BY Art Thiel 07:47PM 11/18/2015

Thiel: Seahawks, 49ers and a fall from greatness

At 4-5, the Seahawks confront the issue of whether money and fame have cost them their championship edge, while the 49ers bench QB Colin Kaepernick for Blaine Gaebbert. How the mighty . . .

Jermaine Kearse’s touchdown catch in the NFC championship game was among the apex moments in the history between the Seahawks and 49ers. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

Recall what the NFL dungeon looks like. Isn’t that Charlie Whitehurst’s comb in the corner? And here’s Aaron Curry’s well-worn Bible. Over there is a bunch of Jim Mora’s dirtbags.

Remnants of a dark time. But not that long ago.

Then the Seahawks became lords of the manor. And the San Francisco 49ers were the jealous rivals, a swarthy tribe of evil trolls led by the dreaded Har-mongus.

Now?

The Seahawks are third in the NFC West at 4-5, just ahead of the last-place 49ers (3-6). Neither enters Sunday’s game as dragon slayers, just draggin’. The dispute is a desultory argument about who gets stuck in the dungeon, not about who rules the fruited plain.

The NFL’s greatest rivalry is ashes, replaced by a bar fight at 2 a.m.

“Sometimes it happens, teams not being able to recover from the success that they had,” said WR Doug Baldwin. “Look at the Buffalo Bills — they lost four Super Bowls in a row (1990-1993) and have struggled ever since.”

Ouch. That’s a tad harsh. But success often does create wicked descent, especially in the NFL. The Seahawks haven’t unraveled as have the 49ers, riven by ownership-coach dissension. After an 8-8 season in 2014, coach Jim Harbaugh and what seemed like half the roster fled the lumpy sod of Levi’s Stadium.

Most of the Seahawks stars remain from the Super Bowl win and the Super Bowl loss. But in 2015 they have yet to beat a quality team, only mediocre outfits like the Niners, who dropped a 20-3 result to Seattle in Santa Clara over the 49ers a month ago.

Now, however, after losing to new NFC West division powerhouse Arizona 39-32 Sunday, the Seahawks are closer to the divisional back end than the front end, forced to confront the issue to which Baldwin referred — whether the big-money contracts and glory have robbed the Seahawks of their edge.

“Anything can affect your play, your personality, your demeanor, with distractions,” he said before practice Wednesday at the VMAC. “It can be overwhelming. It’s not just the contract, its the fame, the lifestyle, all of it goes into it.

“The guys in this locker room handle themselves pretty well.”

But the results suggest that a loss of hunger is a part of the problem.

“For me, I go out and battle every day,” Baldwin said. “I go up against Richard Sherman every day and see him battle. To me, there’s no difference. We want to win so bad, it’s never been about the money.”

Perhaps. But Baldwin is unlikely to rat out a teammate publicly even if he did detect a flagging effort.

Still, if they do succeed this year, the Seahawks will have swum against the fierce current of human nature as well as NFL salary cap rules, which combine to say “Fellas, you’re goin’ down.”

The five losses all have been against teams with winning records and have included fourth-quarter Seattle leads, so it isn’t as if the Seahawks are being walloped by sledgehammers. But beating good teams has been a hallmark of Pete Carroll’s teams, especially at home, where they have lost two in a row.

“I’m disappointed that we haven’t taken advantage of some fantastic chances,” he said Wednesday. “Three great teams we’ve played, three great opportunities to win all those games . . . and those getting away, that’s frustrating.

“We were good enough to win those games. I don’t want that to be the story of this season. I want to get this thing rolling so that isn’t the story and we have a chance to do some really good things at the end of the year. We’ve got a long ways to go to get that done.”

But the sad story prevails, even if they beat the 49ers, a 10-point underdog, as expected. This year’s team can’t escape the shade thrown by the past two, and even three, Seattle teams, particularly along the offensive line, the season-long weak link.

Assistant coach Tom Cable said that in the group meetings Saturday night before the Arizona game, he tried to separate his players from the burden of previous deeds.

“I told them every team has its own journey,” he said. “You decide in July/August what you want to be and eliminate the distraction, cut out the noise. We’ve been good at that in our past. We haven’t played like that yet. So we keep working until we get it right.”

However despairing the journey, they can at least say their captain, Russell Wilson, remains upright and taking solid food, unlike most QBs in the NFL these days.

In San Francisco, Colin Kaepernick, a longtime victim of badgering by the Seahawks defense, has been replaced by backup Blaine Gaebbert, a Missouri grad and former first-round pick by Jacksonville who flamed out spectacularly before the 49ers threw him a rope in March 2014 by acquiring him for a sixth-round pick.

In his first start of the season Sunday, Gaebbert somehow led the Niners to a 17-16 win over Atlanta. Should he manage a similar stunt at the Clink Sunday, he may well inspire some among the 12s to demand the Seahawks do the same as the 49ers, and start Tarvaris Jackson.

That would be the sort of thing that happens when the stumble to the dungeon begins. People grab at anything.


