Time for 49ers to send a message

It's easy to say the 49ers will be stronger now that injured wide receiver Michael Crabtree is healthy again. It also would be crazy to think that they still hold any kind of mental edge in this rivalry with Seattle. The Seahawks have outscored San Francisco 71-16 in the past two meetings. The people who want to think that disparity has everything to do with Seattle playing at home in those contests are really missing the point.

The Seahawks aren't just the better team right now. They're looking very much like the better team over the long haul. Their young star quarterback ( Russell Wilson) is blossoming into a legitimate candidate for league MVP. The toughest runner in the league not named Adrian Peterson leads their ground attack ( Marshawn Lynch). Their defense even has a slight edge over the 49ers' stout unit, thanks to a ball-hawking secondary and a vicious pass rush. Just think about what happens when wide receiver Percy Harvin finally shakes off the predictable rust involved in returning from preseason hip surgery.

The 49ers knew this was coming sooner or later. Seattle became a legitimate rival last season, when the teams were taking shots at each other both on and off the field. Now they're in a place they haven't been since Harbaugh became their head coach. They're back to being the hunters instead of the hunted. They're looking to prove themselves to people who haven't had a reason to doubt them since Mike Singletary was running the team.

The best place to start would be at Candlestick Park on Sunday afternoon. The Seahawks will be coming in with plenty of motivation -- a chance to clinch the division title and a first-round bye in the process. The best the 49ers can do is remind Seattle why this became the NFL's hottest rivalry in the first place. Tight end Vernon Davis already has put the burden on his team, telling the San Jose Mercury News that this contest is definitely "a statement game."

What has to be determined is what that "statement" is. We know the Seahawks have delivered their own message over the course of the season. We also know they will be a tough out if they end up playing two playoff games on their home turf. But that's way too much to ponder at this stage. It's more interesting to see what the 49ers will do at such a critical juncture of their most adverse season of the Harbaugh era and what this game will say about them come Sunday night.

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