Encounters with the Seahawks have been painful for the 49ers from an injury standpoint in recent seasons, and that trend continued on the second play Thursday when Michael Crabtree caught a short pass over the middle and was crunched by hard-hitting safety Kam Chancellor.
Crabtree was on the ground for a short period, then jogged to the sideline with knee and rib injuries – his rib cage was later wrapped by trainers. After sitting out a number of snaps in the first half, Crabtree returned to the action in the second but, as with every 49ers receiver, made little impact in finishing with three catches for 10 yards.
Crabtree was at the center of the most pivotal play of the NFC Championship Game in January when Colin Kaepernick’s pass to him at game’s end was tipped away by cornerback Richard Sherman and intercepted by Seattle. Sherman reacted by taunting both Crabtree – whom he repeatedly called “mediocre” after the game – and Kaepernick.
Sherman, who finished that game with his hands around his throat in a “choking” gesture to the 49ers quarterback, got his hands on two more Kaepernick passes Thursday, the first on San Francisco’s third drive.
Kaepernick targeted wide receiver Brandon Lloyd, who attempted to sell Sherman that he was heading deep. The Seahawks cornerback wasn’t fooled when Lloyd cut the route off, and he stepped forward to snatch Kaepernick’s pass, which was well to the inside of his intended target.
Lloyd took most of the snaps when Crabtree was on the sideline in the first half but caught only one of the six passes thrown in his direction.
Sherman’s second interception came on another bad throw, this one to receiver Stevie Johnson.
Sherman had another gesture – putting his finger up to his face mask to announce that he had silenced the crowd – and, after some pushing and shoving, both Crabtree and cornerback Tharold Simon were flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Crabtree said his modest outing had nothing to do with his nemesis, Sherman.
“I’m not worried about that dude,” he said. “It’s more scheme. It’s not one-on-one. It’s scheme."
Tight end turnover – The 49ers received another meager output from their tight end group, a team strength in recent years.
Vernon Davis, San Francisco’s second-leading receiver last season and its most dangerous playmaker, gained 13 yards on two catches.
Hours before kickoff, the 49ers reshuffled the position by activating Garrett Celek from the physically-unable-to-perform list and elevating rookie Asante Cleveland (Christian Brothers High School) from the practice squad.
To make room, the 49ers placed tight end Derek Carrier on injured reserve because of a foot injury and released outside linebacker Chase Thomas.
Celek had been the team’s blocking tight end since the 49ers acquired him as an undrafted rookie in 2012. A pinched nerve in his back slowed him during the offseason, but he said this week that surgery alleviated the issue almost instantly and that he has felt healthy for some time. He began practicing with the team last week and started Thursday’s game.
Cleveland, who went undrafted in May, was active for one other game, Week 3 against Arizona. The 49ers were without Davis and fellow tight end Vance McDonald for that game. McDonald also missed Thursday’s contest with a back injury.
Carrier injured his foot early in Sunday’s win over Washington. He returned briefly in the second half but was seen in a walking boot this week.
Familar faces – Three former 49ers were in uniform for the Seahawks, including one of quarterback Kaepernick’s closest friends, wide receiver Ricardo Lockette.
Lockette had no receptions, but he forced punt returner Perrish Cox to fumble late in the second quarter as Seattle shut out the 49ers early in the game.
Fullback Will Tukuafu and defensive end Demarcus Dobbs, who was part of the 49ers’ offense earlier this year, also played Thursday.
Injuries -- Five 49ers, including Crabtree, were on the post-game injury list, but all returned to the contest. Cornerback Chris Culliver and guard Mike Iupati suffered shoulder stingers, receiver Anquan Boldin had a neck injury and defensive end Ray McDonald hurt his finger.
Et cetera – Rookie linebacker Chris Borland led all tacklers with 15, the fourth time in six starts he has finished with double digits in that category. Borland, however, also missed several tackles as the 49ers allowed a 100-yard rusher for the third time in four weeks.
▪ Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch and 49ers quarterback Josh Johnson had a family gathering at midfield before the game. The two are cousins and both attended Oakland Tech High School. Lynch, who entered the game as the NFL’s fifth-leading rusher, finished with 104 yards.
▪ The 49ers’ longest play of the game was a 16-yard catch and run by running back Carlos Hyde. “We’ve got to make plays,” left tackle Joe Staley said. “That’s what it is. We had zero big plays. Zero.”
Read Matt Barrows’ blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers.