It will be a familiar road trip for the Seahawks, but an unusual opponent, in Arizona.
Displaced since the beginning of December because of coronavirus restrictions in Santa Clara County, the San Francisco 49ers have been living in the Phoenix area and playing their “home” games at Arizona’s State Farm Stadium.
Most 49ers players have been staying at a hotel all month near the stadium. The team has converted hotel spaces into a weight room, and it has practiced on fields near the stadium parking lot.
“It feels like you’re on a two-week bender in a casino. You see outside like two hours a day,” 49ers GM John Lynch told KNBR 680-AM this month. “I’ve never been on a two-week one, but it feels like we are now. You’re just inside in a dungeon, then you step outside and your eyes hurt because you haven’t seen the light.
“I feel rather than as a general manager of a football team, I’m a COVID compliance officer this year,” he added. “It’s tough to live by these (rules): ‘Hey guys, grab your dinners, go up to your room.’ It’s been tough on the team, and some guys are hurting.”
The Niners, the defending NFC champions, will close out their season Sunday (1:25 p.m., FOX) against the Seahawks.
Three things to know about the 49ers this week:
They haven’t quit
As the home team in Arizona, the 49ers (6-9) lost 34-24 to Buffalo on Dec. 7 and lost 23-15 to Washington a week later. The 49ers were eliminated from postseason contention after their 41-33 loss at Dallas on Dec. 20, but they rebounded with a 20-12 victory over the Cardinals on Saturday as the visiting team at State Farm Stadium.
“We’re not proud of our record. We’d love to be better,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters. “But that doesn’t tell the story of who these guys are, what they’ve been through all year and how they give everything on game day.”
Their playoff hopes dashed, the 49ers put a dent in Arizona’s chances of a postseason berth. They did it by shutting down Cardinals QB Kyler Murray (247 yards, no TDs, one interception) and holding Arizona to 4.4 yards per play.
49ers linebacker Fred Warner, named to his first Pro Bowl last week, had 14 tackles, three pass breakups, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery against the Cardinals.
Injuries have played a significant role in the Niners’ season — defensive starters Javon Kinlaw, Richard Sherman, Jimmie Ward, Nick Bosa and Dee Ford have missed extended time — but their defensive performance Saturday no doubt boosted the job prospects for 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, a former Seahawks assistant. Saleh, a Michigan native, has emerged as a fan favorite to take over as coach of the Detroit Lions.
“We didn’t have many guys left in terms of who you decide to dress and play. You lose one other guy, it’s tough,” Shanahan said. “But our guys didn’t tap out. They played for (Saleh), they played for each other.”
Beathard takes over
Injuries have piled up on offense, too. Against the Cardinals, San Francisco turned to third-string QB C.J. Beathard for his first start since 2018. He delivered with a three-touchdown performance a few days after the one-year anniversary of the death of his younger brother.
“It means more than I can really put into words,” Beathard told reporters Saturday. “Everything that I’ve been through the last year and it being the year anniversary of my brother passing, it’s just one of those things that you can’t really put it into words. … You can’t write a script any different. I couldn’t handpick this to go the way it did.”
Beathard was helped by a breakthrough performance from running back Jeff Wilson, who ran for 183 yards on 22 carries and had a 21-yard TD reception.
The 49ers also benefited from the return of star tight end George Kittle, playing in his first game since breaking a foot in a Week 8 loss in Seattle. He had four catches for 92 yards.
The 49ers also lost starting QB Jimmy Garoppolo when he aggravated a high-ankle sprain in the first meeting with Seattle. Interestingly, there had been some questions about whether the 49ers would stick with Garoppolo going into 2021, and Shanahan on Monday seemed to put some of those questions to bed.
“Yes, I do believe Jimmy is going to be our quarterback next year,” Shanahan said.
Week 8 rewind
The Seahawks are seeking a season sweep of the 49ers. On Nov. 1 the Seahawks played probably their best defensive game of the season at that point — at least through the first three quarters.
San Francisco had managed just 112 yards as Seattle built a 27-7 lead through three quarters. Nick Mullens replaced the injured Garoppolo and made things interesting late, throwing for 238 yards and three fourth-quarter touchdowns to pull the Niners within 10 at 37-27.
Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner (11 tackles, two sacks, four QB hits, three tackles for loss) played his best game of the season in the first matchup.
“I just felt like we need to stop talking and just do the work and let our play show,” Wagner said. “I felt like we were a lot more aggressive.”
DK Metcalf had a career-high 12 catches for 161 years and two TDs against the 49ers, including a 46-yard catch-and-run that gave Seattle its first touchdown in that game.