By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
SAN FRANCISCO — Not yet.
The San Francisco 49ers might one day be on top of the NFC West, but it certainly wasn’t this day. And based on the Seattle Seahawks’ convincing, 23-3 win over the 49ers on Sunday, it might not be this year.
The three-time NFC West champion Seahawks gave their most dangerous division contender a finger-wagging and a slice of humble pie on Sunday afternoon. To say the victory put the Seahawks back on top of the division would be deceiving; Seattle (3-1) has been there for a long time.
“You’ve still got to knock off the champs,” said linebacker Julian Peterson, who had all three of his sacks before halftime Sunday. “It’s no time to talk trash and say we’re way better than the 49ers. But we’re still the champs, and you do have to knock the champs out of the ring.
“We’ve still got (12) more games, and we’ll see what happens after that.”
For now, the Seahawks remain at the top of the NFC West hill. In a game that saw 49ers quarterback Alex Smith leave early in the game because of a shoulder injury, and featured more than a few boos from the Monster Park crowd, Seattle made quite a statement. Seattle had more than twice as many total yards (371) as San Francisco (184) and held the 49ers without a touchdown for the first time this season.
“They deserve a lot of credit,” said former Seahawks quarterback Trent Dilfer, who came on in relief of Smith after one series. “They put us in position where we had to play uphill.”
The Seahawks outlasted the 49ers (2-2) during a sloppy first half that saw both offenses struggle. San Francisco’s Smith separated his throwing shoulder on a Rocky Bernard sack on the third play of the game, and when he left he took the 49ers’ offense with him. Dilfer struggled in relief of Smith, while Seattle got two big plays from Deion Branch to help build up a 13-0 halftime lead.
Even when the 49ers employed some trickery, opening the second half with a successful onside kick, the results continued along the same line. Dilfer threw an interception on the next play, and Seattle marched 44 yards in six plays for another score. Matt Hasselbeck’s 14-yard touchdown pass to tight end Marcus Pollard gave Seattle a 20-0 lead less than three minutes into the second half and all but finished off the struggling 49ers.
San Francisco kicker Joe Nedney took away the only remaining drama when he prevented a shutout by kicking a 43-yard field goal with 4:36 remaining in the third quarter.
In the end, the Seahawks ended a four-game losing streak in division games and took over sole possession of first place in the NFC West.
And they quieted all that talk about the 49ers being the team to beat in the division this year.
“Think about it: we’ve won three division championships in a row,” said Branch, who had seven receptions Sunday to give him 20 for the past three games. “You can bring in 50 guys, but that doesn’t change the fact that we’ve won three in a row.
“When I was in New England, Buffalo could’ve added 15 guys, and you’d never hear anyone say that about New England (no longer being the team to beat).”
With Sunday’s one-sided win, Seattle also avenged two losses to the 49ers during the 2006 season.
“They beat us twice last year, and we just wanted to come back and redeem ourselves and show that we’re a better team than we were last year,” cornerback Kelly Jennings said.
Asked how motivated he was to get back at the 49ers, Seahawks linebacker Lofa Tatupu said: “I think it showed.”
Seattle did whatever it wanted to do Sunday, particularly on defense. The Seahawks had six sacks and forced five fumbles, including two by San Francisco running back Frank Gore. Cornerback Marcus Trufant, who had one interception during the entire 2006 season, had two on Sunday.
The 49ers’ 184 yards of offense marked their lowest total of the season, and the least given up by a Seattle defense since an overmatched San Francisco team managed just 112 against the Seahawks in a December 2005 game.
Many people were looking at Sunday’s game as an indicator of which team might win the NFC West. Afterward, many of the Seahawks could see that goal as a real possibility — for the fourth year in a row.
“San Francisco put pressure on us by winning two divisional games early in (this) season,” Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said, referring to the 49ers’ wins over Arizona and St. Louis last month. “That made (Sunday’s) game very important for us.
“We play them again in Seattle (in November), but we won’t be overconfident because they beat us there the last time we played.”
But are the 49ers really ready to challenge the Seahawks for the NFC West title?