Now the Seattle Seahawks find out just how real their professed return to 2013 form really is.
While the Arizona Cardinals came to CenturyLink Field last Sunday with the NFL's best record at 9-1, they also came with a backup quarterback, without leading receiver Larry Fitzgerald and as seven-point underdogs
So, impressive as Seattle's 19-3 win was over the Cardinals -- a game in which Seahawks players and coaches felt the most like the 2013 Super Bowl season of any played this year -- duplicating that feat this Thursday at San Francisco would mean even more.
Seattle held the Cardinals to 204 yards -- a season low for a Seahawks opponent -- and a lone field goal in getting right back in the race in the NFC West.
But now comes what in many ways might be a tougher challenge as the Seahawks head to San Francisco for a Thanksgiving night game against the 49ers.
Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said after Tuesday's practice that he thought the Seahawks had returned to their old selves against the 49ers, a game that came after a week of a few team meetings. But he also said the obvious -- there's little time for reflection.
"I would say for our whole unit (it was the best game of the season)," he said. "I think there have been good games by individual guys and outings by the team but I think that felt maybe the most connected we've had been defensively this year, yes.
"That was just one game for us. So we're looking forward to the next challenge and the next thing ahead for us."
While the team meetings and statements by players afterward got a lot of attention, players and coaches also cited some of the practical differences in the game against Arizona and others. Notably, the return to health of middle linebacker Bobby Wagner and the return to form of strong safety Kam Chancellor.
Wagner had missed five games with a toe injury while Chancellor has battled a slew of injuries all season, missing two games with a groin issue.
Chancellor downplayed the injuries at the time but admitted this week that he had been slowed during the first few months of the season and that he had a hard time looking at himself on film.
Quinn said the difference in Chancellor last week was noticeable throughout.
"He's such an explosive guy," Quinn said. "So for him some of the movements that he didn't like I think that's probably what he saw because he's such an explosive hitter so for him not to uncoil on the hits or have the change of direction but you certainly feel that on the tape now."
The rounding into form of the defense -- which now features 10 starters at their regular roles -- comes at a good time as the Seahawks are in the midst of a key part of the schedule.
The Arizona game was the first of five of six against teams from the NFC West.
The San Francisco game, meanwhile, is the first of three of four on the road, all against teams in the playoff hunt, and the first of two games against the 49ers in 18 days.
Seattle has won four of five after a 3-3 start to get back into the thick of things, but knows that a loss to the 49ers could derail playoff hopes pretty quickly.
The game is the first between the two teams since the NFC Championship game last January, memorably won by the Seahawks 23-17. It will also continue what is one of the NFL's hottest rivalries, keyed by coaches who had heated battles during their college days -- Jim Harbaugh at Stanford and Pete Carroll at USC.
But a short week dampened much of the hype, and Seattle players insisted the emphasis was simply on what the game means for this season.
"It's a whole different season, different team," said Seattle defensive end Cliff Avril. "For me personally, that was last year and this is this year and we've got to go make it happen this year."
SERIES HISTORY: 31st regular-season meeting. Series tied, 15-15, with Seahawks winning two of last three. Seahawks, though, haven't won in the Bay Area since 2008. And the last and most memorable meeting isn't included in the series record -- Seattle's 23-17 win in the NFC Championship game last January.
--As with every opponent of the 49ers, this will be Seattle's first game at Levi's Stadium. The Seahawks were 6-8 at Candlestick Park including losing the last five. Seattle's last win in the Bay Area was a 34-13 win in 2008, Mike Holmgren's final season as Seattle's coach.
--While some of Seattle's numbers from last season have fallen off, what Pete Carroll consider the biggest one of all -- turnovers lost -- has not. Seattle has lost just nine turnovers this season, tied with New England for second in the NFL behind the eight of Green Bay. Seattle has not lost a turnover in seven of its 11 games this season.
