Countdown to kickoff

SAN FRANCISCO – Greetings from a foggy/cloudy/socked-in Candlestick Park, where the implications of today’s game between the Seahawks and 49ers are much clearer. The Seahawks have a chance to regain sole possession of first place in the NFC West with a victory, while the 49ers are playing to stay in the hunt for the division title that everyone was predicting for them this season.

As 49ers tight end Vernon Davis put it this week, “We have to go in with a must-win attitude. Because that’s all we’ve got.”

A loss would drop the 49ers to 4-9 and eliminate them from the division race.

The Seahawks, meanwhile, enter the game at 6-6 and tied for first with the St. Louis Rams. The Rams have the tiebreaker because of their Week 4 win over the Seahawks in St. Louis. But the Rams also play the defending Super Bowl champion Saints in New Orleans today.

Whichever team has a red-letter day at Candlestick could be determined by their respective performances in the red zone.

That certainly was the case – or at least a large part of it – in the Seahawks’ 31-6 win over the 49ers in the season opener at Qwest Field.

“I think the big difference in our game – the first time we played them – was that we scored touchdowns in the red zone and they didn’t,” Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. “That was really the big factor.”

That it was. The Seahawks had four possessions inside the 49ers’ 20-yard line and came away with a season-high three red-zone touchdowns, as well as a field goal. In three trips inside the Seahawks’ 20, the 49ers got a pair of field goals. Period.

“We had red-zone opportunities and walked away with seven points and it was huge,” Hasselbeck said. “We haven’t done that in every game but in the game, in particular, we did a nice job.”

Since the opener, the Seahawks have had 34 red-zone possessions and produced 11 touchdowns. They also have 16 field goals, but it’s a three-not-six exchange that has cost them. In fact, the Seahawks’ TD percentage in the red zone (.368) is second-lowest in the NFL behind the Carolina Panthers (.304).

Since that September day in Seattle, the 49ers have scored 16 touchdowns in 29 red-zone possessions – or 55 percent.

It’s one of the reasons 49ers’ coach Mike Singletary decided to go back to QB Alex Smith this week, after Troy Smith led the team to a 3-2 record while subbing for the other Smith and his sprained shoulder.

Alex Smith leads the league with a 124.4 passer rating in the red zone, because he is completing 75 percent of his passes (21 of 28) with eight TDs and no interceptions. This from a QB whose overall rating is 75.0. Outside the 20, Smith has one TD pass and nine interceptions.

“Capitalizing on red-zone opportunities is so important,” Davis said. “Alex has a poise about him when he gets in the red zone. He has confidence in us as receivers to make the play and we know he is going to put the ball when it needs to go.”

Troy Smith was 2 of 7 for 20 yards in his red-zone possessions.

The Seahawks also have other concerns today, starting with whether leading receiver Mike Williams will be able to play because of his sprained left ankle and strained left foot.

Opposing QBs have 12 TD passes against the 49ers in their past 17 home games, the fewest in the NFL during that span. The 49ers also are allowing 3.6 yards per carry, and only the Pittsburgh Steelers (3.0) and New York Jets (3.4) have been tougher to run against this season.

A fast start also would benefit the Seahawks. While the 49ers have scored 27 points on their first possessions this season, sixth best in the NFL; the Seahawks have 27 first-quarter points, second fewest in the league.

There’s also the payback factor for the 49ers, who still are smarting from the opening-day loss at Qwest.

“It was shell shocking,” linebacker Takeo Spikes told reporters in the Bay Area this week. “I remember it like it was yesterday. They just beat us.”

Fellow linebacker Ahmad Brooks said, “Everybody came into that game thinking we were going to come to Seattle and shut them out. … We were just a little bit overconfident.”

We’ll be back later with the inactive players for both teams …


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