Is he trying to win a Super Bowl? Or run a commune? Pete Carroll always has been the football hybrid of Anthony Robbins, Duke Kahanamoku and the Road Runner — positive thinker, old surfer guy and 24-7 swirl — and if he ever had a third chance to coach an NFL team, he vowed to treat his players as special beings and create a family atmosphere. Who knew that ideal would involve some combination of hippie culture, a new-age spa and spiritual gurus he likely met on a hiking expedition?
The Seattle Seahawks do yoga. They practice meditation with a shrink. They preach happy thoughts. They run a training table straight out of a Farmers Market. In an ESPN magazine story that almost sounds as if the author is being punked, the team pays so much attention to its mental well-being that receiver Doug Baldwin is quoted as saying, “”Our prefrontal cortex doesn’t reach maturity until age 25.” By comparison, it almost seems boring that a DJ is summoned for every practice. You almost expect these players to suit up for games in robes, hum the signals like Trappist monks.
But they don’t, obviously. In a Sunday night declaration best described as a complete, reverberant mugging, the Seahawks made their early case as the team most likely to win the Super Bowl. This was a jailhouse beatdown of an arch-rival known for its physicality, the San Francisco 49ers, and the 29-3 victory was so dominant in every aspect that it’s fair to wonder if the 49ers will be spooked all season by it.
“Every game we feel like we should dominate, and we did,” Seattle safety Earl Thomas said, per the Associated Press.
Remember Colin Kaepernick, the most revolutionary of all the mobile, dual-threat quarterbacks invading the sport? He was reduced to something unrecognizable in the ferocious din of the NFL’s loudest stadium, where he has played two subpar games in an otherwise sensational young career. After last week’s magnificent 412-yard passing effort against Green Bay, he passed for just 127 yards this time, completing only 13 of 28 attempts with three interceptions and a rating of 20.1. This was the first time Kaepernick resembled what he’s supposed to be after 12 NFL starts, a work in progress. When the crowd noise wasn’t deafening him, Seattle’s monstrous, menacing secondary was intimidating him. in all, the 49ers committed five turnovers, and without a running game (Frank Gore gained an alarming 16 yards on nine carries), they didn’t score a TD.
“We are not going to win games if I play like that,” Kaepernick said.
Said 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh: “I’m certainly not proud of the way we played tonight or coached. It was not our finest hour.”
In his annoying but truthful way, Harbaugh has reminded one and all that the Seahawks have been busted five times by the league for failed drug tests. He said the 49ers want to be “above reproach” in that area. Reportedly, most of the dirty pee involves Adderall, and while I’m not sure if performance enhancers are served with the free-range chicken and kale, I can say the secondary is the largest I’ve seen. The ringleader is the boisterous, ever-yapping Richard Sherman, who showed again why he’s the league’s best cover cornerback in shutting down Anquan Boldin. A week after Boldin haunted the Packers with 13 catches and 208 yards, he was targeted for only one pass the first three quarters — Kaepernick couldn’t find him open, smothered as he was by the Sherman Tank — and ended with one catch. Sherman has made clear his utter dislike for Harbaugh, his college coach at Stanford, whom Sherman thinks spread negative evaluations about him that led to his fall in the draft. “A bully,” he calls Harbaugh, saying he no longer has a relationship with him.
Late in the night, after he’d celebrated a fourth-quarter interception by dancing with the Seahawks’ cheer squad, Sherman approached Harbaugh as he jogged off the field and slapped him hard on the rear end. Harbaugh turned around, not sure who’d hit him, but he surely knows now. This is one of many reasons why Seahawks-49ers has become the league’s spiciest rivalry, including the age-old grudges between Carroll and Harbaugh that started during their Pac-12 coaching days. Harbaugh two-upped Carroll’s USC teams when he was at Stanford, first shocking the No. 2-ranked Trojans 24-23 as 41-point underdogs, then returning in 2009 to run up the score in a 55-21 romp. After that game, as the coaches met at midfield, Carroll was still smarting from a two-point conversion attempt by Harbaugh with the game out of reach. So he asked, “What’s your deal?”
The animosity has spread to the Seahawks players, who love Carroll. They didn’t forget when Harbaugh, in a story that never has been corroborated, supposedly honked at the Seattle team bus outside Candlestick Park after the 49ers’ victory last October. Cornerback Brandon Browner went so far to say he’d “put my hands around his neck.” What’s the deal? RIght now, the deal is this: If these are the NFL’s best two teams, and if this was the first of three meetings between them this season, then the Seahawks have planted a major seed in their green garden. While their own young quarterbacking star, Russell WIlson, also struggled in the air, they depended on the pounding runs of oft-forgotten Marshawn Lynch, who gained 98 yards. “We are dedicated to running the ball and we are going to keep working until we really own it, and we don’t own the running right now like we can. We’ll get better at it,” Carroll said, per the AP.
Defense? “We did everything we needed to do on defense,” Carroll said. “We had a great night on defense.”
They’ll play again Dec. 8 in San Francisco. Likely to be at stake: home-field advantage in the playoffs, with the Seahawks having beaten the 49ers the last two games in Seattle by a combined 71-16. Until then, we’ll leave you with the words of Sherman, who last was seen blowing kisses to the crowd. “There are a lot of pundits and ignorant idiots who thought, `Oh, the Seahawks are gonna lose this game.’ Well, please, please don’t doubt us again,” Sherman told NBC. “Every time you doubt us, you look stupid.”
For the record, I’ve picked Seattle to win the Super Bowl. Do not count me among the ignorant idiots.