Remember when the 49ers could win in Seattle?



The 49ers and Seattle Seahawks meet Sundayto decide who will leave Week 2 with an 0-2 record. Few indicators suggest the team based in Santa Clara stands much of a chance.

Scoring points is going to be a chore, playing on the road against the best homefield advantage in the NFL.

It’s entirely possible that the Hawks defense outscores the Niners’ offense — especially if their issues on the offensive line aren’t resolved. It’s unlikely they will be, even if Laken Tomlinson gets significant time at offensive guard as he’s been trending toward all week.

Anyone who follows the league knows this rivalry is diminished at best. So instead of digging deeper into something that promises to be a disappointing day, let’s allow ourselves to be transported to a simpler time: The last time the 49ers won a game in Seattle …

The year was 2011, the Niners were amid their best season in 14 tries. It was Jim Harbaugh’s first — and ultimately, best — turn at the helm. His team was in a race with the Seahawks for which team would claim the top spot in the NFC West.

On the strength of their top-four defense, the 49ers claimed the divisional crown by Week 13. The Niners held their opponents to fewer than 95 rushing yards and 18 points per game.

They had the eventual Coach of the Year, who was seemingly happy to be here. It was the year they hired Harbaugh away from Stanford and it appeared they had made a smart gamble.

Earlier that season, the 49ers ran over the Seahawks at home, winning the home opener that was attended by 69,732 fans who were happy to brave the 72-degree heat at Candlestick Park.

There were some unforgettable moments during their run of excellence before stepping on the field at CenturyLink Field. Who could forget Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz chasing down Harbaugh after a too-rigorous postgame handshake at midfield?

The team had the best front-seven in the league. Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman and Justin Smith were all first-team All Pros. Aldon Smith — then a rookie, not yet a cautionary tale — was en route to a 14-sack season.

There was justified optimism that young CEO Jed York, still in his early-30s, had successfully built the team of the future by bringing Harbaugh together with new general manager Trent Baalke.

All of these sentences made sense then.

“Harbaugh has instilled a physical style of play and an infectious winning attitude that has catapulted the Niners to become an elite team in less than 12 months,” Dylan Kruse wrote in the San Francisco Examiner for a piece outlining the best stories of the year. “The Bill Walsh comparisons have been coming fast and furious.”

The day was Christmas Eve, the 49ers were 11-3 and the Seahawks were fighting to stay in the playoff picture. That was spoiled by kicker David Akers, who nailed four field goals to break the NFL record for most in a season.

The Niners defense limited Tarvaris Jackson — Russell Wilson would be drafted the following offseason — to 163 passing yards while forcing him to lose a fumble.

With Willis sidelined with a hamstring injury, Marshawn Lynch racked up 107 yards on the ground. But he was no match for Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter, who combined for 156 yards and a touchdown. Their command helped the 49ers dominate possession and leave with a 19-17 win.

Larry Grant replaced Willis and forced the fumble that set up a game-winner off the foot of Akers.

The Associated Press wrote, “The 49ers were in such a good mood that San Francisco coaches ran through the press box in the closing seconds shouting ‘Merry Christmas everybody,’ as [Alex] Smith took a knee to drain the final seconds.”

After the game, Harbaugh would commend his team for overcoming adversity and performing despite daunting circumstances.

Since that two-point victory, the 49ers have lost five games in Seattle by a combined 100 points. Harbaugh was unceremoniously dumped after organizational in-fighting forced him out. After he went, several defensive playmakers followed — as did the team’s edge.

When the 49ers won in Seattle, the outside world wasn’t seemingly unraveling.

Barack Obama, not a reality TV star, was president.

The No. 1 album in the country was “Christmas” by Michael Buble. Drake had just released his first studio album. Adele had captured the nation’s heart and soul with her debut, “21.”

Things were better when the 49ers were capable of winning in Seattle.

Except movies. Those were bad then, too, as “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol” and the first Twilight movie were the Christmas blockbusters.

Contact Examiner Sports Editor Jacob C. Palmer at jpalmer@sfexaminer.com or on Twitter, @jacobc_palmer.

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