YourThoughts

  • jafabian

    Interesting statement from Cable about July and August is when you decide what you want to be. Wilson, Wagner and Bennett were talking salary and Chancellor was holding out. I heard Cliff Avril being interviewed by a sport talk radio station and when he was asked about some of the issues of this season he laughed nervously and said “I don’t know, lack of focus? Who knows?” I thought saying lack of focus being the first thing he said was telling.

    For awhile there the Seahawks/49ers games were the best rivalry in American sports bar none. I’m expecting Coach Carroll to be here for several more years so I’m hoping at some point Jim Harbaugh gets bored at Michigan and returns to the NFC West.

    • Lightning Fowl

      Seeing how Cable’s line is playing, apparently the O-Line decided in July and August to be below-average. Say what you want about Wilson, Wagner, Bennett, and Chancellor but other than Wilson, I would say money has affected them negatively in terms of their play.

      • art thiel

        I think the linemen in July were happy to be there. Carroll, Dable and Schneider were the decision-makers.

    • Its onlySports(DavidWakefield)

      Are you suggesting Carroll coaching til he is like 70…retiring from the Org and they bring in Harbaugh?
      Wouldn’t that be something to talk about. Well Jim was using the Hawk logo to convey messages to his huddle that 1st game of the season Vs Utah… I def think he envys Pete for having such a fine job up here,,,,perhaps he would entertain that job opp when a new decade arrives in 2021 or 22…..you never know but as of now the thought is a tough one to wrap my head around.

      • art thiel

        You can save the wrapping for Christmas. Not even Jim Carrey’s million to one chance.

      • jafabian

        Tom Coughlin is 69. Marv Levy retired at 72 and returned to be the Bills GM at age 80. Pete is so wired it’s hard for me to see him retiring any time soon.

        • Its onlySports(DavidWakefield)

          Sorry if my tone sounded preposterous. I wasn’t shooting for that. Agreed that Pete needs to be busy and who knows?You may have to pry his coaches whistle off of his neck to get him to retire. As Pete would say?I am making 7~9million a year doing what I love at 60 sum ?I love the Heck outta that!
          I don’t think Peter believes in Senior citizens. He sure as hades doesn’t see one in the mirror.

    • art thiel

      No doubt money issues are a factor, but hard to quantify, But if you understand human nature, it’s plain.

  • Its onlySports(DavidWakefield)

    Sunday night it slightly resembled the Persian King marching on the 300 Spartans in the 1st half.. with Seattle “crowded ” into a 22~7 deficit against an avalanche of talent thrown at them. Seattle made a valiant effort at winning the war but on their own Greek turf(the Clink) they were overwhelmed in the end.
    Once our Hawks were as proud and determined as those aforementioned Spartans

    • coug73

      Your story is a classic.

    • art thiel

      Wow. A lesson from Sparta. I’m the last guy to criticize anyone overreaching for an analogy.

      • Its onlySports(DavidWakefield)

        Yeah I wanted them to go 13~3 this year but now reality is they just didn’t have the horses(OL). History only happens once to the exact detail and today their detail is 4~5. Gotta work with it ~no choice.
        It does remind me a tad of the 300 movie when King Lenonidis meets up with the other Greeks who are to fight with the Spartans.The leader of what they called the Arcadians spoke up. He felt there were too few weapons(Spartans).
        The king said to one of his soldiers~you?What position did you play in college before you signed up for this?His reply was I sure as hell didnt play on the offensive line.Others were potters~bakers~blacksmiths et al.
        Then Leonidis yelled to his clan Spartans?Are you not full time warriors?
        WHHOO~WHOOOAA! Was the semi human yell back at him.
        Point is? Our offensive line might have had too many potters~bakers and Blacksmiths coming to the OL prior to their time in Seattle to make 2015 a successful campaign. Conversion is great when it works I suppose. The Jury is still out on Cables fine work.

  • ll9956

    On a purely human level, I can’t help but feel a bit sorry for Kaepernick. This has zero effect on my wanting the Hawks to win Sunday. Maybe it is fortuitous that if they do, it will be Gaebbert who will take the loss.

    As it is, the Hawks’ chances of making the playoffs are shaky. If they lose, those chances are near zero. If ever there were a must-win game, this is it.

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    • art thiel

      You have discovered a truth rare for sports fans: It’s OK to have a little human compassion,

  • MrPrimeMinister

    Never was a huge believer in the hawk-49er “rivalry”. It’s always been a little contrived–mostly by the media looking for an angle. One epic NFC championship game does not make a rivalry. Most fans understand the similarities between our two cities. We are friendly cities with many commonalities. In fact, if the hawks can’t take down a championship in any given year, I am always rooting for the 49ers to do it.

    • art thiel

      It wasn’t a city thing; it was first about Harbaugh and Carroll, then about two excellent teams. And they played the best football game I’ve seen. The city stuff was far secondary, although it was fun that the cities are (were) nearby, at least from a Western perspective.

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