Could it be? Is it happening? Has the moment arrived?
The 49ers and their NFC West cohorts long have been waiting for the mighty Seahawks to falter, and there’s a feeling of dread in Seattle that time is finally here. Following a 34-31 loss to the Atlanta Falcons in Seattle on Monday, a story in the Seattle Times wondered if the team’s dominance has begun to dissipate.
“An era, it feels like, is ending,” wrote columnist Larry Stone. “Or more like an aura.”
Two integral members of the team’s ferocious “Legion of Boom” secondary, cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Kam Chancellor, are out with injuries on a defense that also will be missing pass rusher Cliff Avril and starting cornerback Shaquill Griffin for Sunday’s game in Santa Clara.
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On offense, meanwhile, the Seahawks are dealing with their usual litany of injured offensive linemen. And perhaps just as critical as the losses to their famed defense, they still haven’t found a reliable running back two years since Marshawn Lynch last played for them.
Against the Falcons, the Seahawks hoped that 49ers reject Mike Davis could come off their practice squad and spark the rushing attack. He did, but only for a brief spell that ended when he went to the sideline with a groin injury. He’s unlikely to play, too.
Seattle will rely on Thomas Rawls, who has a 2.6 yards-per-carry average this year, Eddie Lacy (2.5 yards per carry) and lightly used J.D. McKissic Sunday.
The 49ers haven’t beaten the Seahawks since 2013 and would love nothing more than to see their one-time arch rivals unravel as they begin their own revival. Still, no one in Santa Clara seemed ready to report any teetering from the team that has been towering over the division.
Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, who spent three seasons as an assistant in Seattle, noted that the Falcons are the reigning NFC champions and that they won on Monday after a last-second Seahawks field goal fell short.
“When I watch that team, I see a team that flies around, they play their tails off, and they’re going to bring everything they’ve got,” he said of Seattle. “Because they’ve lost to some really, really good football teams in my mind does not change what you see on tape. If you really want to know what they’re about, just turn the tape on. Don’t look at the final result. Look at what they’re producing on tape. They’re a team that plays as hard as they’ve ever had.”
The statistics also don’t suggest a dramatic slide.
Seattle ranks eighth overall in the NFL in total defense and is allowing 19.9 points per game, tied for 10th best in the league. Despite the prominent missing pieces in their secondary, the Seahawks allowed Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan a pedestrian 195 passing yards Monday.
At 6-4 and trailing the Los Angeles Rams (7-3) in the NFC West, the Seahawks currently are not one of the six teams in the conference playoff picture. But head coach Pete Carroll noted that they are in very familiar territory.
“Why don’t you guys look back at since, like, 2012 and look what we’ve been at the 10-game mark – you’ll know why we talk the way we talk,” he said on a conference call with reporters on Wednesday. “We’ve had very similar outcomes at this time of the year and we’ve always had the ability to finish very well. November and December have been good months to us.”
In 2012, the Seahawks were 6-4 before winning five of their final six games, including a 42-13 win over a San Francisco team that eventually would go to the Super Bowl. They also were 6-4 after 10 games in 2014 and 5-5 in 2015. They went on similar winning streaks then and have made the playoffs every season since 2012.
Carroll was as defensive and prickly as ever when talking to reporters and may feel that a chorus of doubters is exactly what his high-strung, emotion-fueled team needs to get in gear. He was asked why he thinks his teams have fared so well in the final months of the year.
“There’s a lot of reasons,” he said. “Why don’t you guys figure that one out.”