When the 49ers and Seattle Seahawks met in Week 2, Trey Lance was the new starting quarterback for a team expected to reach the postseason.
Seattle, on the other hand, was a projected also-ran following a 7-10 season and then trading Russell Wilson to the Denver Broncos with the notion of replacing him with Geno Smith, a veteran who hadn’t held a starting job in a decade.
Lance broke his ankle, with Jimmy Garoppolo coming off the bench. The 49ers ran the ball 46 times for 189 yards, won 27-7, and although the Wilson-for-Smith switch has gone better than anyone could have imagined, Seattle is still struggling to shut down the run.
Including a 30-24 loss to Carolina Sunday at Lumen Field, Seattle has given up 838 yards rushing in its last four games. The 49ers, the NFL’s top run defense, have surrendered 976 yards all season.
Safety Ryan Neal had a hard time concealing his disgust after the loss to Carolina during which the Panthers ran the ball 16 times for 102 yards on their last two scoring drives.
“When it turns to the back end of the season, teams are just going to out-physical you if you’re not stopping it and they’re just going to keep doing that,” Neal said. “We’ve got a team coming in on Thursday who likes to play like that, and we know that, so we’ve got to get it fixed — point blank, period.”
Carroll conceded the Seahawks were fully aware of what Carolina was going to do and were helpless to stop it.
“They ran their game. We were trying to knock them back and we couldn’t get it done,” Carroll said. “We tried everything that we had to get it stopped and we weren’t able to stop them.
they ran their game. We were trying to knock them back and we couldn’t get it done. We tried everything that we had to get it stopped and we weren’t able to stop them.”
GAME ESSENTIALS: 49ers (9-4) vs. Seahawks (7-6), Thursday at 5:15 p.m., Lumen Field (Prime). Odds: 49ers minus-1
THREE REASONS FOR 49ERS OPTIMISM
Consistent forward progress
Regardless of who is carrying the ball, the 49ers should have their way in terms of the ground game against the Seattle front seven. To lighten the load (as a ball-carrier) somewhat on Christian McCaffrey and with Deebo Samuel out, don’t be surprised if Jordan Mason has a bigger role.
Mason, an undrafted free agent from Georgia Tech, has been a closer in the last three games, coming in during the second half with 24 carries for 132 yards — averaging 5.5 yards per attempt. The 49ers could also promote Tevin Coleman from the practice squad or activate rookie third-round pick Ty Davis-Price.
If Purdy’s left oblique strain is not a factor, the rookie seventh-round pick has given the 49ers a shot of adrenaline during his two performances following the loss of Garoppolo for the rest of the regular season due to a foot injury.
Players can say all they want they had faith in Purdy based on his scout team work and his game against the Dolphins last week. But preparing as the starter and actually starting an important game is entirely different and Purdy’s performance was extraordinary.
Rather than just manage the game and not turn it over, Purdy executed plays as called and also created on his own when things broke down. Think along the lines of Jeff Garcia, only smoother in terms of delivery.
The 49ers give up a play here or there, or get fortunate when a big play such as Sunday’s Tom Brady to Mike Evans long-distance strike was called back due to penalty. But for the most part, they’ve been stifling teams ever since getting strafed by the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 7.
Since that game, the 49ers have given up just 64 points in six games and had 12 takeaways. That’s championship-level defense. If Smith gets the ball out quickly to avoid sacks as Brady did, the 49ers showed they can rally up and make tackles — especially linebacker Dre Greenlaw.
THREE REASONS FOR 49ERS PESSIMISM
A decade-plus of misery
It’s fair to say whether it was called CenturyLink Field or Lumen Field, the Seattle venue has been the 49ers’ least favorite since Pete Carroll became head coach of the Seahawks in 2010.
Seattle won last year 30-23 in a game that included a 73-yard with a fake punt by Travis Homer on the first series. The 49ers actually led 23-14 but lost to a Seattle team that finished 7-10. That’s about par for the course in Seattle, which has beaten the 49ers 10 out of 12 times on their home field under Carroll.
Oddsmakers are pretty good at their job, as evidenced by Minnesota at Detroit last week, and the 49ers are only one-point favorites.
Smith seeks signature win
Smith is looking to rebound after his first two-interception game of the season against Carolina, although one of the picks came when he believed Carolina jumped and he thought he had a free play.
But even after completing less than 60 percent of his passes in a game for the first time this season, it’s been a remarkable late-career surge for Smith. He’s completing 71.5 percent of his passes with 25 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
“We have to prove it. Nothing I can say up here is going to make us a playoff team,” Smith said. “We have to go out there and play.”
Purdy is expected to start but oblique and rib issues. If he doesn’t make it through the game, career-journeyman Josh Johnson takes over.
Already without Hassan Ridgeway, the 49ers lost defensive linemen Kevin Givens and Kerry Hyder Jr. against Tampa Bay and only Hyder appears to have a chance to face Seattle.
The ripple effect of those losses meant defensive end Nick Bosa had to play 54 snaps after not practicing all week with a tight hamstring and defensive tackle Arik Armstead went 51 snaps in his second game back after missing eight games with ankle and foot issues.
Now both players will be asked to be ready to go again on short rest on an unforgiving artificial surface.
POSSIBLE DIFFERENCE-MAKERS: WRs D.K. Metcalf, Tyler Lockett
Metcalf is Smith’s favorite receiver, having been targeted 110 times with 72 receptions for 869 yards and six touchdowns. Lockett has 11 fewer targets but has a slight statistical edge with 71 receptions for 896 yards and eight scores. Barring injury, Seattle is on pace to put two receivers over 1,000 yards.