SANTA CLARA, Calif. — When Richard Sherman downplayed Seattle's success by describing the Seahawks as a "middle of the road" team a few weeks ago, his former teammates took offence.
Heading into the rematch this week between Sherman's new team, the San Francisco 49ers, and his old one, former teammate Frank Clark had a stern message for the player who helped lead Seattle's defence to a Super Bowl title five years ago.
"He's not in this locker room anymore, so his opinion really doesn't matter," defensive lineman Frank Clark said.
"You know what I mean? They've got problems over there in San Fran that he needs to be worried about. At the end of the day, this is my team now. This is my defence. Richard Sherman and his era is over here.
"If he's got anything to say about our defence, he can say it on the field. We're 1-0 against Richard Sherman right now, and we're 1-0 against the San Francisco 49ers this year.
"Our plan is to be 2-0. So we're going into their stadium next week with pure aggression. We're going to stop that run and we're going to have fun on third downs."
The Seahawks (8-5) dominated the first meeting in a 43-16 win at home two weeks ago, winning their 10th straight game over the 49ers (3-10) in a rivalry that used to be one of the league's fiercest.
Now in a season that started with talk of the 49ers emerging as an NFC West contender behind quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and the Seahawks falling following the breakup of the "Legion of Boom" defence is heading to the finish with Seattle still holding the upper hand.
The Seahawks can clinch a playoff berth with a win Sunday, while the 49ers are tied for the worst record in the league and only playing for draft position and next season.
"At the end of the day in this league if you don't end up with the trophy then how great was your season anyway?" Sherman asked.
"We're fighting, we're struggling, dealing with injuries. But at the end of the day there's only one team that ends up with the trophy. Unfortunately it won't be us this year and we'll see if it's them."
Here are some other things to watch:
Tight end George Kittle has been the major bright spot in a down season for the 49ers. After catching seven passes for 210 yards — all in the first half — last week, Kittle holds the single-season record for yards receiving for a San Francisco tight end with 1,103. Kittle fell 5 yards short of breaking Shannon Sharpe's single-game record for a tight end and coach Kyle Shanahan apologized for not getting him the record.
"Every play mattered there at the end so you're just trying to call plays to try to win the game, not to break a record," he said. "That's what you feel bad about. I wish he could have broken the record. He deserved to."
Seattle is likely to be without starting guard D.J. Fluker for the second straight game because of a hamstring injury, but his replacement has proven to be more than adequate.
Perhaps it's just coincidence but Seattle's two best running games this season have come with Jordan Simmons in the lineup.
Simmons started for Fluker in Week 10 against the Los Angeles Rams when the Seahawks rushed for 273 yards. And he was in the lineup again last week against Minnesota when Seattle ran for 214 yards.
Fluker has been a key component of Seattle's success this season, so it's mostly coincidence about when its two best running games have happened. But the run game has been a critical part of Seattle's success this season and the Seahawks rushed for 168 yards in the first meeting against San Francisco.
The Niners are still a bit steamed about a play in the game two weeks ago in Seattle. Linebacker Fred Warner lost his shoe and Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson tossed it out of his way. While Warner went behind the line to try to get his shoe, the Seahawks went into hurry-up mode and drew an offside penalty when Elijah Lee couldn't get on the field in time as Warner rushed off. Shanahan got a personal foul for arguing the call and then was fined $25,000 on top of it for the outburst.
"They told us there was nothing the player could do," Shanahan said. "So, that's what I told Fred. Next time, just make it more obvious. We're going to get the penalty anyway, so hopefully, sit down and make it as obvious as you can. Hopefully then common sense will prevail."
The Seahawks were hoping to get Mychal Kendricks back from suspension to hold down the weakside linebacker position until K.J. Wright was fully healthy. That plan lasted one game as Kendricks was injured against Minnesota and is out for the season after being placed on injured reserve.
Wright is not expected to return to the lineup for another couple of weeks, meaning second-year linebacker Austin Calitro will rejoin the starting lineup. Calitro has started three games at weakside linebacker and one at middle linebacker this season, and played well alongside Bobby Wagner.
AP Sports Writer Tim Booth in Renton, Washington, contributed to this report
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