BY THE NUMBERS: 711-580 -- Seattle's all-time edge in points scored against the 49ers despite the series being tied at 15.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're just getting started. This season is just beginning with all of the games that we will be playing here in the next month and a half so it's really exciting. I think we should feel very humbled that we're playing in this setting. It's a great setting. The country gets to watch you play football, such a great tradition to play on Thanksgiving, and we're fortunate that we're part of that and so we're going to get ready to make sure that we do our part to make it a good one so it should be a great matchup," -- Seattle coach Pete Carroll on playing San Francisco and doing so on Thanksgiving Day.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--RB Marshawn Lynch was limited in practice Tuesday with back soreness. But he is expected to play Thursday against the 49ers. Lynch has practiced just one day each of the last three weeks yet played on Sunday, a schedule he is likely to continue on for the rest of the season.
--TE Cooper Helfet did not practice Tuesday while battling a sprained ankle and remains the biggest question mark for Seattle entering the game. A practice squad player until October he has become a key part of the Seattle offense and caught a 20-yard touchdown -- the team's only TD against the Cardinals before being injured.
--C Max Unger remains out another few weeks with ankle and knee injuries.
--LB Kevin Pierre-Louis remains sidelined with a shoulder injury suffered against Kansas City and could go on the injured reserve list.
--WR Jermaine Kearse battled an ankle injury against Arizona but practiced Tuesday and appears on track to play against the 49ers. Kearse caught the winning TD in the NFC title game.
--CB Marcus Burley, a backup nickelback who has missed the last two games with a hamstring injury, should be able to play.
--CB Jeremy Lane, the team's starting nickelback, was limited early in the week with groin soreness but should be able to play.
GAME PLAN: The Seahawks expect no surprises when they play the 49ers. San Francisco did cross up the Seahawks just a bit with some misdirection runs during a 19-17 win over Seattle last December at Candlestick. But these are two teams and two coaching staffs that know each other well, so usually the games come down to who wins the line of scrimmage and who makes the fewest mistakes.
The Seahawks have had big edges in the turnover war against the 49ers of late, including a 9-3 gap in the three games last season (5-1 in a 29-3 win in Seattle in September).
Seattle's defensive strategy of keeping everything in front has often frustrated Colin Kaepernick, who tends to decide eventually to take a downfield shot, often with disastrous results.
But that only works if Seattle has shut down the running game. Seattle did that well against Arizona last week and moved back up in the rushing defense standings for the season, allowing 88.4 yards per game, sixth in the NFL. But the 49ers have had success running against Seattle at home the last two years in eking out close wins.
Seattle received good play last week out of veteran nose tackle Kevin Williams -- subbing for the injured Brandon Mebane -- and will hope that the 34-year old can recover quickly enough to turn in a similar performance this week.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
--Seahawks secondary vs. 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick.
The Seahawks have been the main nemesis for Kaepernick. The fourth-year QB has a career QB rating of 93.2, but is at just 53.4 against the Seahawks in four regular season games, with five interceptions against just two touchdowns. He also threw two interceptions against the Seahawks in the NFC title game, capped by Richard Sherman's famous tip. Four of the regular season interceptions came in two games at Seattle, where Kaepernick has seemed flustered by the home crowd. But Seattle has just seven interceptions as a team this season and Kaepernick will be on favorable turf.
--Seahawks QB Russell Wilson vs. 49ers linebackers.
Wilson's running is now an accepted part of the Seattle offense as he has 644 yards to rank 14th in the NFL, But two of the lowest rushing outputs of Wilson's career have come in his two games on the road against the 49ers -- a combined 12 yards on four carries including just two yards on one carry last season. Each time, Wilson remained hemmed in by the San Francisco linebackers. That's a unit that Chris Borland and Michael Wilhoite now playing inside instead of the injured Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. Wilson needs to find out early if Borland and Wilhoite are as disciplined in their approach.
--Seahawks CB Richard Sherman vs. 49ers WR Michael Crabtree.
Who knows how often the two will end up on each other, with Sherman usually sticking to lining up on the left side of the Seattle defense? But when they do face off, it'll be a matchup to watch It was Crabtree to whom Kaepernick was trying when Sherman instead tipped the ball into the hands of teammate Malcolm Smith to preserve Seattle's 23-17 win in the NFC title game, a play that then launched his memorable post-game interview tirade with Erin Andrews. Crabtree is San Francisco's second-leading receiver with 48 catches for 56 yards. But with Anquan Boldin also having a good year, leading the 49ers with 65 receptions for 825 yards, Sherman may not move around much and instead just take the receiver that lines up on his side.