The following is my unedited game story:
By Frank Hughes
The News Tribune
SAN FRANCISCO – The seismic statement the Seattle Seahawks were hoping to make to their division rivals was issued with resounding force on Sunday, when a decisive 23-3 defeat of the San Francisco 49ers at Monster Park engendered the calming sense that as much as things change, they remain the same.
The victory, Seattle’s second straight, avenged the pair of losses the Seahawks dropped to the Niners last season, when the Seahawks won their third consecutive division title with a 9-7 record.
That wealth of injury-induced mediocrity set in motion the notion that the time was ripe for Seattle to be overtaken in the NFC West, an idea further augmented by San Francisco’s 2-0 start to the season.
Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren, closely monitoring the situation, sensed the mental shift and provided the necessary stimulus to ensure that his players understood the importance of the game in the city where Holmgren was born and raised.
The result was a well-timed victory that included defensive ferocity, an expanded offensive repertoire and, with a 3-1 record, an early stranglehold on the division.
The Seahawks are now a game up on the Niners (2-2) and Cardinals (2-2) and already are out of sight of the 0-4 St. Louis Rams, with a rematch with 2005 Super Bowl opponent Pittsburgh upcoming.
"For early in the year, it was about as big a game as you can play," Holmgren said. "It was good to come down here and win the game. The guys played very, very hard and wanted the game very badly."
This victory was so dominating that with less than four minutes expired in the fourth quarter, more than half of the 67,651 fans on hand departed the depressing environs of the aging stadium in search of a more valuable entertainment experience.
That determination likely could have been made after the third play of the game, when Rocky Bernard convincingly altered the course of the afternoon.
An already anemic San Francisco offense, ranked last in the league, was rendered downright inert when Bernard shot through a gap on third down and landed on Niners quarterback Alex Smith as if Bernard had been dropped from the sky.
Smith went to the sideline holding his shoulder, which a coterie of medical personnel proceeded to examine, determining it was separated. A short time later, he was carted off to the locker room, leaving San Francisco’s immediate fortunes in the hands of former Seahawks quarterback Trent Dilfer.
Though roundly considered a gentleman of the first order, Dilfer was treated with unapologetic cruelty from the Seahawks, who tossed him to the turf five times, intercepted his passes twice and left him with a 23.3 passer rating after a 12-for-33 afternoon.
The Seahawks already were going to key on Niners running back Frank Gore, who mauled them for a combined 356 yards in the two victories last season.
But Smith’s presence only served to infuse the defense with even more confidence. Gore was limited to 79 yards on 16 carries, but many of those yards came after the outcome had been decided and the Seahawks were only to happy to let him run to keep the clock ticking away.
"We heard that the whole week, 356, 356," said Julian Peterson, who had four tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles. "He even said this is going to be my bounce-back game. Who wouldn’t say that if he had 356 last year? We were just very focused that we were going to stop Frank."
The offense, meanwhile, was not particularly spectacular, failing to capitalize on a number of opportunities presented to it by a gracious defense.
But on this day, efficiency and avoiding costly mistakes was more than enough, even with Shaun Alexander rushing for only 78 yards – his lowest total of the season — less than a week after Holmgren asserted the need to improve run production.
Holmgren even used backup quarterback Seneca Wallace on three different plays, allowing him to catch a pass as a receiver, run an end-around and attempt a touchdown pass on a sweep, which he missed but which was open.
Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck continued his exemplary play, connecting on 23 of 31 passses for 281 yards, two touchdowns and a 109.7 passer rating, making Niners fans nostalgic for their days of dominating quarterbacks.
Unable to establish Alexander, Seattle failed to take advantage of several opportunities in the first quarter that started with good field position.
Josh Brown made a 23-yard field goal in the opening minutes of the second quarter to give Seattle a 3-0 lead.
Six minutes later, Hasselbeck did enough to win the game. The Seahawks got the ball on their own 18. On first down, Hasselbeck pump faked to Deion Branch, who did a stop-and-go that freed him from 49ers cornerback Nate Clements, a prized offseason acquisition.
Hasselbeck settled the ball with Branch in stride, who ended up with a 65-yard reception, exactly half of his production for the day. On the next play, Hasselbeck made an impeccable throw to Bobby Engram in the end zone, lofting the ball over a linebacker but just in front of the end line, the second consecutive week Hasselbeck has found Engram for a score. It gave Seattle a 10-0 lead, all they would need.
As the game was winding down, the celebration was gearing up for a large, vocal contingent of Seahawks fans that gathered in a lower section to serenade their heroes with clamorous chants.
There was no rebuttal from San Francisco fans, who filed past with heads hung low.
After all, what could they say on a day like this?