A 49ers team that barely edged past bad opponents with shaky defenses during a recent three-game winning streak ran into a very good one Thursday and was knocked flat on its back.
San Francisco wasn’t competitive in the 19-3 loss to the rival Seahawks, who hadn’t won a game on the 49ers’ home field since 2008 but who quickly stole the momentum at Levi’s Stadium where the 49ers are 3-3 this season.
The 49ers’ slow, clunky offense didn’t venture farther than Seattle’s 18-yard line and failed to score a touchdown for the first time this season. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick was intercepted twice by No. 1 scourge Richard Sherman.
San Francisco (7-5) is now in third place in its division and falling behind in the playoff hunt with four games to play. Worse, the 49ers seemed unworthy of a postseason spot, which could not have been said during coach Jim Harbaugh’s first three years with the team.
The performance drew a strong reaction from team owner Jed York as the game ended. “Thank you #49ersfaithful for coming out strong tonight,” York wrote on Twitter. “This performance wasn’t acceptable. I apologize for that.”
The statement was interpreted as ominous given the whispers that this will be Harbaugh’s final year with the team. The 49ers coach said he couldn’t comment because he hadn’t seen the tweet.
“We didn’t get it done. The Seahawks played better football than we did,” Harbaugh said. “We know what we have to do now – come back and win ’em all.”
The Seahawks and 49ers entered the game with similar personalities: Teams with fantastic defenses that won in spite of their offensive counterparts.
The biggest contrast Thursday was what their respective quarterbacks did with broken plays.
Seattle’s Russell Wilson, who entered the game with more rushing yards this season than any other quarterback, added 35 yards on the ground. But it was the zigzagging scrambles in which Wilson created extra time and then made throws downfield that killed the 49ers’ defense.
In the second quarter, for example, Wilson avoided a blitz by cornerback Dontae Johnson, slipped from Johnson’s grasp a second time, then found tight end Tony Moeaki to his right. Moeaki tightroped along the sideline and wasn’t taken down until he reached San Francisco’s 1.
Wilson also was able to hit the correct receiver when harried, constantly flipping the ball to a running back or tight end who had popped free from the line of scrimmage to find no 49ers in the vicinity. One of those plays, a short pass to tailback Robert Turbin in the first quarter, turned into a 13-yard touchdown.
It turned out that was all the Seahawks needed.
Kaepernick, by contrast, could not improvise when his first options were unavailable, and the 49ers’ plodding offensive game plan offered him few easy outlets when the initial play broke down. Kaepernick was sacked four times, he finished with a season-low 36.7 passer rating and his longest pass of the evening traveled just 16 yards.
He also was victimized twice by Sherman, who infamously taunted Kaepernick with a “choking” gesture at the end of last season’s NFC Championship Game and who after Thursday’s game sat on the 49ers’ field and, along with Wilson, feasted on a Thanksgiving turkey.
After Sunday’s win over Washington, Harbaugh said Kaepernick was “great with a capital ‘G,’ ” indicative of his constant and effusive praise of the quarterback. After the loss to the Seahawks, the 49ers coach came as close as he ever has to criticizing Kaepernick, saying wide receiver Brandon Lloyd ran the correct route and that the quarterback shouldn’t have thrown it to the inside. The play resulted in a Sherman interception.
Afterward, tight end Vernon Davis said the 49ers can’t come undone with four games to play.
“We’re all in it together – the owners, the coaches, the players,” he said. “We can play better than that. We know it; everyone knows it. But we didn’t go out there and do it today. It was unacceptable. We have to get back and put it all together, stay together as a team, as one, and stay positive.”
Read Matt Barrows’ blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers.