The San Francisco 49ers-Seattle Seahawks rivalry changed Sunday night.
The Seahawks did what the 49ers couldn’t do last year. They departed the Super Bowl with hardware and rings. They rule this rivalry now.
We talked a couple of weeks ago about the 49ers’ Super Bowl window being wide open. There’s no question about that. But the 49ers have one daunting task — they must find a way to topple their NFC West rival.
In the hours after the Seahawks plastered the Denver Broncos, 43-8, Sunday in to become world champions, Seattle star cornerback Richard Sherman toldSports Illustrated: “the NFC Championship was the Super Bowl. The 49ers were the second-best team in the NFL.”
There is no doubt about it. These are the two best teams in the league. But that fact doesn’t do anything for the 49ers right now. The Seahawks are the best team and they have achieved the ultimate goal.
I expect that nagging fact to fuel the 49ers. In fact the reality that the Seahawks, who beat the visiting 49ers in the final seconds of the NFC title game, have hoisted the Lombardi Trophy may motivate the 49ers as much as being 5 yards from winning last year’s Super Bowl did last offseason.
The Seahawks earned what the 49ers want. The 49ers have to live with that.
Again, the key to a Super Bowl win in San Francisco is getting past the Seahawks. That will be the focus of the offseason. The difference between the two teams in 2013 was the Seahawks finished 13-3 and the 49ers finished 12-4. That was it. It gave then Seahawks home-field advantage in the playoffs. Game over.
–Bill Williamson, ESPN.com
For a team that wasn’t anywhere near a football field, the 49ers had an especially significant week:
– Archenemy wins the Super Bowl.
– Franchise quarterback starts a makeover.
– Richard Sherman lavishes rival with praise.
Yes, the Seahawks’ cornerback said it late Sunday night, according to Sports Illustrated.
“The NFC championship was the Super Bowl,” Sherman said. “The 49ers were the second-best team in the NFL.”
That was the obvious takeaway from the Seahawks 43-8 victory over Denver. The NFC is the king conference, the NFC West is the premier division and the rivalry between the Seahawks and 49ers is the very best the game has to offer.
The 49ers were a shadow participant in the Super Bowl, a team that came within an outstretched finger of beating Seattle and facing Denver. With every achievement by the Seahawks, the 49ers had to be thinking, “That could have been us.”
So isn’t that encouraging news for S.F. fans?
Yes and no. Yes, because the 49ers are a very good team. They know they can beat Seattle, at least at home. Know that they stand toe-to-toe with the best team in football.
But the downside is that the obstacle in the 49ers’ way just got that much bigger. The one thing – really the only thing – the Seahawks lacked was championship experience. Now they have it. They were able to do what the 49ers couldn’t do a year ago in New Orleans. The 49ers can take solace in the fact that few teams repeat as Super Bowl winners, but they must realistically view Seattle as a team that can stand in their way for years.
Windows close, no matter what Jim Harbaugh thinks. But right now, the Seahawks’ window is wide open. They are young, and their roster is relatively inexpensive. Though their defense can’t get much better than it is, their offense can and probably will - Russell Wilson has so much upside, Percy Harvin showcased his playmaking ability and Marshawn Lynch is in his prime. The 49ers’ window, on the other hand, has been wide open for three years. Can it stay that way?
As much as it must gall Harbaugh to see his rival, Pete Carroll, hoist the Lombardi Trophy before he does (not to mention his lifetime rival, big brother John, a year ago), Harbaugh has to know this is good for his team. The Seahawks have become the impressive team they are because they have had to play the 49ers twice a year. The 49ers will have to become that much better to beat the Seahawks.
Which brings us to another intriguing part of Super Bowl week, a part that has huge ramifications for the 49ers future: the makeover of Colin Kaepernick.
Kaepernick was everywhere in New York, posing for pictures, making the rounds on radio row and doing interviews in which he abandoned his monosyllabic approach of the past two seasons. Some of his answers were probably ill advised, some were charming, all seemed honest. He was dressed like a grown-up, in handsome suits and cashmere turtlenecks, no tattoos on display, no sideways hat, no earphones draped around his neck. It was a far different Kaepernick than the one we’ve seen since he became a starter.
Clearly, his agent and advisers are at work behind the scenes, likely for two reasons: They know that his look and demeanor have backfired a bit, not necessarily helping his likability and Q rating, particularly in contrast with other young quarterbacks. And they are angling hard for a contract extension.
In an interview with KNBR last week, Kaepernick said the right things in terms of his contract. That it was “a balance” and that there had “to be room for everyone.” At the same time, Kaepernick’s agents will be trying to get everything they can.
–Ann Killion, San Francisco Chronicle
The 49ers have a decision to make: Whether to extend Colin Kaepernick’s contract, which will impact their future. It will also affect Kaepernick in ways he may not full understand.
Any quarterback needs good receivers but, beyond that, he also needs a good running attack to take off the pressure and a defense which can stop the other team and get the ball back.
Kaepernick has had both of those, but it’s expecting too much to think that running back Frank Gore will continue to be as effective at 31 years old, as he will be in the upcoming season.
The defense has already taken a big hit with the horrendous injury to linebacker NaVarro Bowman. At the very least, he will miss most of next season, and it’s unreasonable to think he’ll be able to contribute much at all.
In addition, salary-cap realities will cause other players to leave, and age may finally slow down Justin Smith.
Because of Kaepernick’s struggles in the red zone, the 49ers have been able to win games even when they often had to settle for field goals, though it cost them a regular-season game against Carolina. But if their defense falters slightly, Kapernick won’t have that safety blanket.
His bad habits have persisted. He still locks in on a receiver, without looking off defenders. He still has his favorite receivers and ignores others. For most of last season, he had Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis. Were other receivers any good? Who knows, because Kaepernick resolutely refused to throw to them.
In the Super Bowl and NFC Championship Game, Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson hit Doug Baldwin, an undrafted free agent out of Stanford, for huge gains. Sometimes you have to give a young receiver a chance to make a play, but Kaepernick never has.
Worst of all, for two years in a row, in the biggest games of the season, Kaepernick made stupid decisions at the end that caused the Niners to lose. In last year’s Super Bowl, he threw three straight passes to Michael Crabtree. The Baltimore Ravens had scouted his tendencies and triple-covered Crabtree, knocking down all three passes. In the last minute of the NFC Championship Game last month, he saw Crabtree in single coverage against Richard Sherman, so he went for it. If you’re going to challenge the best cornerback in the league, you throw to the back pylon so if your receiver can’t get it, the pass is out of bounds. Kaepernick threw short of that, Sherman tipped the ball into the air and Malcolm Smith intercepted it. Game over.
–Glenn Dickey, San Francisco Examiner
Topics: San Francisco 49ers