There were plenty of eyeballs on Richard Sherman on Sunday as he returned to CenturyLink Field for the first time since his messy departure from the Seahawks last spring.
But as the season has continued to slip away from the 49ers as they toiled to 2-10, the story line of Sherman’s return lost some luster. Sunday’s game typified that, as it lacked the theatrics Sherman was accustomed to during seven eventful seasons with the Seahawks.
It proved the NFL made a good decision to flex the game out of the prime-time slot, instead favoring a possible match-up of two playoff teams, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Los Angeles Chargers.
“It was just a regular game,” Sherman said during his postgame news conference, which was littered with Seattle-area reporters. “Just unfortunate we didn’t play as well as we could have.”
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Sacramento Bee
The 49ers lost 43-16, and the contest followed a familiar formula. They lost the turnover battle 3-0, and the defense couldn’t make stops when they were needed most. The Seahawks took a 20-0 lead in the first half and the game never felt close in the second, even as quarterback Nick Mullens got rolling following a rocky start.
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson didn’t target Sherman until the third quarter, when he slipped a short pass to Doug Baldwin, who slipped Sherman’s tackle and took it for a 21-yard gain. Sherman said he laughed about the play with Baldwin, because Baldwin went away from a tendency Sherman knew about his longtime teammate.
“He usually ducks in and he ducked out that time. It was pretty funny between us,” Sherman said.
Sherman’s only other notable target came when Wilson found receiver Jaron Brown for an 18-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter. It was Brown’s second touchdown and Wilson’s fourth scoring toss of the afternoon.
Wilson’s line: 11 for 17, 185 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions and a 140.9 rating. The Seahawks pounded the 49ers’ defense with a running game and averaged 5.8 yards on 29 rushes.
Sherman made headlines during the week, saying he thought the Seahawks were having a “middle-of-the-road” season and that he didn’t have a relationship with Wilson despite starring together on one of the most consistent contenders of the last decade.
“He played well,” Sherman said. “I think he threw for like 160 or 170. So, their running game was really effective. They let him get to his spots and kept the game plan simple.”
Sherman and Wilson greeted each other twice before kickoff, during early warmups and again as captains for the coin toss. Sherman was flanked by former Seahawks teammates now with San Francisco, linebacker Malcolm Smith and pass rusher Cassius Marsh, who had ineffectual afternoons in the blowout.
Despite all the talk surrounding the garrulous cornerback coming in, Sherman said he didn’t have any problem treating Sunday’s game as if it were any other, even if it was jarring being in the smaller visiting locker this time.
“I’m a ball player,” Sherman said. “At the end of the day, the field’s the same length and everything else is the same. You just go out there and play your game, try to give your team the best chance to win, and unfortunately, we didn’t get the win today.”
Said 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan: “We all know that it was special for him to come back here and do that, and it was good to see that (Seahawks fans) treated him well in that way.”
The Seahawks either paid homage to Sherman or trolled him, depending on your point of view. After scoring the game’s first touchdown, Sherman’s former offensive teammates mimicked his famous tipped interception in the NFC title game in January 2014.
Said Sherman: “I don’t think about it, honestly. They’ve had a lot of fun celebrations. So it was good for them.”
Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner was arguably the best player on the field, forcing two red-zone turnovers that helped shape the game. He ripped the ball from running back Jeff Wilson Jr. on a second-quarter run at the 5-yard line and picked off Mullens, going 98 yards for a fourth-quarter touchdown.
Wagner and Sherman had a long discussion after the game as they were surrounded by a throng of photographers getting shots of the two possible Hall of Famers.
“He was just telling me that I was slow,” Wagner said. “I was telling him if I’m slow, then what does that say about his team?”
As Sherman has learned throughout San Francisco’s miserable campaign, his new team can’t keep pace with his old one. That was evident again when the 49ers dropped their eighth straight game at CenturyLink Field and 10th straight to the Seahawks overall.