Originally written on SeaTown Sports  |  Last updated 11/20/14

This is the one Pete has been waiting for.

Four years ago, Pete Carroll watched the Stanford Cardinal spoil his Trojans’ perfect season in the Coliseum. Pete’s USC team were 41-point favorites to take care of business against the previously lowly Cardinal, but Jim Harbaugh’s boys spoiled the day for them in stunning fashion, winning 24-23.

Since that game, Carroll and Harbaugh developed a rivalry that was put on hold after Carroll jumped ship at USC for the Seahawks in 2010 to avoid sanctions at USC.  But just one year later, Harbaugh made the jump to the pro ranks as well, taking the 49ers job and setting up a divisional rivalry of potentially epic proportions.

In week one, the two coaches got a go at each other in San Francisco, and Harbaugh’s squad took the first contest, winning 33-17 after Ted Ginn Jr. iced the game with two return touchdowns. The game featured two teams radically different from the ones wearing the same jerseys presently with neither team having any sort of identity back in September.

It is now week 16 and far more is at stake.  The Seahawks come into Saturday’s game at an even 7-7, needing to win out to have any shot at the playoffs.  The Niners enter the Christmas Eve showdown sitting at 11-3 and looking to lock up a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs.

More importantly than postseason implications, this game will serve as a barometer for the Seahawks in year two under Pete Carroll.  After starting 2-6, the Hawks have surged to five wins in six games against mediocre opposition. With the exception of the season-saving Ravens upset, the Hawks have knocked off the Rams twice (2-12), the Eagles (6-8), and a banged up Bears team (7-7). The Seahawks also blew a game they had in the bag against a crappy Redskins team who are now just 5-9.

Even though the Seahawks have charged back to .500 after winning five of their last six, they still have a lot to prove.  And for Pete Carroll, Saturday’s tilt against the Niners is that proving ground.

Firstly, Pete hates Jim Harbaugh.  He won’t ever say it out loud, but Harbaugh has been his rival for years now, and he will never forget the Coliseum miracle that ruined his last great season at USC.  Also, who doesn’t hate Jim Harbaugh besides Palo Alto residents, his parents, and Alex Smith? Seriously, the guy is a jerk.  And he does things like this to other coaches.

In addition, Pete needs to show the fans that this running game that we have discovered over the past few weeks actually exists. Marshawn Lynch has a rushing touchdown in each of his last ten games, and who better to put that streak on the line against than one of the premier rushing defenses in the league.  Guys like Justin Smith and Patrick Willis will be gunning for Beast Mode all game long and so Carroll and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell will need to come up with an effective game plan that utilizes the run and give Tarvaris a chance ot play within himself.

Moreover, this game gives the Hawks a chance at the playoffs.  The Lions still need to lose out, but since they face a surging San Diego and the dominant Packers in the next two weeks, that scenario is certainly well within the realm of possibility. 

The Seakawks need to focus on taking care of their own business, and since they have already beaten the Cardinals, the Niners are the biggest hurdle between them and the playoffs.  A win against San Fran would power Pete and the Hawks into the playoffs for the second time in Pete’s two years as coach and could even set up a rematch with the Niners in the wild card playoffs if everything goes according to plan.  That would be quite an intriguing rubber match.

But even if the Hawks don’t make the playoffs, Pete needs this win.  From 2003 to 2007, Seattle ruled the West, ripping off five straight division crowns.  They have lost that stranglehold, and until 2010, when a weak 7-9 Hawks team somehow “won” the division, to the Cardinals and now the Niners.  Seattle needs to recapture that hold. 

Even though the division is San Francisco’s this year, a win on Saturday will make a huge statement about Seattle’s future contender status. The Seahawks cannot afford to let the Niners sweep them this year.

This Sunday, Pete Carroll has a chance to not only establish his Seahawks as future contenders in the NFC West, but has a chance to establish himself as the solution the Seahawks problem, the leader that will put them back in the Superbowl.

It might take two years. It might take four.  But a win this Saturday will give the fans hope that it will happen eventually.  And that’s what Pete needs.

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