’t lost their swagger. If anything it’s gotten stronger recently. Kevin Williams has stepped his game up and Paul Richardson is emerging as a threat. Tharold Simon is adding some needed depth to the LOB now. Hawks control their own destiny and I don’t see them failing. And even if they do it would mean they’d open the playoffs against either Atlanta or New Orleans. That’s practically a bye right there.

    Might as well make Super Bowl plans now then hang out long enough in Arizona until the pitcher and catchers report.

    • Jeff Shope

      simon had first game in nfl without a penalty :)

      • art thiel

        Well, there’s a happy note.

    • art thiel

      Biggest feat was replacing injured Mebane. Biggest remaining threat: Red zone failures by the offense. O-line still below average. Britt is hurting them.

      • John M

        Yes, Britt misses some assignments, and who is over there to give a rookie a hand handling pro bowlers? First I think the roughing call on Wilson was a good one. If the helmet and positioning would have varied an inch or two we’d have Tavaris for the rest of the season. What’s really upsetting is the refusal to beef up the blocking when you see your quarterback running for his life 60% of the snaps and getting pounded like cheap steak. I understand each man has his specific assignment – says it right there in the Big Book of X’s and O’s – but Billichick and Walsh understood their quarterbacks were more important than staying the course as it was drawn up. I remember Montana on a passing down having only 2 eligible receivers with everyone else committed to blocking for him because the opponents game plan was to get Montana. Russ is good at ducking a direct hit, but the helmet he took yesterday might have been his season.

  • ll9956

    I must confess to having mixed feelings here. I’m delighted that the Hawks won, but somehow I can’t help but feel a bit of sympathy for the Niners. The commentators, and the former NFL official, Mike Pereira, were unanimous in opining that Moody’s hit on Russell was not a foul. The penalty kept a drive alive and led to a TD, which pretty much sealed the W for the Hawks. It could be argued that even if the penalty weren’t called and SF got the ball and scored, the Hawks still would have won. I believe that one can’t assume that. The absence of the penalty and a SF score would change the complexion of the game. Who knows how it would have ended.

    It could also be argued that the Hawks have been victims of their share of bad calls. Examples would include the 2005 SB and the non-call on the PI against Baldwin several weeks ago. It would not surprise me if the NFL weighs in and agrees that the penalty shouldn’t have been called.

    At any rate, GO HAWKS!

    • whoKarez

      Minus the penalty would have resulted in a field goal for Seattle. I’m not sure why you’re saying that it would equate to a SF score. They had plenty of time to score and failed to do so. Says a lot about the grit on that team…or Seattle’s defense.

    • art thiel

      See the link above. The NFL admits it was wrong on the roughing call. As it admitted on the missed PI call.

      It happens. Otherwise we have to get Terminators to call the games.

  • Schaefdawg

    Hail the destroyers of souls! (I know I’m repeating myself, but really, isn’t this what the Hawks collectively do best?)

    • art thiel

      There’s no flags in the NFL for exaggeration.

      • Schaefdawg

        A modest response to be sure…

  • notaboomer

    the roughing the qb call was a game-changer. i hate it when refs do that even if the team i like wins. seahawks might have still won, but that call sealed the 49ers fate and it was wrong as could be. not even close really. “upon further review, i screwed up and the call on the field is reversed.”

    • Soggyblogger

      Hardly a game changer. Seahawks kick a FG if the penalty isn’t called. We had the lead and the defense was giving them nothing.

      • notaboomer

        i said hawks might still have won, but 10-7 with plenty of time is a whole lot better than 17-7 and affects play calls.

        • whoKarez

          had the 9ers scored more points, that play may have been more than it was-but they didn’t. The fact that 9ers allowed a bad call affect their play says a lot about the team. You could sense that it deflated them. Truly a sign that they had already resigned themselves as non factors this season. It sucks when penalties help shape the flow of the game but it’s been affecting games since the yellow flag was invented. I think I remember a non-pass interference call a few games ago that could have given Seattle a win. Shoot, we can go back to the Super Bowl against Pittsburgh if you want.

          • art thiel

            Keeping it within the season, yes, the non-call of PI vs. KC was more directly impactful. Would have given Seahawks a first down at the 1 in a 4 pt game. NFL also admitted error there.

            But in the big picture, miscalls even out, although Carroll will be hard pressed to accept that.

    • art thiel

      FWIW, NFL admitted call was wrong. See the story on our site that leads with Okung’s injury.

    • Sonics79

      When you see it real time, the guy leaving his feet and making contact with his helmet first, it looks like a penalty. As far as I’m concerned, the intent was there to light Wilson up, and that’s what drew the flag. Besides, it’s payback for the call on Chancellor two years ago when he lit up Vernon Davis with his clean hit (which was cleaner than this one)

  • notaboomer
  • rosetta_stoned

    already the No. 1 NFL outfit in terms of fewest points and yards

    Minor nit – the Seahawks are second to Detroit in points allowed.

    • whoKarez

      And also are not the most penalized team. I think they are number 4 this year.

    • art thiel

      Lions 17.0, Seahawks 17.3. Excuse me.

  • Kevin Lynch

    Here is an interesting question. Have the Seahawks won a meaningful game on the road this century against Manning, Brady or Farve/Rodgers, regular season or playoffs? Those are maybe the four most decorated quarterbacks over the last 15 years. Answer: no. They beat Indy 12/24 of 2005 when Indy had already clinched. I don’t think Peyton played the second half. They lost the other 7 games on the road against those quarterbacks. The Super Bowl was a neutral site, of course.

    • art thiel

      Good research. But the degree of difficulty in your question is quite high. How many times has any team won on the road against great QBs on good/great teams?

      • Kevin Lynch

        It’s fortunate they have gotten to play these guys on their home field in recent years. Big advantage. Next year’s schedule may not be so favorable. They may get Green Bay and Denver as road games. If so, that changes the way the year develops.

        • art thiel

          And Manning may retire, and Rodgers may quit his workouts with Hans und Franz.

  • RadioGuy

    Wow, that’s at least four of my posted comments that have disappeared over the past week or so. Message received.

    • sportspressnw

      Not sure why that would happen. I’ll look into it.

    • sportspressnw

      Your messages shouldn’t be going away. Sometimes when people’s posts get flagged enough, they get “hidden” by Disqus, but none of your posts are flagged at all in our admin. You were already on our whitelist of users, so it won’t flag you as SPAM. I don’t see any comments from you on this thread other than this one.

    • art thiel

      Hang in here with us, RadioGuy. #LOB (Love Your Brothers)

  • tee72

    Hope they move back to the AFC West, pardon me.