In the midst of a playoff push and faced with a quick turnaround, the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers can’t afford to dwell on past meetings when there’s so much riding on this present matchup.
The NFC West rivals square off Thursday night – the first of two meetings in 18 days – with the surging 49ers trying for a sixth consecutive home victory over the Seahawks.
“A Thanksgiving game where everybody will be watching,” Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson said. “Do you hype that up? Do you downgrade it? I don’t know.
“It’s going to kind of elevate the game in general, and it’s the 49ers. It’s one of those things you’re gonna get pumped up for.”
Perhaps the NFL’s most intense current rivalry is certainly worthy of a prime-time stage, though both sides have little time to at least publicly concern themselves with how it’s reached this state.
Colin Kaepernick has moved on from San Francisco’s 23-17 loss at Seattle in last season’s NFC title game. He doesn’t care to relive the pass he intended for Michael Crabtree that was tipped by Seattle’s Richard Sherman and intercepted by teammate Malcolm Smith in the end zone with 30 seconds left.
“It’s in the past,” Kaepernick said.
The San Francisco quarterback doesn’t care whether Sherman will continue to talk his way into the head of Crabtree when the two renew their personal rivalry.
“I’m worried about what we’re doing,” said Kaepernick, who is 0-2 in the regular season at Seattle but won his only start against the Seahawks at home last season.
It’s the teams’ first meeting at Levi’s Stadium, where the Seahawks hope the change of venue makes a difference as they try to end their struggles in the Bay Area.
“It’s going to be a tough crowd, first time playing in that stadium,” said Wilson, who went 24 of 48 for 321 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions while losing both starts at Candlestick Park.
“We’re going to have to play great football. Play lights out, that’s it.”
The Seahawks and 49ers split the last four division titles, but both are 7-4 and two games behind first-place Arizona. Coming off a 19-3 win over the Cardinals on Sunday, Seattle holds the tiebreaker over Detroit and San Francisco for the final wild-card spot.
“We feel like we are in the playoffs,” 49ers safety Antoine Bethea said. “Win at all costs.”
San Francisco defensive end Aldon Smith proved that Sunday when he popped his dislocated finger back into place during a 17-13 victory over Washington.
“That’s a good battle scar to have,” said 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, whose team has won three straight by a combined 13 points.
“Make a deposit into the toughness account,” Harbaugh added. “We’ll be able to make withdrawals from that later down the road. We want to keep making those deposits.”
Playing his second game since returning from a nine-game suspension for violations of the league’s substance-abuse and personal-conduct policies, Smith had two sacks against the Redskins. He sacked and stripped Wilson on the first play from scrimmage and recovered the fumble as San Francisco took an early 3-0 in the conference championship game.
Wilson, however, got the last laugh when he connected with Jermaine Kearse on a 35-yard TD pass early in the fourth quarter to erase a 17-13 deficit.
Marshawn Lynch ran for 109 yards and a TD in that contest, and gained 175 with a score on 39 carries in the last two at San Francisco. He recorded 82 total yards with dealing with back soreness Sunday.
“We’ll take good care of him,” coach Pete Carroll said. “He’s really smart about how he handles it. So we’ll expect that he’ll be ready to go. I know he won’t want to miss this thing and he’ll be ready to play.”
Lynch’s reported unhappiness in Seattle has been at the forefront of the internal struggles the Seahawks have endured during the follow-up to their Super Bowl season. However, the team apparently came together and cleared the air prior to winning for the fourth time in five games Sunday.
“Trust,” safety Earl Thomas told the Seahawks’ official website. “That’s what we’ve been missing, to be totally honest. I think we haven’t been trusting each other. But (Sunday), it was just pureness – anytime we can keep eliminating that ego and keep realizing the real situation is bigger than one person.”
Seattle’s defense allows a league-low 296.8 yards per game, and gave up a season-low 204 while yielding its fewest points of 2014 to the Cardinals. San Francisco is right behind, yielding 300.1 yards per contest.
The return of linebacker Bobby Wagner from a five-game absence with a toe injury also helped jump-start a Seahawks unit that’s allowing 5.4 more points per game than last season’s NFL-best 14.4.
“You saw the connection between the players, and it was awesome to see,” defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. “It was all hands on deck. Maybe that’s the missing ingredient that we needed.”
The Seahawks will try to contain Kaepernick, who tied a club record by throwing a TD pass in his 18th straight game Sunday. Kaepernick hasn’t rushed for more than 64 yards in a game this season, but gained 130 in the NFC title game.
Anquan Boldin set season highs with nine receptions and 137 yards against the Redskins. He had six for 93 yards in last season’s 19-17 home victory over the Seahawks.
Sherman could find himself locked up more with Boldin than Crabtree, who has totaled 16 receptions for 157 yards and no TDs in four home games since catching seven for 82 with a touchdown in Week 2 against Chicago. Crabtree has never recorded more than 85 yards and does not have a TD in nine career regular-season and playoff games versus Seattle.
Frank Gore gained 241 yards and averaged 7.3 per carry in the last two meetings in the Bay Area. He was held to 36 yards on 13 carries and watched as rookie Carlos Hyde scored a go-ahead 4-yard TD with 2:59 left Sunday.
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