SEATTLE — With his imposing 6-foot-2, 215-pound frame and his easy swagger, Seattle Seahawks safety Deon Grant carries a confidence that can’t be missed.
So when he was asked last week what he expected from his Seahawks through the first half of the 2007 season, he answered somewhat predictably.
“I would have said undefeated,” he said. “But that’s just me.”
Unmet expectations. If there was a theme for tonight’s Monday Night Football matchup between the Seahawks (4-4) and San Francisco 49ers (2-6), those two words would sum it up.
The two teams that were supposed to challenge for an NFC West title, and possibly even a conference crown, are just trying to keep their heads above water. Seattle has lost three of four games, while the struggling 49ers have dropped six in a row.
“We’re trying to get a win, that’s all,” Seahawks offensive lineman Sean Locklear said. “I guess we’ve both kind of fallen off since the last time we played, so we’re in the same boat. We’re both trying to get a win and trying to win the division. Nobody in the division is doing anything, so all four teams still have a shot.”
Since the Seahawks and 49ers last met at the end of September, NFC West teams have gone a combined 2-15. The only two wins came against fellow division opponents, when Seattle and Arizona beat the winless St. Louis Rams.
“Everybody is struggling right now,” Seahawks linebacker Julian Peterson said.
The 49ers have probably been the biggest surprise in that regard. After being picked by some so-called experts to win the NFC West, San Francisco got off to a 2-0 start but quickly fell in the tank.
“Unfortunately, it’s been little things here and there,” said 49ers quarterback Alex Smith, who has really struggled since returning from the shoulder injury he suffered in the Sept. 30 loss to Seattle. “There have been different problems every week that haven’t necessarily shown up until game-day. I really did think we were heading in the direction, and we’re close — closer than I think a lot of people may see out there.”
If there’s solace in the 49ers’ misery, it’s the fact that, despite their recent swoon, a division title is still within reach. Just two games separate struggling San Francisco from the West-leading Seahawks, so tonight’s game could put the 49ers right back in the thick of the race.
“You win (tonight’s) game, you’re a game out halfway through the season,” Smith said. “For our slide the last few games, (and to) still (be) in it, obviously this is a very big week. Huge week.”
The Seahawks don’t have time to feel sorry for the 49ers — or themselves, for that matter. Despite the recent struggles, Seattle is still in position to win a division title and advance to the postseason for the fifth consecutive season. The only two franchises to have gone to the playoffs five years in a row since 1997 are Indianapolis (1999-present) and Philadelphia (2000-2004).
“It’s just past the halfway point, and it’s going to be a struggle from here on out,” Locklear said. “This is the race. It’s going to be week to week, just trying to get to the playoffs.”
For tonight’s game, the Seahawks could be without several starters. Wide receiver Deion Branch has a chance to return from a foot injury, but he hasn’t played in a month. Running back Shaun Alexander has been hobbled by a knee injury that he suffered in last week’s loss to Cleveland. Linebacker Leroy Hill (hamstring) and defensive end Patrick Kerney (oblique muscle) are also hurting.
The eight-day week leading up to Seattle’s lone Monday Night Football appearance came at a good time.
“We needed the time,” Holmgren said. “For some of the guys, that extra day means a lot to them.”
Holmgren added that the festive atmosphere at Qwest Field could help the Seahawks, who are 15-8 all-time in MNF appearances.
“They’ll come to the game ready to go,” Holmgren said. “They really feel a part of the football team. That 12th Man thing, that’s real. Most of the time, we play pretty well at home, and they’ve been a big part of our winning at home.”
The Seahawks are 3-1 at home this season, but they’ve struggled on the road. It’s been a struggle for much of the season — for both teams.
The entire NFC West has been in a funk for most of the year, with a combined record of 9-23.
“I think everybody has their own individual issues,” 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. “I think ours are different from the others, and vice versa.
“I think everyone goes into the season with high expectations and then some fall short of that. Obviously, we’re just at the midpoint of the season, but all the teams in this division would like to think they’d have been ahead of where they are today.”
So what does that mean for today’s game?
“This is obviously a big game,” Nolan said, “for us and Seattle both.”