I re-watched the week one game against San Francisco last night. It was frustrating, to say the least. A few minutes into it and I really wanted to stop watching. Not just because of missed opportunities, but because I knew the outcome. I knew that this one was going to slip away and that as good as we feel about this team right now, if Seattle had won the game then they would be 8-6, the Niners would be 10-4, and this game would mean a whole lot more.
But we all know what happened, and why San Francisco locked up the division awhile ago.
Seattle trailed 16-0 at halftime but penalties, a story we are all too familiar with, were the main culprit in this deficit. Yes, Ted Ginn put the nail in the coffin (and except for one terrible punt return in the first half, was an annoyance during the entire game) but even at the point when he returned a kickoff for a touchdown, the Hawks still trailed with less than four minutes left. This was a winnable game because the defense played tough (209 yards allowed is the 2nd lowest allowed all season) and little did we know that this was just a pre-cursor to watching an above-average to very-good defense.
They had goal-line stops. They allowed 32 total yards on the Niners first four drives. They kept the game close despite mistakes and despite Tarvaris Jackson not being close to looking ready for an NFL game. But those "despites" are also the reason they lost.
Seattle had a nice opening drive of 34 yards. Not great, but amazing in comparison to their next six drives; the longest of which was 7 yards and ended in a fumble. Penalties allowed the Niners to keep drives alive, to get field goals instead of punts, to get a touchdown near the end of the first half, and to negate a Leon Washington punt return to the San Francisco 15 yard line.
It's hard to take anything away from week one when you're in the moment. Perception was that the 49ers, after having what looked like a terrible off-season, were bad. They're not. We didn't know if Marshawn Lynch was struggling or if the 49ers run defense is great. It is.
Both teams are somewhat different now, but both teams have a lot more information and game footage to work with. Seattle is playing with almost an entirely different offensive line, a different starting cornerback, and a different starting linebacker. San Francisco might be without Ginn.
The Niners have lost their last two road games and will now travel to the toughest "away" stadium in the NFL. Both teams are playing with a lot on the line. The game should be low-scoring, tightly contested, emotional, and exciting. Every field goal will seem critical. Every stop on third down will be crucial. Every yard gained will be impactful.
The team and player names on both sides of the ball will be relatively the same, but the game will be anything but. Not with these stakes. Things have changed. Attitudes are different. The coaches and players want this win as badly as they've wanted a win all season, and the fans want it too.
Through my sources I've obtained a letter from one side to the other detailing the game before, what's happened since, and what will happen on Christmas Eve. I now give it to you...
It has been 102 days since I last saw you at the beginning of the war. I apologize for my late correspondence, but I have been eagerly anticipating seeing you once again. That fateful afternoon when I can meet you again is nearly upon us.
It will be the eve of Christmas, a day unlike any other. Perhaps not the greatest day for battle, as we honor St. Nicholas, but war does not check calenders for appropriation. We must fight on Frannie, we must have honor in this battle, we have picked our sides of engagement and now the day for reckoning is near.
The last time I saw you Frannie, things weren't going very well. I made mistakes. I suppose we all make mistakes, though you seem to make fewer of them than anyone else. I can not fault you for this my dear, but it does make it quite difficult to ever win with you. You've had the upper hand recently, and it pains me to not be able to keep up. I have improved, but still, I make mistakes.
I am human, therefore I sin.
Erroneous infringements upon entering your neutral zone caused me great pain, and you were the beneficiary of those errors. You were steadfast upon taking advantages of my mistakes and our battle was greatly in your favor upon entering the final moments of that day. Still, I believe I stood my ground quite well, unbeknownst to me at the time that you would be a force to be reckoned with during the war of 2011.
In the end, you had won, Frannie. Your men had let mine get close to victory, but just as easily snatched victory from our hands by dawn. Your Col. Theodore Ginn, Jr., finally resting his bayonet deep inside our sternum and defeat had never tasted quite so bitter.
I won't forget that, Frannie. I can not forget that. Will Theodore be ready for battle on the eve?
Since that time, three months and eleven days have passed, and the faces of my army are quite different than before. First Sergeant Marcus Trufant and Corporal Russell Okung were lost in battle during the war and shant be returning. We weep for them, but will not suffer for it. Pvt. Richard Sherman has proven quite capable of war, as have Privates Chancellor, Browner, and Sergeant Major E. Thomas.
You will surely remember PFC Douglas Baldwin. He had gotten behind your defense once before, and we expect the same on Saturday.
First Lieutenant Marshawn Lynch has been described as a "Beast" on the battlefield because of his ferocious and vicious attacks upon other soldiers. I say, that boy has an appetite for flesh and is voracious with his appetite. Legend has it that he once ate an entire General Store out of business after battle. Mostly the sweets. That young man loves his sweets.
As does PFC "Golden Boy" Tate. He had shown up in our battle before, as you remember, and he shall return again this weekend.
Yes, Frannie, things have changed quite a bit. It looked not long ago as though our war had ended and our side would not win. Many of the men spoke about going home, having relations with women, and simply wanted to survive to see flying machines one day. Then a spark happened that had changed everything.
We had dismantled several outfits in the northeast, such as the troop from Baltimore, and it was but a fortnight ago that we slaughtered the troop from Philadelphia. These men, whether they are ignorant or crazy, believe that they will defeat any forces that stand in their way.
We believe we can win this war, Frannie. We know you hold the upper hand, but do not be so naive as to believe that things were the same as they were before. You will be travelling to our home field this time, and that is something that can not be ignored for we will defend it with honor until the death. If it must come to that.
I wish you well, dear Frannie, but if you must draw arms to us, then we shall return the favor.
These 102 days seem to have come and gone so quickly, but the day is nearly here. It shant be like any Christmas Eve ever before.
General Peter Clay Carroll