It wasn't long ago that a Seahawks-49ers game meant determining which team was the class of the NFC West, and perhaps even the entire NFL. But with the 49ers going through a lot of changes, and with Seattle struggling to close out games it has led in the fourth quarter, both teams head into Thursday's game with matching 2-4 records, hardly where either hoped to be six games into the season.
But disappointing records or not, both teams are expecting another tough, physical battle when the Seahawks play at San Francisco Thursday.
"Some of the hardest hitting games I've ever been involved in have been Seahawk-49er games," said 49ers coach Jim Tomsula. "You're down on the sidelines… man, you hear some pads cracking."
For Tomsula, this is his first season as head coach after eight seasons as San Francisco's defensive line coach, so he knows plenty about the physical nature of the rivalry. He inherited a team that looks very different from the one Jim Harbaugh coached from 2011-2014. Gone are several star players, including All-Pro defensive standouts Patrick Willis and Justin Smith, who both retired. With a new coach and significant personnel losses on both sides of the ball, some struggles might have been inevitable, but it's not something the 49ers are happy to accept as their fate for 2015.
"We've lost a lot (of players)," said linebacker NaVorro Bowman. "Everyone understands that we can't use that as an excuse, we've got to get on the same page. I think we got that shown to us early on in the season, and it's a challenge for us. I think me and Ahmad Brooks are probably the only two guys from the 2011 defense to now, so it's a challenge for us but we're looking forward to the battle."
Bowman being back on the field is very good news for the 49ers, and as difficult as the three-time first-team All-Pro might be to game-plan against, the Seahawks are happy see him again after he missed all of the 2014 season following a gruesome knee injury suffered in the NFC championship game at Seattle the season before.
"He's a special player," Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. "It's great to see him back, first of all. You never want to see a great player like that go down. But he's back in it and playing like he normally does. He's running, he's hitting, he's playing hard, and he's one of the leaders of that defense."
Missing pieces or not, Bowman and company still are more than capable of making plays on defense, and the 49ers offense, and passing game in particular, took a step forward last week in a win against Baltimore, so the Seahawks are fully expecting to get San Francisco's best shot. And despite Seattle's early-season struggles, Tomsula is expecting a tough test as well.
"I expect a really good team," Tomsula said. "That's a talented team. They're really well coached. They still have their fiery attitude. It's a really good team. There's no mistake about that. I know the record is the record, but the Seahawks are very good."