SAN FRANCISCO -- It is difficult to make the case that the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers are equals, even after Sunday’s titanic 19-17 Niner win. The 49ers needed to show, well, titanhood to slip past the error-and-penalty-prone Seahawks, but their capacity for titanhood is well established in these parts.
In other words, they did what was needed, and in December, that sort of thing almost invariably leads to January.
But they don’t have much time left in these parts – just a Monday night game against Atlanta that is sure to muffle the imagination. This game, this monumental struggle against their archest of rivals, was their last truly proud stand in the old firehall, and they stood quite tall indeed.
The tallest of all, as it turned out, was running back Frank Gore, who is perpetually ignored because of our fixation on quarterbacks. Gore broke what could truly be called a season-saving 51-yard run late in the fourth quarter, taking muddled field position at the San Francisco 29 with 4:35 left and changing the game into a time-eating exercise that required only Phil Dawson’s educated right leg for completion.
And yes, it mattered greatly, because on one last cold, windy day at Il Candeliere di dell’Inferno, Dawson admitted that the Gore run, and a Colin Kaepernick keeper three plays later, allowed him the luxury of not having to worry about the elements. “If that same kick is 25 yards further,” he said, acknowleding the wind that was blowing into his face at the south end of the yard, “it would have been pretty difficult.”
But it wasn’t, mostly because of Gore, who remains, with all due respect to the quarterback addiction plaguing our land, the most important offensive player the 49ers have. He sets all other tones, and the 30 yards in 11 carries in the first half coincides with the 49ers’ greatest offensive difficulties.
Put another way, he gained 98 more yards Sunday than he did in Week 2, allowing the 49ers to see the difference between getting boatraced and playing their one-score-and-as-many-field-goals-as-you’ll-let-us-have game. The 49ers have produced 14 field goals and eight touchdowns in the last five weeks, which is all well and good for now, but won’t be nearly so entertaining if the January of which they dream takes them through Philadelphia, Dallas, Carolina, Chicago, Green Bay or, you guessed it, Seattle.
Thus, you heard a team both proud and apprehensive after Sunday’s game. They had stood up to the baddest bully in the game and bested it – albeit by two-thirds of a field goal. But they had to exert maximum effort to do so, and Seattle’s opponents this year are 2-8 the next week.
In other words, this was fun, and when we say fun, we mean almost no fun at all.
Enjoy it? That’s not the word I would use,” head coach Jim Harbaugh said, choosing for once not to exercise his relish-for-competition theme. “It feels like you go to the dentist chair and three-and-a-half hours of getting root canal work done.”
The difference? This time, the work was done in the 49ers’ most comfortable settee. The next time, if there is one, it will be done on the NFL’s version of a wet, uneven concrete bench that sits low so your feet end up in a foot-deep puddle of wet mud.
In other words, Century Link Field. Hell’s Waiting Room with nachos and Seattle’s Best Coffee at every stand. The 49ers’ next goal may be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but what they really want to know is if they can stand up to the hell, the nachos and the coffee.
Otherwise, what’s living for?