When the Seahawks walk onto the field Sunday at Candlestick Park to take on the San Francisco 49ers, it won’t be the kind of December football game that Seattle’s experienced in recent seasons.
Not since 2007 has the team come into the final full month of the regular season in contention of a playoff bid, let alone the NFC West division championship.
Seattle (6-6) finds itself atop the standings in a two-way tie with St. Louis and, despite starting the season with a 0-5 record, San Francisco (4-8) has climbed back into contention for the division championship and is just two games behind the Seahawks with four games remaining on the schedule.
It’s also first-year Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll’s return to his hometown and the stadium he called home for two years in the 1990s when he was the 49ers’ defensive coordinator.
“I love San Francisco and I always,” said Carroll.
“Candlestick is a big deal. Went there when I was a little kid, you know, watchin’ ball games…baseball and football games, you know, growing up and coaching there too…so there’s a lot of background there.”
Carroll won’t be the only one Sunday being reunited with the past. San Francisco rookie safety Taylor Mays will play against his hometown team for the first time at Candlestick Park.
“He’s got great potential,” said Carroll, Mays’ head coach from the rookie’s collegiate days at the University of Southern California. “He’s got all the potential in the world. He’s as big and strong and fast as you can get. … He’s smart. He loves the game. He studies like crazy. He’s got a great work ethic, you know? He’s going to be a terrific player.”
Injuries have plagued both Seattle and San Francisco, especially on offense.
Two weeks ago, 49ers running back Frank Gore broke his right hip in a Monday night matchup in Arizona.
“The thing that jumps out at me,” said Seattle’s Carroll of the impact of Gore’s absence in the 49ers’ lineup, “is that he was their leading rusher and leading receiver.”
“They have repeatedly said, you know, they have built the offense around what Frank can do and for great reasons, he can do everything.”
In the team’s first full week without the Pro Bowler, San Francisco switched to a running back-by-committee approach with nine-year veteran Brian Westbrook and rookie Anthony Dixon. Combined, the two accounted for 64 yards on 18 carries in a road loss to the Green Bay Packers. Both failed to score a touchdown on a carry coming within the five-yard line.
For Seattle, the injuries have affected the team’s passing game. Mike Williams, the team’s leading receiver with 52 catches for 654 yards, is dealing with a left ankle injury and could miss the game Sunday. The team’s second-leading receiver, Ben Obomanu, could also be a scratch against the 49ers due to a cut on his right hand.
Together, they account for three more receptions, 274 more yards and two more touchdowns this season than the team’s remaining wide receivers – Deon Butler, Golden Tate and Brandon Stokley – do.
“Holding out hope that those guys still have a chance to play,” said Carroll of his top-two pass catchers.
Sunday’s matchup between the Seahawks and the 49ers is set for 4:05 p.m. Eastern.
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