Teams prep, anticipation builds for playoff battle
THE SANTA CLARA
January 16, 2014
It’s round three. This time, it’s win or go home for the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks. The two juggernauts of the National Football Conference are primed for an intense, smashmouth type of football game this Sunday with a chance to punch a ticket to the Super Bowl.
This weekend’s matchup will take place at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, in front of what promises to be a raucous crowd. On the field, it won’t be a surprise to see bad blood boil over between these two rivals.
A healthy amount of Santa Clara students are sure to be sporting either red and gold or blue and green come Sunday.
“It’s going to be a good game,” said Liam Clements, a Santa Clara junior and Seattle Seahawks fan. “Both teams are very similar.”
This meeting will be the third time the NFC West opponents take the field against each other this season.
In Week 2, Seattle rolled the 49ers, 29-3, behind Marshawn Lynch’s three-touchdown performance. On the other side of the ball, Seattle’s defense picked off San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick three times and held Frank Gore to just 16 yards on nine carries.
The Niners found their revenge in Week 14. This time, it was San Francisco’s running back who delivered when his team needed it the most. Down by one with only a few minutes left, Gore took the handoff, found a hole in the line and broke away for a 51-yard run that would later set up 49ers’ kicker Phil Dawson for a field goal. Dawson nailed the 22-yard try and the Niners went on to win, 19-17.
This impending game comes with raised implications, with the winner moving on to New York for the Super Bowl and the loser heading home early.
“Two teams that don’t like each other; it’s going to be fun to watch.” “It’s going to be a physical battle,” said sophomore Connor McGraw, an NFL fan who pledges his allegiance to the Washington Redskins. “Two teams that don’t like each other; it’s going to be fun to watch.”
Both the 49ers and Seahawks fit the mold of a championship-caliber team. Both have a dynamic quarterback capable of breaking the defense with his feet or his arm. Each team is led by a Pro Bowl running back who refuses to go down on first contact. And each team has a tenacious defense that swarms to the ball and delivers bone-crushing blows.
Behind center, young gun quarterbacks Kaepernick and Russell Wilson will duke it out once again. Coming into Sunday, Kaepernick has helped lead the Niners to two playoff victories, both on the road, in hostile environments. Although he hasn’t blown away fans with eye-popping numbers in either game, his ability to come through on key drives has paid dividends.
On the flip side, second-year quarterback Wilson has been as calm and collected as they come. Despite his accuracy issues of late — going nine for 18 against the New Orleans Saints this past Saturday — he still has big-play ability every time he has the ball in his hands.
Clements gives Wilson the edge.
“The separation for (Wilson) comes in his preparation,” said Clements. “He’s always preached that. He’s always watching film and all that stuff. He’s just a little more mature than Kaepernick.”
A solid running game is any quarterback’s best friend. Gore has been a workhorse for the 49ers all season and throughout the playoffs, consistently running for positive yardage and setting up the Niners for scores.
For Seattle, Lynch has turned up his patented “Beast Mode” and run through, over and around opposing defenses all year, gashing the Saints for 140 yards and two touchdowns last Saturday.
“It’s just something about playoffs and being in Seattle that just awakens the beast,” said McGraw.
Stopping these two backs will be difficult, but both squads are loaded with talent on the defensive side of the football. San Francisco is led by its front seven, most notably linebackers NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis, who are some of the best at stuffing the run. Backs against their own end zone this past weekend, San Francisco stood its ground on the 1-yard line and prevented Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers from scoring any points.
On the opposite side, Seattle possesses the No. 1-ranked defense from the regular season, with premiere shut-down defensive backs, led by Richard Sherman.
Other than the players that suit up to play, Seattle’s “12th Man,” a crowd boisterous enough to generate seismic activity, could pose communication problems for San Francisco’s offense.
Santa Clara junior and 49ers fan Natalie Brenny is concerned that Seattle’s fans psych out the 49ers mentally. However, she hopes that San Francisco will have more confidence going into Seattle after having already played there once this year.
Sunday’s game may truly come down to the team that stays disciplined and executes on every play.
With a Super Bowl berth at stake, this matchup certainly has the ingredients to be a game for the ages.
“I do think it’s going to be a close game,” said senior Seahawks fan Robbie Waddell. “It’s going to be a nail-biter.”
Contact Brendan Weber at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.