SEATTLE — Two roads diverged in the corner of CenturyLink Field’s south end zone.
The Seattle Seahawks took the one less traveled by. And that has made all the difference.
With apologies to Robert Frost, his poem “The Road Not Taken” is a fitting eulogy to this incarnation of Seattle’s rivalry with San Francisco.
From the moment Richard Sherman’s tip toppled the 49ers in last season’s NFC Championship, the franchises have taken divergent paths.
The Seahawks are walking alone right now. With a defense that is drawing comparisons to the NFL’s best ever, Seattle looks like a serious contender to be the first repeat Super Bowl champion since the 2004-05 New England Patriots.
In Sunday’s 17-7 win, Seattle bludgeoned an opponent into a second-half submission for the fourth consecutive week. San Francisco gained just 67 yards after halftime.
Cheers could be heard through the doors of the Seahawks locker room before media were let in. Once those doors opened, rap music, laughter and energy bounced off the walls.
The sounds coming from the 49ers were quite different. Several times Sunday, San Francisco general manager Trent Baalke pounded his fist on his desk in the CenturyLink press box, drawing the attention of anyone within 50 feet.
It has gotten to the point where the 49ers brass doesn’t care about discretion anymore. Their coach is almost certainly on his way out. There are questions about whether Colin Kaepernick will be their long-term quarterback.
Heck, even Sherman doesn’t feel it’s worth taking verbal digs at San Francisco anymore. The outspoken cornerback wasn’t calling anyone “mediocre” on Sunday.
“We just focus on ourselves,” he said. “We don’t focus on anything they’re doing. They’ve got a great defense over there. They played hard. Much respect to them.”
That’s what happens to a rivalry when one team wins five of the last six. The tension goes away.
Though overblown from the beginning, the twice-yearly grudge matches between Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh were something football fans nationwide loved to talk about.
Sunday, Carroll wouldn’t talk about possibly facing Harbaugh for the last time.
“I would not even address that comment right there,” he said. “Sorry.”
There will always be a smoldering rivalry between Seattle and San Francisco as long as both are in the NFC West. There’s enough geographic overlap in the fan bases that it won’t take much to whip up the rivalry’s flames again.
But until then, lovers of a heated rivalry have to do without the hate. Carroll ended his press conference with a tip of his cap to a vanquished foe.
“Shoot, they were great,” Carroll said of San Francisco. “They brought out a heckuva game by us, which is what they’ve always done.
“I love playing those guys.”