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Originally published December 23, 2012 at 10:51 PM | Page modified December 23, 2012 at 10:55 PM

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Niners humbled, stunned by worst loss in Harbaugh era

The 49ers' defense was braced for Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch, and yet was still burned badly by both Seahawks players.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Amid his terse, unrevealing answers, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh pinpointed the only possible silver lining to Sunday's 42-13 loss.

"We'll wake up tomorrow, we'll have a half-game lead on the division, and our hand will be on the dial to take care of business next week," Harbaugh said.

It's true that the 49ers can still wrap up the NFC West title with a victory over lowly Arizona at Candlestick Park. But there's no doubt they left Seattle reeling from an unprecedented pounding by the Seahawks in the worst loss of the Harbaugh era.

"They played an amazing game," said San Francisco cornerback Tarell Brown. "They beat us in every phase. It's something we can't have as a team, especially playing against a division foe like the Seahawks."

Safety Donte Whitner said the 49ers' defense was bracing for Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch, and yet still found themselves burned by both players. Wilson passed for four touchdowns, while Lynch rushed for 111 yards and a score.

"We knew what type of game it was going to be," Whitner said. "We knew it was going to be 24 (Lynch's number) and 3 (Wilson's number). We didn't do a good job with either one of those."

Wilson drew special raves for his scrambling ability, which was on display all night.

"I remember one play, he was scrambling, it had to be about a 10-second play," marveled cornerback Carlos Rogers.

Whitner experienced the same frustration, but one-upped his teammate.

"There was one play out there, I felt like he was running around for 15 seconds," he said. "That's the type of player he is. He's a very athletic, mobile guy. He's going to do everything to get the ball in the right position and not make mistakes, and that's what he did tonight.

"We understood that going into the game. One of our goals was to not let him affect us with his feet. We didn't do a good job of taking that part of his game away from him."

Added Rogers: "He kept running, guys kept moving, and he found a way to get the ball out or slide and make a couple of yards to extend plays. He really did a good job of getting us in third and 3 or 4. It's not an easy down for a defense, especially with a running quarterback. Do you go after him, do you blitz? What call do you make to stop a guy who can run, with a running game?

"We've got to do a better job, especially if we see him again."

That was a reference to a possible rematch in the playoffs. The 49ers hope they'll have stalwart defensive tackle Justin Smith back for the postseason. He missed Sunday's game with an elbow injury; since he went out in the second half of last week's game against the Patriots, San Francisco has given up 73 points in six quarters. Harbaugh said he didn't know if Smith would be back next week.

"I think it's a big deal," Whitner said of Smith's absence. "Not having Justin is a huge deal. Not only for what he does against the run, but for what he does against the pass. And he helps Aldon (Smith, outside linebacker) out also, eating up some guys to allow him to go one on one.

"He's a huge part of this defense, and we all know it. We don't have him right now. Everyone has to pick up their game and take it to another level. We can't make excuses. We lost a football game. We lost an ugly football game. But we're professional athletes, men of high character. We'll bounce back."

Another damaging loss for the 49ers was tight end Vernon Davis, who left with a concussion in the first quarter after a vicious hit from Kam Chancellor.

"It changed a lot," running back Delanie Walker said. "Vernon is a key to this offense. When he went down, we had to move the puzzles."

Ultimately, however, this game was an unsolvable riddle for the 49ers.

"I think everyone is going to feel the same way after this," Harbaugh said. "It just wasn't good. You can't feel like you coached well, you can't feel like you played well after this one."

Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or lstone@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @StoneLarry.

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