A year ago, it was impossible to figure out the 49ers after two weeks. Week 3, however, left little doubt.
Jim Tomsula’s team followed a decisive win over the Vikings and a blowout loss to the Steelers with an even uglier loss, 47-7, to the Cardinals. The margin of defeat was San Francisco’s biggest in a decade.
The 49ers never recovered. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick lost his confidence and eventually his job. So did Tomsula. The 49ers finished the season with five wins.
This year, the 49ers (1-1) are looking at a nearly identical scenario after a convincing home win against the Rams followed by a big road loss to the Panthers. The revealing third game comes Sunday against – who else? – the Seahawks in – where else? – Seattle.
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The 49ers not only haven’t won there since 2011, their average margin of defeat has been 17.4 points. The only time in that span the final score didn’t have a double digit margin: The 2013 NFC Championship Game, which the 49ers lost by six.
Ah, but the Seahawks (1-1) appear more vulnerable than they’ve been in years
There’s no Marshawn Lynch, who retired in the offseason. When the 49ers’ defensive front was dominating the league a few years ago, Lynch opened the first cracks. He scored the first – and only – rushing touchdown by a running back against the 49ers in the 2011 regular season, then scored eight more times in the teams’ next eight meetings.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said his team’s offensive struggles have been unrelated to Lynch’s absence.
“We didn’t have him in the second half of last year when we really got in full motion,” Carroll said. “… We had to adapt last year when he missed most of the season.”
Lynch’s top backup last year, Thomas Rawls, is doubtful for Sunday’s game with a shin injury. Rawls rushed for 209 yards and scored two touchdowns in a game against the 49ers when Lynch was injured a year ago. That could leave Christine Michael to make his fourth career start at tailback.
Carroll’s top receivers, Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett, are nursing knee injuries, though both practiced in the run-up to the game. More significant may be quarterback Russell Wilson’s sprained ankle, which has limited him to 3.3 yards a carry and perhaps contributed to his five sacks.
“Obviously, we don’t like to see guys get hurt, but it helps us that he’s a little bit slower,” 49ers safety Eric Reid said of Wilson. “He’s probably the most phenomenal player to keep a play alive. He can spin, he can run, and then he turns it into a touchdown. So the less mobile he is, the better for us.
“I wish him a speedy recovery, but I hope he’s still limping a little bit,” Reid said with a laugh. “With all due respect.”
Of course, Seattle’s defense is as stingy as ever, ranking first in yards allowed and points allowed. The unit has allowed just one touchdown in two games, which came on a 2-yard run by Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill in Week 1.
And Seattle still has a formidable home-field advantage. Including the playoffs, the Seahawks are 33-5 at CenturyLink Field since 2011. However, three of their home losses came last season.
Baldwin said the Seahawks have some things “to clean up” and that it will take some time to do so.
“I think that if you look at the numbers across the board, we’re very similar to where we were the last two years,” Baldwin said. “We’ll get to where we need to.”