The 49ers are already used to looking at the Seahawks from behind and on the ground. Let's keep it that way.
I'm going to be honest. I didn't expect a win today. I hoped for one, but didn't expect it.
As much as I hate the 49ers and think they're overrated, turnovers have played a significant part in the Seahawks' wins lately, and this 49ers offense isn't good enough to put itself in the position to turn the ball over -- if that makes sense. Harbaugh may be what some have said - obnoxious, whiny, petulant - but he's smart enough to know that his QB is incredibly limited and should keep his passing to a minimum, and that sort of gameplan immediately limits one of the Seahawks' strengths.
However, for some reason, I knew the Seahawks would be able to run the ball today. It didn't matter that the 49ers sport the #1 run defense in the NFL. I knew Marshawn would get his 100 yards and his TD, and both rushing records the Niners held so dear would fall. And when they did, I felt like the day was won, regardless of the outcome.
You see, I think today's game said a lot about the Seahawks' season and where this franchise has ended up, now, today, Christmas Day of 2011. They were playing for a playoff spot they supposedly didn't really deserve. The odds were against them. Though many of the talking heads may have picked them to win, they were decided underdogs. Yet they came out fighting, literally, and spent the entire first half shoving their brand of smashmouth football down the Niners' throats. They were beating them at their own game, and it looked for a time like the best of outcomes could be ahead.
What more could we ask for? Out-smashing the Niners, spoiling their chance at a first-round bye, sending Harbaugh and Co. home with shoulders slumped, and oh just for funsies, keeping our own playoff hopes alive? A better Christmas present could not have been conceived, even in the deepest recesses of the heart of the most ardent Twelfth Man.
But in the end, the 'Hawks were defeated, and we were brought back to earth, reminded that this rebuild isn't finished. Much respect is owed Pete and John for keeping the rebuilding Seahawks in the hunt for the playoffs through week 16 of consecutive seasons, but this team is not complete, and we would do well to keep sight of that fact, if for no other reason than to avoid sleepless nights and gray hairs.
*Disclaimer: I will make absolute statements on the behalf of the front offices. Clearly I'm not expressing any sort of inside knowledge. I am speaking to what makes sense to me.
Contention in 2011 has not been the Seahawks' first priority. Say what you will about always winning, wins over draft status, yadda yadda yadda. The 2011 season has been first and foremost about building a contender, and secondly about being a contender. Whether it be scouting genius or pure luck, the Seahawks' front office has accomplished this first task so masterfully that they've nearly accomplished the second in the process. But that doesn't mean the Seahawks are a contender or should be a contender. They're exactly what they are (cue, Dennis Green), and every one of you should know it by now. They're young, they're big, they're fast, they're strong, they're talented, and they're mistake-prone, they're inexperienced, they're learning, and they're incomplete.
Many have said, "Plug in a franchise QB, and this is a playoff team." That's true. But of course it's true. They don't have a franchise QB, and they're even still technically in a playoff chase. And it has nothing to do with an easy schedule or an easy division. They are legitimately good enough to contend for the playoffs. But that isn't the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is Super Bowl contention, and they are more than a franchise QB from that. They need linebacker depth, they need more pass rush, they could use another dynamic wide receiver, they could use a better change-of-pace back, they could use some safety depth, and they could use some offensive line depth.
We shouldn't fool ourselves into thinking this team could have backed into the playoffs like last year and made a significant run at winning it all. I'm not saying they couldn't have, but rather that we shouldn't expect it... yet. And today showed, perhaps more than any other game, that this team is still a few pieces away from true contention.
In the postgame thread, the most popular narrative was "Tarvaris sucks, he's awful, he cost us this game, he's not the future, get rid of him!" Our dear friend Beekers most eloquently addressed this sentiment already, but allow me to take a whack at it.
As easy as it is to get caught up in the frustration of watching inept QB play down the Seahawks yet again, we can't lose sight of who this team is. It isn't a bad team desperately hoping for its quarterback to carry it through the tough times. It's a young, talented, inexperienced, legitimately GOOD team with a bright future. But for lack of any better options, Pete and John selected (in my opinion) the best current available option to develop this team into a contender. They didn't go out and sign a guy they hoped would carry them to the promised land. If that was what they were expecting, they would have paid him like it.
No, they found a guy familiar with their offense who could manage it into anything other than a complete trainwreck while providing leadership and some upside. I don't think anyone (including the Seahawks) honestly thought they were uncovering a real gem who would shock the rest of the NFL world. If anything, people thought he'd come in and flop. He hasn't done either. He's continued to be his same inconsistent self, at times flashing the velocity and accurate deep ball that made him a second round pick, and at other times showing the indecisiveness and carelessness with the football that made him a second round pick.
He's been repeatedly applauded by coaches and teammates for his toughness and leadership. Seriously -- his job is to throw and he has played through a torn pec and biceps for two and a half months, all while knowing full well that he is a stopgap. We've tossed that around here a lot, but actually stop and think about how that must feel. No, keep thinking about it. He's unquestionably one of the toughest guys in the league. Whether he "provides leadership" in any other context is just icing on the cake. He is clearly and undoubtedly admired and respected by the entire team, and that is huge on a young, transforming team.
It frustrates me to read the narrow-sighted overreactions, calling for his head because he's not living up to a standard to which he's never been held. He's done all that's been asked of him, and more. Accept the guy for what he is, be thankful that he's sacrificed his own body and poured his heart and soul into the very team you care about, and look to the future.
There is so much to be excited about. The Niners are doing well, the Seahawks are on the upswing, and the Cardinals are showing potential as well. In another couple years, we'll no longer be the laughing-stock of the NFL. Teams will fear the NFC West. The Niners may have won today, and they may be the better team for now, but I think the Seahawks may have the upper hand in the long run.
A win today would have been so satisfying. But once the Lions knocked off the Chargers and the Seahawks were all but eliminated from the playoffs, they were only playing for pride. I would have been proud of them for knocking the Niners off their high horse. But even though the scoreboard barely favored the boys from San Fran, the Boys in Blue achieved a monumental win today -- they ran at will against the best run defense in the NFL, robbed it of two major long-standing records, and proved that this division is far from decided.
San Francisco, we concede the NFC West to you this year. But you aren't alone. You don't want to return to Seattle next year, or the year after, or the year after. The Seahawks are tough, young, and hungry, and you won't take their pride -- but they will happily take yours. Enjoy this rare experience, because it may be awhile before it happens again.