As fans wring hands over the Seahawks’ three losses in the past five games, consider the 2-13 49ers. The NFL’s hottest rivalry faded swiftly. And spoiling a season with an upset can renew it just as fast.
While fans look in back seats, under beds and down sweaters for the Seahawks’ fleeting mojo, consider the San Francisco 49ers, at 2-13 the sick man of the NFC West that is days from another purge — or not, and no one can say for sure which is the better plan of action.
As the Seahawks prepare to visit Levi’s Stadium — looking ever more like one of those insta-cities in southern China that was built recklessly and remains unpopulated — it is worth pausing to reflect that being the division titlist bearing a limp, a bad eye and hearing loss, is not really such a bad deal.
Yes, the Seahawks have lost three of the past five games and no longer have available Marshawn Lynch, Earl Thomas and Tyler Lockett. But the club is in good financial and management shape. It has a franchise coach and quarterback under multi-year deals. It has won at least one playoff game in five of the past six seasons, including 2010, the pre-Russell Wilson time when they they claimed the division at 7-9 and beat defending champion New Orleans in the immortal “Beast Quake” game.
That, friends, is a roll.
The 49ers lack even one of those things, and Sunday will be down to watching seagulls peck the eyes from the remaining half-dozen fans (Alfred Hitchcock came to nearby Bodega Bay for a reason).
This, then, is what is left of the great Seattle-San Francisco rivalry, the What’s Your Deal? Bowl, gone to tatters.
Seahawks DE Michael Bennett, for one, removed his fur hat and paused for sentimental contemplation.
“I think you do miss that,” he said this week. “That (rivalry) was built around the same type of teams: A running quarterback, a great defense. It was just a fun game to play in because you had to match the intensity of the other team. Obviously, you miss those rivalries because all those players are out of the league right now. You think about Justin Smith, Aldon Smith — NaVorro Bowman, he’s hurt. You think about Patrick Willis, Ray McDonald . . . They had so many great players on that team.
“It was just one of those games where it was the same team playing against each other. The intensity was outstanding.”
He didn’t even mention coach Jim Harbaugh, the columnist’s best friend on a slow news day:
“Hey Jim, I got nothin’ — say something ridiculous.”
“Just gobble, gobble, gobble, turkey from jive turkey gobblers. I think that paints a pretty good picture of it.”
“Right you are, Jim. Don’t ever leave, pal — don’t ever leave.”
But he did. Off to the University of Michigan he went, where this month he was again thwarted by a Seattle team and coach — Chris Petersen’s University of Washington Huskies, who gained the fourth and final berth in the national college playoffs just ahead of the Wolverines.
For all we know, the playoff selection committee hates khaki. But it was good to see Harbaugh throw objects, spittle and profanity again.
To Bennett’s point about intensity, the regular season finale still has meaning, It’s just not Sparta vs. Athens.
The 49ers beat the Los Angeles Rams Sunday 22-21, showing they can fog mirrors sufficiently to bid for next season’s jobs now. Nothing would curry more favor with coach Chip Kelly than to spoil the day of Carroll, his old Pac-12 rival.
The Seahawks, meanwhile, have an outside shot at the No. 2 playoff seed (Seattle must win and Atlanta has to lose at home to the Saints). As important, they need to stick a landing.
Here’s how O-line coach Tom Cable explained it.
“If you ever think you’ve got it in this league, towards the end, or in October, or whatever, you’re full of baloney,” he said. “Because it’s every week, and you keep building it right. What we want to do is come off the second half (of the Arizona game, in which they scored 28 points on 297 yards) and play our best football this week. Then, whatever is after that.
“We have a lot of work to do, like everyone does in this league. Everyone says, this team is better than that team. Not really. We’re all just getting ready to find out.”
Cable is right. In no other sports league can a hot team nap and a cold team awaken in a single playoff afternoon. Regarding the bigger picture of seasonal narratives, it can go swiftly, too. Ask the 49ers.