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Up next: San Francisco 49ers

When: Thursday, 5:20 p.m., Candlestick Park, San Francisco

Record: 4-2 after Sunday’s 26-3 loss to the New York Giants in a rematch of last year’s NFC Championship game

Where they rank: No. 7 on offense (1st rushing, 26th passing); No. 1 on defense (9th rushing, 2nd passing)

Series: Tied 13-13, but the 49ers swept the Seahawks last season and have won the past three games played at Candlestick

TV: NFL Network and KONG, with Brad Nessler, Mike Mayock and Alex Flanagan

Patrick Willis

Patrick Willis (AP Photo/Kevin Terrell)

Star power: Patrick Willis. The best part of the 49ers remains their No. 1-ranked defense, and Willis remains the best player on a unit loaded with good ones. The five-time Pro Bowl and All-Pro selection leads the 49ers in solo tackles (35) and is second (50) to fellow linebacker NaVorro Bowman (60) in total tackles. Willis also has one of the 49ers’ four interceptions. But with Willis, it’s not so much that he makes tackles, but when he makes them and how he makes them. Willis exploded onto the scene with a league-leading 174 tackles in 2007, when he was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. He followed that with 141, 152 and 101 tackles the next three seasons. But he’s more than a run-stuffer, as evidenced by his 17 career sacks and six interceptions – including one that he returned 86 yards for a touchdown against the Seahawks in 2008.

Justin Smith

Justin Smith (AP Photo/Kevin Terrell)

Unsung hero: Justin Smith. Still. Yes, he’s been voted to three consecutive Pro Bowls. But the multitalented, multi-positioned lineman continues to receive less credit for his efforts than he deserves. His teammates call him “Cowboy,” and it has nothing to do with his taste in music. It stems from Smith’s blue-collar, Midwestern approach to his job. Last season was a “cowboy up” one for this Cowboy. Smith has 105 tackles, including 11 for losses, with 7.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. Smith also has started 173 consecutive games. This season, he has 38 tackles, including double-digit efforts against the Lions and Vikings. But until he’s voted NFL Defensive Player of the Year, the full praise of Smith cannot he sung.

Alex Smith

Alex Smith (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

On the spot: The offensive line. When Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Staley left Sunday’s game with a concussion, Alex Boone, a first-year starter at right guard, moved to Staley’s spot and was replaced at guard by Leonard Davis. The shuffling left QB Alex Smith with a headache, as he was sacked four times by the Giants, who also got backup Colin Kaepernick twice. The 49ers had surrendered only 12 sacks in their first five games. Against the Seahawks, whoever starts at left tackle will get a steady diet of Chris Clemons, who leads the team with 5.5 sacks and knocked down Tom Brady three times on Sunday to give him 12 QB hits for the season.

Jim Harbaugh

Jim Harbaugh (AP Photo/Greg Trott)

Burning question: How will the 49ers respond to their worst loss in 22 regular-season games under coach Jim Harbaugh? And how will Harbaugh respond to his team which was beaten up in being beaten by the Giants? The 49ers had outscored their previous two opponents 79-3. But against the Giants they failed to produce a touchdown, a turnover or a sack. They also gave up 149 rushing yards and Smith threw three interceptions in an eight-pass span after throwing only three in his previous 378 attempts.

Numbers to know: 3, the total number of games the 49ers lost last season. … 5, the number of field goals Pro Bowl kicker David Akers has missed this season. … 16, the number of points the 49ers have scored in the first quarter. … 2, the number of backs to rush for more than 100 yards against the 49ers since 2009 – the Giants’ Ahmad Bradshaw (114) on Sunday and the Seahawks’ Marshawn Lynch (107) in Week 16 last season; and also the number of times the Giants have beaten the 49ers on their home field in their past seven games, including playoffs.

Familiar faces: Pro Bowl free safety Deshon Goldson played at the University of Washington. Offensive line coach Mike Solari (2008-09) and special teams assistant Tracy Smith (2011) also worked for the Seahawks. Special assistant to the head coach Bill Nayes was with the Seahawks from 1999-2006.

The last word: “With four days until kickoff we have to move on to Thursday. If we let this one linger, it can go into that game and we don’t need that. We don’t need two in a row, so we have to quickly forget about this one.” – strong safety Donte Whitner after Sunday’s loss


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