Playing twice in a three-week span is unusual, but the Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers will go at it again Sunday at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.
Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll isn’t putting too much stock in what happened in Seattle’s 43-16 win in the first meeting, noting that San Francisco (3-10) played well in a 20-14 victory over the Denver Broncos last week.
The Seahawks (8-5) picked up a big win at home on Monday night to bolster their NFC wild-card position, handling the Minnesota Vikings 21-7.
“We just played these guys a couple weeks ago,” Carroll said of the 49ers, “but we do everything like it’s a brand-new game and start all over again.
“The Niners played really good last week against Denver. Really played an explosive game early in particular and controlled the score the whole time, played really good football.”
With the Seahawks coming off the Monday night win, it might be easy for them to overlook the 49ers, but Seattle defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. isn’t concerned at all about his defense treating this as a “trap” game, saying the group is too young to know what that is.
“You know, you have to be around a while to understand that,” Norton said. “They just love ball, they just understand, they’re always trying to find different ways to be coached and we like what we see, the guys are playing at a really high level.
“We’re trying to win some ballgames, we’re trying to stack up wins — that’s all that really matters right now.”
The Seattle defense should be motivated after a somewhat uneven performance against the 49ers on Dec. 2 at CenturyLink Field. Though the Seahawks held the Niners to fewer than 3 yards per carry on the ground, quarterback Nick Mullens threw for 414 yards and two touchdowns.
Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner says the greatest challenge playing the same team twice in a short period comes down to the ability to watch film and prepare.
“You kind of see what they did good and they’re going to go back to it,” he said. “They also see the plays that they could have got that they didn’t, that they probably should have used more of. In our position, we won the game, but you don’t want to get complacent and thinking the same thing is gonna happen again.”
Wagner wants the Seahawks to approach Sunday’s game like it’s the playoffs.
“We’re coming off a short week, so we have to make sure that our focus and everything is that much more sharper,” Wagner said. “And understand this is a hungry team. Whenever you come out and beat a team the way we did, they’re not just gonna let you do that again, so we have to make sure we approach the game that way. They’re gonna throw a little bit more wrinkles in, they’re gonna run more things that they had success on, and just be ready.”
Against the Broncos, the 49ers were surprisingly successful in shutting down the Denver running game. Doing the same this week might significantly increase their chances of creating a winning streak.
In the last meeting with the Seahawks, the 49ers gave up 168 rushing yards.
Meanwhile, the 49ers’ offense is moving the ball now. Mullens has passed for 746 yards the past two weeks, the most in the NFL, but he also knows it will be much different facing the Seahawks a second time this season.
“The first time we played Seattle, we did not score enough points,” Mullens said. “So that will definitely be the emphasis as always, capitalize on important opportunities during the game and perform well in the moment of truth and that’s how we’ll get our points.”
Several injured 49ers players could return this week to help Mullens on offense. Running back Matt Breida (sprained ankle) was able to participate in practice on a limited basis Wednesday after sitting out last week. Wide receiver Marquise Goodwin had two catches for 20 yards against the Broncos after returning last week from a two-game absence to deal with personal issues.
One of Mullens’ favorite targets is tight end George Kittle, who ranks second in the NFL in receiving yards by a tight end with 1,103.