Seahawks vs. 49ers: A dimming rivalry?
With the 49ers falling to 7-6 and speculation about Jim Harbaugh’s future intensifying, Sunday’s game might also mark a finale of what has been one of the fiercest rivalries in Seahawks history.
Seattle Times staff reporter
49ers @ Seahawks, 1:25 p.m. Sunday, Ch. 13
Here is a sampling of some of what has gone wrong for the 49ers this season:
• Have scored 17 points or less in six of their past seven games.
• Colin Kaepernick is the only starting quarterback in the NFL not to throw a touchdown in the fourth quarter this season.
• Tight end Vernon Davis, whose 13 touchdowns last season tied for third most in NFL history, hasn’t had a touchdown since the first game.
• Receiver Stevie Johnson, acquired in a trade from Buffalo where he had 1,000 or more yards receiving every year from 2010-12, doesn’t have a catch in two of the past three games and just 435 yards for the season.
RENTON — Jim Harbaugh brings his trademark khaki pants for their annual visit to Seattle on Sunday with the 49ers’ season hanging by a thread.
And, maybe, Harbaugh’s San Francisco coaching career.
After a shocking 24-13 loss to the lowly Raiders, conjecture that this could be Harbaugh’s last season with the team only intensified.
Former 49ers receiver Randy Moss, for instance, declared on Fox that he thought “it is the end of the Harbaugh era.”
If so, then Sunday’s game might also mark a finale of what has been one of the fiercest rivalries in Seahawks history.
It was the 49ers who became the team the Seahawks had to beat — and Harbaugh the coach fans loved to hate — when he took over in 2011, bringing with him an already noteworthy history with Seattle coach Pete Carroll thanks to a few memorable clashes in the Pac-10.
But that team — the one that went 37-11-1 from 2011-13, advancing to three straight NFC Championship games — appears long gone.
The one that comes to Seattle Sunday is 7-6 with faint playoff hopes after a 19-3 loss to the Seahawks on Thanksgiving Day followed by the defeat at Oakland.
“Things just haven’t been right for us,’’ running back Frank Gore said in a conference call with Seattle reporters Wednesday. “It’s just been a different year for us.’’
One that has seen the 49ers battle both turmoil (notably, the nine-game suspension of defensive end Aldon Smith for violating the league’s substance abuse and personal conduct policies) and a loss of identity.
While the 49ers remain one of the stoutest defensive teams in the NFL, ranking third this week in total defense at 308.5 yards allowed per game, their once physically-punishing offense has turned soft.
The 49ers, who have been able to start their projected starting offensive line just once this season, are averaging just 113.5 yards rushing (lowest of the Harbaugh era) and have allowed 43 sacks, third-most in the NFL. That despite the presence of one of the more athletic quarterbacks in the NFL in Colin Kaepernick.
All of that has seemed to catch up to the fourth-year quarterback, who has thrown two interceptions in each of the past two games — including two to Richard Sherman on Thanksgiving night — the first time in his career he has had consecutive multi-interception games.
“I don’t think he has a real good supporting cast right now,” former NFL coach Bill Parcells said on an ESPN radio interview Wednesday.
In a surprisingly tame conference call with Seattle reporters Wednesday, Harbaugh was similarly protective of Kaepernick.
“First I would say that our play as a team has been a rough patch and that’s the way that we frame it,’’ Harbaugh said.
Kaepernick had just a 36.4 passer rating in the loss to Seattle on Thanksgiving, the lowest of the season. He also rushed for just 17 yards on three attempts in being held to a season-low 117 total yards.
He didn’t have a single designed run in the first half as the Seahawks took control of the game, something Seattle players said they didn’t expect.
“It was a little bit surprising (that Kaepernick didn’t run more),’’ said safety Earl Thomas. “Maybe they are saving it for this game.’’
Added linebacker K.J. Wright: “I thought they would do more running with the quarterback and trap stuff. But it was just basic football out there. When you just try to do basic stuff against us, it won’t go too good for you.’’
Vanilla, in fact, has been a common term to describe the San Francisco offense this year, with coordinator Greg Roman coming under increasing fire. Typifying what kind of season it’s been, the daughter of general manager Trent Baalke tweeted that Roman could “take a hike’’ following the loss to the Seahawks (she later apologized).
Kaepernick’s clipped news conferences in recent weeks have drawn as much attention as his struggles on the field — he delivered just 87 words to 32 questions last week.
Wednesday, though, Kaepernick was more upbeat when he met with reporters in the Bay Area. According to the San Jose Mercury News, he smiled as he said that the sight of Sherman and Russell Wilson eating turkey on the logo at midfield on Thanksgiving — something staged by NBC — was “not something I was necessarily happy about.”
Hovering throughout has been speculation about Harbaugh’s future, which began picking up steam last winter with reports that he has a tense relationship with Baalke, and has only intensified as the team has floundered. Some recent reports have speculated the 49ers might try to trade Harbaugh to a team such as the Raiders or the Jets.
That was a topic Harbaugh avoided when talking to Seattle reporters Wednesday.
“As far as what people are saying, the noise that’s out there, I focus on my job and do it to the best of my ability,’’ he said.
A Harbaugh departure might also lead to wholesale changes with the 49ers, who have 12 players age 30 or older — the Seahawks have four.
The biggest change, though, would be Harbaugh himself. Short of hiring Clay Bennett, it’s hard to imagine the 49ers finding a replacement who would inspire the same sort of passion among Seahawks fans.
Sherman, however, said he’s confident the rivalry would live on.
“I think it would take away from a few story lines,’’ he said. “But I think the rivalry would be just the same between the teams and the fan bases. I don’t think the fan bases care who the coach is on either team. I think they have their own disdain for one another.’’