The last guy who can afford to be a victim of stunted growth is 5-foot-11 Russell Wilson. But if someone other than Marshawn Lynch on the Seahawks offense doesn’t help prop up the rookie quarterback, he’ll need a step-stool to see over the center’s butt.
After five dropped passes, dubious play choices and getting out-coached by Jim Harbaugh, Wilson and the Seahawks found themselves pounded down 13-6 by the 49ers Thursday night at Candlestick Park in San Francisco.
The much-anticipated matchup between NFC West co-leaders lived up to the billing with hard yards, harsh words and heroic moments, but the outcome was particularly crushing for Seattle because the loss turned not necessarily on Wilson’s rookieness – 9 of 23 passing, 122 yards -- but on a failure by the heralded defense.
“I’m not pleased with what we did on defense,” said coach Pete Carroll, the first time this season he’s offered such a critique. “We allowed them to run the ball. That stuff shouldn’t have happened.”
The “stuff” was a series of trap plays by the 49ers in the second half that are fundamental to the rushing game, but for which the Seahawks surprisingly had no answer.
The Niners rushed for 175 yards, 131 by veteran locomotive Frank Gore, who in the second half exploded past the Seahawks front seven three times for long gains on the quick-hitter plays that are part of Football 101.
“They (49ers offense) trapped us and we didn’t counter, it was that simple,” Carroll said. “They schemed great, and we didn’t get it corrected, unfortunately. I didn’t get it fixed.”
The admission was painful for Carroll because it meant that his irritating coaching rival, Harbaugh, bested him again. The 49ers (5-2) have won four in a row against the Seahawks (4-3), three with Harbaugh – who while coaching at Stanford often had the edge on Carroll at USC -- in charge. It also meant that Carroll now 1-7 in his last eight games against current NFC West coaches.
More painful is that their division road schedule is complete at 0-3. That will prove significant in late December should tiebreakers come into play to determine playoff berths.
Carroll amended his remarks to say that he thought the defense played well overall, holding the Niners to a single touchdown and still providing Seattle with a chance to tie or win the game on the final possession.
But getting beat on a strength instead of a weakness is ever galling.
The weakness was troubling enough. Wilson looked solid in the first half despite a drop of a potential touchdown pass by rookie running back Robert Turbin. But once they reached the red zone, the offense stalled every time, attempting three field goals and making two. But the Seahawks playcalling strategy of going deeper with throws rather than settling for underneath routes undercut their chances.
In the second half, Wilson did not complete a pass until late in the fourth quarter. Four days after the Seahawks stunned New England at home 24-23, the arsenal of big plays – other than the relentless Lynch, who had 103 yards in 19 carries – was empty.
The Seahawks had only a single turnover and just three penalties, but the five drops, two by Golden Tate, were decisive in a game where margins where thin.
“We had plays.” Carroll said, “we will always want to know: ‘What would have happened if we had made that play?”
Since the Seahawks losses have been by four, six and seven points, all on the road, the what-if game has been played often by Seattle this season -- poorly.