SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The San Francisco 49ers can stake claim as the only team to beat the quarterback trinity of Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers in the same season.
They’ve also defeated Seattle rookie Russell Wilson, and the question is whether they can do so twice this year. Wilson has morphed from a pint-sized, third-round draft pick into a point-producing, win-churning catalyst.
It’s late December, and the Seahawks (9-5) are still alive in the NFC West title chase, although the 49ers (10-3-1) can repeat as division champions with a win tonight in Seattle.
“We’re both great teams that want to win,” Wilson said earlier this week on a media conference call. “It’s going to be a one of a kind (atmosphere). This is the best place to play in the NFL in terms of the energy.”
The 49ers are taking Wilson and the Seahawks seriously. It’s not just that the Seahawks have won five of their past six games. After a 58-0 home rout of the hapless Arizona Cardinals, the Seahawks beat the Buffalo Bills 50-17 in Toronto last Sunday.
Wilson ran for three touchdowns by halftime against the Bills, and he also threw his 21st touchdown pass this season, which is one more than reigning Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning and No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Luck.
“The Seahawks are a hot team right now,” 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick said. “Their defense is playing great, and their offense is putting up points. We have to be ready.”
Kaepernick and Wilson are on a fast track to becoming long-time adversaries in the NFC West, to which Kaepernick said: “He’ll be my adversary Sunday night. That’s all we’re worried about.”
Wilson’s worst game of the season came against the 49ers in a 13-6 loss on Oct. 18. His 9-of-23 effort produced career-lows of 122 yards, a 39.1 completion percentage and a 38.7 passer rating.
That loss came on the road, just like the Seahawks’ other four defeats. Wilson knows what a loud, unbeaten fortress his home field can be.
“It sends chills down your spine, it really does, just how crazy this crowd is — the 12th man,” Wilson said of CenturyLink Field. “It’s one of a kind.”
Wilson has proven pretty unique, too. A former minor-league baseball player and a University of Wisconsin product, Wilson won the Seahawks’ job over Matt Flynn, a high-priced free agent who barely played as a Green Bay Packers backup.
Wilson’s 95.5 passer rating ranks eighth in the league, and he’s even better in the fourth quarter with a 97.3 mark that includes six touchdowns and one interception. Kaepernick, has the third best passer rating for fourth-quarter action (107.6) even though his only touchdown pass in that period was last Sunday night’s winning score at New England.
Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll acknowledged the physical contrast between Wilson (5-foot-105/8) and Kaepernick (6-4) but also noted their similar ability to affect games with strong arms and mobile legs.
Both Wilson and Kaepernick are their teams’ second-leading rusher. Wilson has rushed for 402 yards and three touchdowns, Kaepernick has 379 yards and five touchdowns.
What’s surprised Carroll most about Wilson is the comfort level in adjusting to weekly game plans.
“Our trust in him has just skyrocketed in the last month,” Carroll said. “He’s ready, and we try to utilize every way we can to make it hard on our opponents.”
While the 49ers made life hard on Wilson in their first meeting, coach Jim Harbaugh noted Wednesday that Wilson wasn’t helped by five dropped passes.
Cornerback Tarell Brown has noted Wilson is flourishing more behind the use of a read-option, shotgun formation.
“He’s a mobile quarterback with an ability to throw deep, as well,” Brown said.
No matter Wilson’s influence, linebacker Patrick Willis insisted the Seahawks offense revolves around running back Marshawn Lynch. For proof, Willis that Seattle has the second-most rushing attempts in the NFL.
The 49ers’ answer for solving Wilson &Co., as defined by Willis: “There’s not any science to any game you play, other than to come out, play physical and make the plays you have to to win the game.”