Maybe it is the Super Bowl hangover. Maybe the injuries, freaky or otherwise, have thrown them off track. Maybe their opponents have just gotten better at figuring them out. Whatever the reason, the San Francisco 49ers look like a shell of the team that dominated the N.F.C. last year.
On Sunday, they were reminded of how far they have fallen when they were thoroughly outplayed by the Seahawks in Seattle, 37-27.
While the 49ers slipped to 4-4, last place in the N.F.C. West, the Seahawks improved to 6-1 for the second time in franchise history, and the first time since 2013, the year they won their only Super Bowl title. Halfway through the season, the Seahawks are atop the league’s toughest division and have established themselves as the class of the conference.
San Francisco and Seattle played two of the most entertaining games of last year’s regular season, reviving a rivalry that had been dormant for several years. Seattle handed the 49ers their first loss of the season in overtime. The 49ers then stopped the Seahawks at the goal line to grab the division title for the first time in seven years.
This year, the gap between the teams seems to grow by the week. Seattle has the top-ranked offense in the league, which has managed to offset a defense that is giving up the most yards per game in the N.F.L. Like last year, the 49ers still have a stingy defense, with the fifth fewest points given up. But injuries have decimated the offense, including to wide receiver Deebo Samuel and running backs Raheem Moestert and Tevin Coleman, who left Sunday’s game with a knee injury.
Their first matchup this season against Seattle had little of tension from 2019. The Seahawks shut down the 49ers run game and knocked out quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who aggravated an ankle injury, and tight end George Kittle, who left with an injured foot. The 49ers managed just 116 yards in the first half and turned over the ball twice. Most of their points and yardage came in the fourth quarter when Garoppolo’s backup, Nick Mullens, took over with the Seahawks ahead by 23 points.
During his nine years in Seattle, quarterback Russell Wilson is 32-8 in games after a loss. And coming off their first loss of the season last week in which Wilson threw three interceptions against the Cardinals, the Seahawks seemed eager to bounce back. Wilson found his new favorite wide receiver, D.K. Metcalf, early and often. Metcalf had 12 receptions for 161 yards and two touchdowns. On his first score, a 46-yard catch-and-run, Metcalf showed the speed and elusiveness that have made him one of the league’s best receivers.
After catching the ball on the left side of the field, he sliced across the field, racing past 49ers defends, then sprinted down the right sideline and into the end zone.
“He’s just so frickin’ tough,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “When he caught the ball on the crossing route, I was screaming they weren’t going to get him.”
The slick score — Metcalf’s sixth of the year — also got rave reviews from LeBron James, who called the second-year receiver “Baby Bron” on Instagram. In a caption to a picture, James wrote “We built different.”
Metcalf is indeed different than most receivers. At 6-foot-4, he is both tall and fast. Several 49er defensive backs bounced off him on Sunday, and two defenders were draped over him in the end zone when he caught his second touchdown of the game.
Wilson, meanwhile, continues to compile statistics worthy of M.V.P. consideration. He was 27 of 37 passing for 261 yards and no interceptions. His four touchdown passes gave him 26 for the year and left him one shy of Tom Brady’s record for most passing scores through seven games.
“I just keep swinging,” Wilson said of his bounce-back performance.
The 49ers continued their uneven season in which three of their four wins have come against the Giants, Jets and New England Patriots, who have a combined three wins this year. A rash of injuries have made it harder for the 49ers to compete against stronger teams. On defense, they are missing cornerback Richard Sherman, defensive linemen Nick Bosa, Dee Ford and Solomon Thomas, and safety Jaquiski Tartt.
Coach Kyle Shanahan, though, said injuries are no excuse. “I don’t think we played good as a group,” he said on Sunday. “We’ve missed players a number of times and that’s not a reason to go out there and not play well.”
With the N.F.L. adding one more playoff team in each conference this year, the 49ers are by no means out of the hunt for the postseason. But because they had such a successful season last year, their schedule is significantly harder than in previous years. Their next four games are against the Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints, Los Angeles Rams and Buffalo Bills, who are collectively 21-9.
Several players said they were happy to be facing the Packers on Thursday so they do not dwell on Sunday’s loss.
“There’s definitely still a lot of fight left in this team,” said fullback Kyle Juszczyk.