The Seahawks would be traveling to Santa Clara this weekend for their regular-season finale, but COVID-19 restrictions have forced the 49ers to relocate for the past month, so instead the Seahawks and 49ers will face off in Arizona at State Farm Stadium, the usual home of the Arizona Cardinals. To learn more about this week's opponent, we reached out to 49ers.com senior reporter Keiana Martin with some questions about the 49ers and about the life of a displaced football team.
Last week's win over Arizona seems to show the 49ers aren't packing it in for the season even if they're eliminated from the playoffs, what's been the mood around this team in what has been a tough season following a great 2019?
Martin: Disappointment would be an accurate description of the 49ers 2020 season. The plans of San Francisco's "revenge tour" were placed on hold given the vicissitudes of the 49ers season. But a lot can be said about the fight of this 49ers team despite the hand they've been dealt.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan believes there's still plenty to play for. He said Week 17 is no different than when both teams were battling it out with the division on the line last season. With playoffs out the window, the opportunity to own the best record in the division is still up for grabs. Currently, Seattle and San Francisco are tied with three wins a piece in the division. While the team is dissatisfied with their overall record, the 49ers have a chance to be the only team in the West with a winning record if they can come out on top on Sunday. While there are no moral victories, Shanahan believes it has everything to do with showing who this team is and can be heading into next season.
In yet another twist to 2020, the 49ers are finishing out their season playing "home" games in Arizona. How has the team handled the move and is State Farm Stadium starting to feel any more like home after almost a month down there.
Martin: The year 2020 couldn't have been more "2020" for the 49ers. In addition to sitting at the top of the league in the number of injuries the team has sustained, San Francisco has had to maneuver the hurdles of COVID-19 outbreaks, wildfires, aircraft mechanical issues and relocating their entire football operation in a day's notice.
The 49ers are used to being away from home. Over the past three seasons, the team has opted to stay out on the road in between East Coast games. Earlier this season, the 49ers opted to stay on the road during their back-to-back matchups at MetLife Stadium, spending a week in West Virginia. Fortunately for San Francisco, their prior experience adjusting to relocation was beneficial in the team's sudden move to Arizona.
Of course, there's a vast difference between a planned seven-day stay and an abrupt month-long relocation. However, much credit goes to the 49ers logistics team for making the abnormal feel "normal." Players and coaches alike have spoken highly of the setup and the accommodations that have felt reminiscent of the team's training facility in Santa Clara.
To make things feel like "home," Shanahan ensured that players and staff would not spend the holidays without their families, as the team assisted in relocating loved ones – just another way to bring some sort of normalcy to an unprecedented situation. It's still a less than ideal situation for anybody, but this team understands the goal at hand and, despite being eliminated from playoff contention, the focus remains on finishing out the season strong.
What does the return of George Kittle mean to the offense given all the injuries they're dealing with elsewhere?
Martin: The 49ers may not be playing for a playoff spot, but that certainly didn't stop Kittle from wanting to rejoin his teammates on the field. In fact, it was a rather brief exchange between Shanahan and Kittle that led to his return.
"He asked me if I wanted to play and I said, 'Hell yes,'" Kittle said. "And he said, 'Sounds good.' That was our conversation."
There's a certain energy Kittle brings when he's on the field, whether that be in practice or gameday. Shanahan described it as Kittle's "juice" that tends to rub off on those around him.
Beyond his energy and "juice," it's his toughness and play on the field that can't be overstated.
Kittle, who had not played since suffering a broken bone in his foot in Week 8, led the 49ers with 92 yards on four receptions against the Cardinals in Week 16 while playing just 28 offensive snaps. It's not just in the passing game where Kittle excels. He was also key as a run blocker in his return, aiding the 49ers in their largest rushing output of the season (227 yards).
The 49ers entire sideline erupted following Kittle's first reception on Saturday – a 24-yard catch where 23 of his yards came after the catch.
"You could feel our whole sidelines get juiced up," he said.
That's what Kittle's presence means in the locker room and on the field.
C.J. Beathard played well in his first start of the year, what does he bring to the offense compared to San Francisco's other quarterbacks?
Martin: It's been quite the year for Beathard. Last week marked the one-year anniversary that his younger brother, Clayton, was tragically murdered following an altercation outside of a Nashville bar. With injuries to Jimmy Garoppolo and Nick Mullens, it also happened to be the quarterback's first start since Week 8 of the 2018 season.
Beathard responded throwing a memorable three touchdown performance that led the 49ers to a 20-12 upset win against Arizona, a win that meant a lot to the quarterback amid his journey.
"With everything I've been through and it being the one-year anniversary of my brother's passing, I couldn't write a script any better than this," Beathard said after the team's win.
Upon getting the news of his first start, the locker room gravitated towards him in the week leading up to the game and rallied behind the quarterback in the team's first victory in four weeks.
"That's why people don't mind breaking their neck for him," running back Jeff Wilson Jr. said postgame.
That says a lot about the closeness and the brotherhood of the 49ers locker room. While going through an unfortunate carousel of quarterbacks due to injury, the 49ers have trust in Beathard's ability under center. Despite heading into Sunday shorthanded (more on that in a bit), the team is eager to continue that support as the quarterback closes out his fourth season in San Francisco.
What are a couple of the matchups you're most looking forward to seeing on Sunday?
Martin: Stop me if you've heard this before, but the 49ers enter Sunday's contest severely shorthanded on all sides of the ball. The always-anticipated matchup between Richard Sherman and his former team is put on hold for the second time this year. The team won't have their No. 1 and No. 2 receivers on hand for the divisional matchup (Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel), nor their Pro Bowl left tackle in Trent Williams. So, there might be some unfamiliar faces having to man key roles on Sunday.
But the one matchup I'm most eager to see is veteran corner Jason Verrett against standout second-year receiver DK Metcalf. Verrett is coming off of an impressive performance against one of the best receivers in the league where the corner was targeted nine times against DeAndre Hopkins and allowed just five catches, the longest going for nine yards. Hopkins was held to under 50 yards on eight receptions last week, his third-lowest output of the season.
Can the corner replicate that performance against a dynamic Metcalf? In their first meeting, Metcalf registered a whopping 161 yards on 12 receptions and two touchdowns against San Francisco. Verrett is hoping to put a stamp on his first 13-game season since 2015 with another notable showing on Sunday. But the only way he can do so goes through Metcalf.
Verrett's value to the 49ers defense cannot be overstated. Not to mention, his rollercoaster NFL journey should put him in the conversation for Comeback Player of the Year.
The year 2020 was challenging in so many ways, but it still provided some incredible moments and memories that will stick with us forever. Take a look back at some of our favorite photos from the past year.