Sunday, September 20, 2009
49ers make statement against Seahawks
By Mike Sando ESPN.com
AP Photo/Ben Margot
Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck left the game after a hit from the 49ers' Patrick Willis.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
SAN FRANCISCO -- The progress coach Mike Singletary and the San Francisco 49ers have made since their previous home game against the Seattle Seahawks shined through in so many ways Sunday.
Nowhere did it shine through brighter than on the scoreboard, but the significance of this 23-10 mauling went beyond the NFC West standings.
"I'm very thankful for coming out of the game and doing a decent job," Singletary said.
In less than 11 months the 49ers have gone from borderline indecent, with Singletary pulling down his pants in the locker room midway through a 34-13 loss to the Seahawks, to whipping the britches off Seattle and finding fault in the execution.
"We have to do a better job than we did today," Singletary said. "They hung in there and they believed, but we just left too much on the table. We just have to finish."
X-rays and MRIs could determine whether the 49ers effectively finished the Seahawks.
Seattle has complained about bad luck with injuries recently, but it's not luck when the other team causes some of those injuries. That was certainly what happened when 49ers enforcer Patrick Willis blasted Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck in the ribs during a gutsy and fateful scramble right before halftime.
Hasselbeck got up, walked back toward the sideline, motioned for backup Seneca Wallace, then staggered and swayed as trainers rushed to his side. He did not return. X-rays on his injured ribs were negative, the team said, and a CT scan was inconclusive, although coach Jim Mora said he was optimistic.
For Willis, it was just another example of his physical dominance.
"At the end of the day, you want to do what is right for your team to win and [Hasselbeck] took a chance," Willis said. "He laid it out there for his team."
The Seahawks also lost left tackle Sean Locklear, middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu and cornerback Josh Wilson to injuries Sunday. Locklear was limping through the locker room after the game with a boot on his right lower leg, his prognosis uncertain.
That's as many as 11 starters gone barely two weeks into the season. Games against the Bears, Colts, Jaguars and Cardinals separate Seattle from its Week 7 bye.
"It's a little overwhelming to try to overcome 10 starters out and we weren't able to get that done," Mora said. "I certainly don't want that to sound as an excuse. … We'll come back with resolve and play better next week."
The 49ers and Cardinals must like their chances within the division. Injured ribs can take weeks or months to heal. Hasselbeck will be playing through pain when he does return. If he cannot move well or put in the work needed to maintain his core muscles, might he become more vulnerable to aggravating old back injuries?
"He's doing much better," Mora said. "He's feeling much more comfortable. … We'll keep our fingers crossed."
With Hasselbeck and the Seahawks ailing, the 49ers almost perfectly followed the blueprint Singletary laid out for them from the beginning. I singled out six benchmarks:
Power running game.Frank Gore popped through repeated eight-man fronts and into the clear, setting career highs with 79- and 80-yard touchdown runs on his way to 207 yards rushing. Gore has two career 200-yard games, both against the Seahawks. The 49ers have built their offense around him and this was precisely what they wanted to see.
Efficient, mistake-free quarterbacking.Shaun Hill improved to 9-3 as the 49ers' starter. He finished with an 86.1 rating and no turnovers.
Physical play at linebacker. Willis set the tone on defense with his crushing hit on Hasselbeck.
Big plays at safety. The 49ers replaced Mark Roman with Dashon Goldson because they thought Goldson could provide needed playmaking. Goldson made an excellent play to pick off a pass. He appears to have the potential to become a very good player.
Downfield plays from the tight end.Vernon Davis was not perfect, but he caught passes for 15 and 17 yards. He kept his composure, again, which was important.
Aggressive play at corner.Nate Clements and Dre Bly in particular seemed to relish batting away passes. The 49ers' cornerbacks won at the ball repeatedly and let the Seahawks know about it. Hasselbeck was right when he called Bly perfectly suited for the nickel role.
The 49ers have much room for improvement. Singletary was right about that. Their problems at right tackle are exposing Hill to punishment. Their offensive line in general still has limitations. Opponents will play far better run defense than Seattle managed in this game. On defense, the 49ers' pass rush should have been more effective against an offensive line playing its third-string left tackle.
But the big-picture view shows the 49ers with a 2-0 record overall and in the division. They have won six of their last seven regular-season games under Singletary. They are tough and physical, just as Singletary has commanded them to be. They hit the Seahawks in the mouth and a lot of other places.
All things considered, they are pretty decent right now.