The 49ers-Seahawks rivalry has been reborn, with one big casting change

Melissa Jacobs at Levi's Stadium
The Guardian
<span>Photograph: Tony Avelar/AP</span>
Photograph: Tony Avelar/AP

Monday night’s instant classic between the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks hearkened back to the days of the storied 2011-14 rivalry between these two NFC juggernauts. Tough battles. An electric stadium. Winning franchises. There was one big difference, though. Richard Sherman, one of the game’s best defenders, has switched sides.

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When Sherman played for the Seahawks, the corner’s brash style of play epitomized the heated rivalry between the teams (and their fanbases). Two moments stand out in particular. One was Sherman clinching a Super Bowl berth in 2013 by breaking up a pass intended for Michael Crabtree in the end zone, then going off a memorable post-game rant on Crabtree on national television that had to be cut short. The other was Sherman chomping down turkey with Russell Wilson on the 49ers’ 50-yard-line after a Thanksgiving win in 2014. That night he called the 49ers fans “vulgar”.

Now a member of the 49ers, Sherman has settled into a veteran leadership role. After nine years, he can better absorb the strange ebbs and flows of the NFL. That means he understands how even a dramatic and exhausting 27-24 overtime loss to his former team and division rivals on Monday Night Football doesn’t mean that much. At least not today.

The 49ers are 8-1, and if the season ended now they would still have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. If Sherman was ready to punch a wall or go home and cry, he hid it well in the immediate aftermath. He was far more focused on the silver linings.

“You always learn more from the loss,” he said, “I’m sure guys will take that and take the lessons that they need. We had a chance to win. We didn’t. Find out how to correct those things and be better. But it’s a good lesson to learn during the season. In order to win championships, you have the learn these lessons.”

The 49ers’ chances to win were plentiful. They stormed out to a 10-0 lead and looked to be in control, until their offense sputtered with three straight turnovers to hand momentum back to Seattle. Still, with their usual stout defense (forcing four turnovers of their own), the 49ers were poised to steal an overtime win, until rookie Chase McLaughlin badly pulled a 47-yard field goal.

That’s when Russell Wilson took over, as he has done so many times in the past. With his combination of elusiveness and pinpoint accuracy and touch, he is almost impossible to defend when the game is on the line.

“Play’s never over with him,” said San Francisco defensive end Nick Bosa after the game. “It’s honestly pretty crazy how he never throws the ball in time. It seems like it’s part of his plan to look downfield, then tuck it, find a gap, jump through the gap and make a play. We have to rush better, stay in our lanes.”

Welcome to the Russell Wilson experience, Bosa.

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Bosa, who is having a spectacular season, and is a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year (not just Defensive Rookie of the Year), acknowledged that an undefeated season seemed like a possibility before Monday night. But Bosa is also wise enough to heed the advice he says Shanahan told the team in the locker room: Don’t allow this loss to linger.

“Stuff like this happens in the NFL. You’re not going to win every game. Just get back to work.”

There was a smattering of 49ers play who showcased their emotion in the aftermath. Saftey Jaquiski Tartt who stripped the ball from DK Metcalf at the goal line toward the end of the first half, said point blank, “We left it all on the field. It is very frustrating.”

But mostly the 49ers displayed a stoicism that indicated they were already shaking off the loss and ready to prepare for the Cardinals this week.

“It was fine. You don’t treat both the same, success and failure, because neither one of them are fatal,” Sherman said.

The 49ers can also take solace in the fact that they almost won a game in which they committed numerous turnovers and were operating without their two biggest playmakers on offense George Kittle and Emmanuel Sanders, who left Monday’s game with a rib injury.

For the Seahawks the win had far more significance. Had Seattle lost they would have been three games back in the loss column, making the chances of a home playoff game nearly impossible. Now they control their own destiny in the NFC West. Win out all games, including a Week 17 rematch in Seattle, and they can take the division.

While the playoffs are still almost two months away, Levi’s Stadium was in postseason form. A full house roared and jumped as they seeped in a Monday Night affair that had endless twists and turns.

“That was the craziest game I’ve ever been a part of.,” Wilson said. “Talk about a Monday Night Football game, that felt like an NFC Championship game right there.”

The ping-pong nature of the action itself provided the entertainment but it also felt like the Seahawks-49ers rivalry had been officially reborn. For the first time in the post-Jim Harbaugh era both teams are actual contenders.

But Sherman too warns against getting sucked into the rivalry at this point in the season.

“It was good battle. I think at the end of the day, it’s going to come down to playoff football. Rivalries aren’t made in the regular season. Do you make noise in the playoffs?”

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