SEATTLE — The San Francisco 49ers are supposed to be the elixir of life for the Seattle Seahawks.
When Paul McCartney croons, “When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me,” in the first line of “Let It Be,” one could easily replace, “Mother Mary” with “the San Francisco 49ers” and turn the iconic Beatles tune into a Seahawks standard. So often in recent years when Seattle found itself ailing, all it required was a date with San Francisco to get the Seahawks well again.
But on Sunday, the 49ers didn’t prove to be the all-curing tonic the Seahawks hoped they would be.
Even though Seattle beat the 49ers, prevailing 12-9 at CenturyLink Field to record its first victory of the young NFL season, this didn’t feel like much of a remedy for the Seahawks’ maladies, rather a warning about the challenges Seattle faces in trying to be a contender for a sixth consecutive season.
The Seahawks came into Sunday’s game coughing and wheezing following their 17-9 season-opening loss to the Green Bay Packers last weekend, during which Seattle’s offense played like it had a bad case of the flu. But a game against San Francisco was supposed to act like a penicillin shot. The 49ers are coming off a 2-14 season in which they were the worst team in the NFC, they were thoroughly dominated by the Carolina Panthers at home last Sunday in their opener, and the Seahawks had won seven straight against their NFC West rivals, usually in comfortable fashion.
And whenever Seattle’s season seemed to be teetering on the brink the past two years, it was a game against the 49ers that shocked the system back to normalcy. In Week 7 of 2015 the Seahawks were 2-4 and had just suffered two late collapses in losses to Cincinnati and Carolina when an opportune game against San Francisco served as a gimme and gave Seattle a chance to recover. In Week 11 of 2015 the Seahawks were 4-5 and in danger of falling out of playoff contention following a home loss to Arizona, only for the 49ers to offer a lifeline by providing little resistance. Then last year, in Week 3, Seattle was coming off an awful 9-3 loss to Los Angeles and had scored just one touchdown in two games when a showdown with San Francisco perked the Seahawks’ offense up to the tune of 37 points.
The 49ers were supposed to provide that kind of therapy again Sunday to a Seahawks team looking for an offensive jolt. It didn’t happen, and the questions on offense remain. Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson continued to have to deal with pressure, and the Seahawks’ running game was stuck in neutral until the final drive of the game.
These are the types of problems Seattle is accustomed to dealing with when facing the NFL’s elite, not the 49ers.
After the game Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, while acknowledging Seattle didn’t play its best game, took the time to compliment the 49ers on their play.
“They look like they’re going to improve like crazy because they’re so young and they’re so new at it all,” Carroll said. “We’re lucky we got them early in the year.”
But Seattle receiver Doug Baldwin was more willing to acknowledge the Seahawks should have done better against a team like San Francisco.
“I don’t want to take anything away from the 49ers, but we felt like we should come in here and have success,” Baldwin said. “It was ugly, but we had to dig in to who we truly are — our identity not just as football players but as men — to pull this out.
“I’m not going to let them mask it,” Baldwin added about Seattle’s struggles. “Without a doubt, we absolutely need to correct the mistakes. But we have no choice. We know we could have played better, everybody knows we can play better. At this point we’re thankful for the win, and we’ll correct the other things.”
Thankful for a win against the 49ers? One has to go back to the Jim Harbaugh days to recall such a sentiment.
“The fight, that’s what I take away from this game,” said 49ers running back Carlos Hyde, who gained 124 yards and who’s been on the wrong side of many a lopsided score against Seattle. “I’ve played against these guys a bunch of times and they’ve whipped us before. But we came in with a different mentality. Everybody laid it out there on the line.”
Was it really a different mentality on the part of the 49ers? Or was it really a statement on the Seahawks?
The good news is Seattle has overcome slow starts on offense before. Two years ago it took the Seahawks half the season before they sorted out their problems on the offensive line. Last year Seattle wasn’t able to get anything going offensively until Week 3.
But when Seattle’s designated elixir no longer offers succor, one has to question if — not when — the Seahawks will be able to turn things around.
Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.