“It’s very exciting that we get this opportunity to go out here and play the game we love. After how everything started out with the lockout and stuff, I’m just very excited about everything.”
– Quarterback Tarvaris Jackson on looking forward to his first season-opener with Seattle.
The San Francisco 49ers haven’t generated a winning mark in eight seasons, however, there looks to be an abundance of hope; especially with a new shot caller planning to put a halt to that long run of futility.
Jim Harbaugh makes his NFL coaching debut as the 49ers draw the defending NFC West champion Seattle Seahawks at Candlestick Park on Sunday.
San Francisco went 6-10 under Mike Singletary last year and is among three clubs that have not finished over .500 since 2002, when it went 10-6 and made its most recent playoff appearance.
“I’m not getting any younger,” four-time Pro Bowl linebacker Patrick Willis(notes) said. “It’s about now and tomorrow. Not about trying to develop and become.”
Welcome Harbaugh, who lead Stanford to a 12-1 record in 2010 and will try to navigate the 49ers back to the Playoffs and to relevance.
“A lot of enthusiasm. A lot of emotion,” quarterback Alex Smith said of Harbaugh. “You can just see it kind of just pours out of him. He loves being out here, he loves coaching, he loves the game of football.”
Harbaugh recently anointed Smith his starting signal caller despite an average preseason, as the No. 1 overall draft choice in 2005 failed to throw a touchdown in four starts.
“He played with a very cool head and made good decisions,” said Harbaugh, who passed for 26,288 yards during a 14-year NFL career. “He played the way you want him to out there – calm, cool, collected.”
While Smith will engineer the offense, Harbaugh will rely on All-Pro Frank Gore to carry the ground game.
Gore, who has missed ten games over the previous four seasons, tallied 1,305 yards from scrimmage with five touchdowns in 2010 before suffering a season-ending hip injury November 29.
After getting a chance to heal during the lockout, Gore enters 2011 healthy – and happy – after inking a three-year, $21 million contract extension at the end of last month.
“We haven’t been having winning seasons but the fans have been 100 percent behind us,” Gore said. “I see Coach Harbaugh and this coaching staff, they’re football guys. I have no doubt, I know we can get it done. I know we have talent in that locker room, probably more than any NFL team.”
Gore has excelled in four career home games versus Seattle, rushing for an average of 148.0 yards. He exploded for a career-best 212 yards in one of those, a 20-14 win November 19, 2006, and rushed for 207 yards and two scores on just 16 attempts in a 23-10 victory September 20, 2009.
While San Francisco returns most of its integral pieces, the Seahawks could be hard-pressed duplicating last season’s shocking success with quarterback Matt Hasselbeck no longer under center.
Hasselbeck, who spent ten seasons in Seattle, directed the Seahawks (7-9) to a 41-36 upset of New Orleans in a Wild Card game before they lost 35-24 to Chicago in the Divisional Round.
With Hasselbeck now starting for the Titans, ex-Viking Tarvaris Jackson will be the guy after signing a two-year deal.
“Tarvaris brings so much continuity to us, I think it’s the best thing for our club,” coach Pete Carroll told the Seahawks’ official website. “I think this guy is a heckuva prospect, what he brings us is something special. He’s a very talented kid.”
“He’s going to own that position.”
Jackson was accompanied in Seattle by receiver Sidney Rice, who also left the Twin Cities to sign a four-year deal. Rice, though, has a sore shoulder and is doubtful for Sunday.
It’s also unlikely that prized offseason addition Robert Gallery will participate. The offensive guard sprained his right knee during the preseason finale.
A necessity for the Seahawks will be upgrading their air defense, which finished 27th last season with 249.6 passing yards allowed per contest. Seattle should be quickly tested in that area, as they’ll meet a 49ers receiving gang that signed former Jet Braylon Edwards to pair with the talented Michael Crabtree, who could finally stand out in his third season in the pros.
“(Edwards) brings a lot to us,” said tight end Vernon Davis, who led the team with 56 receptions in 2010. “He’s a big-time playmaker.”
San Francisco has won the last two home gathering with Seattle, taking last year’s clash at Candlestick 40-21 on December 12.
Prediction – 49ers will win the NFC West. Book it. But I don’t think Jim Harbaugh defeats his college foe Pete Carroll so easily, like he did at Stanford when Carroll patrolled the sidelines at USC. San Francisco 17 Seattle 13