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Seahawks visit 49ers in key NFC West matchup

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Seahawks visit 49ers in key NFC West matchup

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) Last October, the San Francisco 49ers were all alone in first place and already on their way to winning the NFC West title in commanding fashion in coach Jim Harbaugh's first season.

That's hardly the case this year as they prepare for their division opener at home Thursday night against the Seattle Seahawks: There's a three-way tie at the top among 4-2 teams Arizona, San Francisco and Seattle.

``Everybody in our division got better,'' 49ers running back Frank Gore said. ``That's OK, we're all right with that. We like it like that. We like it tough. We're tough enough to handle it.''

After riding high for two weeks after consecutive blowout victories against the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills, the 49ers had little time to figure out all that went wrong in a 26-3 loss Sunday to the reigning Super Bowl champion Giants at Candlestick Park.

``You've just got to go,'' Harbaugh said. ``You've got to go right away.''

Seattle fullback Michael Robinson describes it this way: ``Go get in a car accident and then try to play two days later. That's how it feels.''

These teams - the last two division winners - faced off in Weeks 1 and 16 last year, with the 49ers eliminating the Seahawks from postseason contention with a 19-17 road win on Dec. 24. That was the 49ers' first win in Seattle since 2008.

And Harbaugh certainly has had his way against Seattle coach Pete Carroll of late, winning the last four meetings dating back to that surprising 55-21 rout by No. 25 Stanford against Carroll's 11th-ranked Southern California team in 2009.

The Cardinal even attempted a 2-point conversion with the game way out of reach - prompting Carroll's infamous ``What's your deal?'' when the coaching rivals met afterward at midfield.

Any ill will seems long gone for these two.

Carroll believes his Seahawks should be undefeated.

``Because of our lack of effectiveness last year, we stepped up and went about it differently this year,'' Carroll said. ``Last year by our assessment there were six games that we could've won and we didn't win any of them. This year we have been in five and won three.''

While San Francisco escaped with a narrow win at Seattle in December, the 49ers can find plenty of motivation from that game 10 months later.

Tight end Delanie Walker broke his jaw in two places when he took a knee to the face from Seahawks linebacker Leroy Hill in the first quarter and didn't return until the NFC championship game.

NFC rushing leader Marshawn Lynch ran for 107 yards as San Francisco's defense had its streak of not allowing a 100-yard rusher end at 36 games, going back to Green Bay's Ryan Grant in Week 11 of the 2009 season. Lynch's 4-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter also was the first TD rushing allowed by San Francisco all season.

But Lynch is coming off a 41-yard showing last weekend.

``I used to think about all that and get tied up in all that,'' 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis said. ``We still take pride in our run game. It's the National Football League, and sometimes guys are going to have those days. Once again, it's a challenge for us to go out there this Thursday and try to stop one of the best running backs in this game.''

Rookie quarterback Russell Wilson is making quite a name for himself, too. He threw two late touchdown passes as the Seahawks rallied for 14 points over the final 7:31 to stun the New England Patriots 24-23 in Seattle on Sunday.

It was Wilson's best outing yet - 16 of 27 for 293 yards - while 49ers quarterback Alex Smith against the Giants looked nothing like the guy who a week earlier had a record-setting day as San Francisco piled up 621 yards in a 45-3 rout of the Bills.

Smith was sacked four times.

``We hurt ourselves last week,'' Gore said.

Seattle's swarming defense will need a much better effort to slow down Smith, Gore and Vernon Davis.

The Seahawks gave up a season-high 475 yards after not allowing any of their first five opponents to top 300. The Patriots went eight consecutive drives without punting, and ran 85 offensive plays.

``We know they're going to come in here and play their behind off,'' Gore said. ``As long as we get back to being us - offense, defense, special teams - we should come out on top.''

The way the schedule worked out, Seattle will be done with its road divisional games after Thursday night.

Yet Seattle's Hill, for one, insists this game doesn't have any more significance.

``We're both 4-2, it's a Thursday night game. A lot of people can boost it up how they want to boost it up,'' Hill said. ``As we win, as they win, the games get bigger from the outside looking in.''

Wilson understands - even if this will be his first experience in this rivalry.

``Ever since landed here in Seattle everybody kind of talks about the NFC West and how big this game is,'' Wilson said. ``I can't wait.''

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AP Sports Writer Tim Booth in Seattle contributed.

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7 things to know about Capitals head coaching candidate Todd Reirden

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USA TODAY Sports

7 things to know about Capitals head coaching candidate Todd Reirden

For now, Todd Reirden appears to be the frontrunner to be the new head coach of the Washington Capitals.

But who is he? 

Here are some things to know about the Capitals head coaching candidate:

1. Reirden spent the last four seasons with Washington on Barry Trotz's staff

Should Reirden be hired, he would bring a measure of familiarity with him few teams get after a coaching change. Reirden was hired by Trotz in 2014 when Trotz was putting together his staff. He was brought in to coach the team's defense and immediately improved the blue line.

In the year prior to Reirden's hiring, the Caps allowed 2.74 goals per game, good for only 21st in the NHL.

Here is what the defense has done in Reirden's four years in charge of the defense:

2014-15: 2.43 goals against per game, 7th in the NHL
2015-16: 2.33 goals against per game, 2nd in the NHL
2016-17: 2.16 goals against per game, 1st in the NHL
2017-18: 2.90 goals against per game, 16th in the NHL

In those four seasons combined, Washington allowed 2.45 goals per game, lower than every team in the NHL but one. He was also in charge of the team's lethal power play.

2. Reirden has been a head coach before

While he may never have been a head coach in the NHL, Reirden does have some head coaching experience.

Reirden was promoted to head coach of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in 2009 when Dan Bylsma was promoted to head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins. While head coach, Reirden led the team to a 55-43-8 record.

3. Reirden came to Washington from the Penguins

Reirden joined the Penguins organization in 2008 as an assistant coach with their AHL affiliate and took over as head coach later that season. He joined the Penguins' playoff staff during the 2009 Cup run. He was promoted to a full-time assistant coach under with the NHL team under Bylsma in 2010 and was there for four years until Byslma was fired. Reirden was not initially fired, but was allowed to seek other opportunities. When he was officially fired, the Capitals hired him the same day.

4. Reirden had a lot to do with Matt Niskanen signing with the Caps

Reirden was hired by the Caps on June 25, 2014. On July 1, Matt Niskanen signed with Washington.

Reirden and Niskanen developed a strong relationship while in Pittsburgh. Niskanen dealt with confidence issues after getting traded from Dallas to Pittsburgh in 2011. Under Reirden's tutelage, Niskanen developed into a top-pair defenseman. Niskanen's agent said at the time it was "no secret" that Reirden and Niskanen had bonded while both were in Pittsburgh.

Brooks Orpik also signed with the Caps as a free agent that year, the second defenseman from Pittsburgh to sign in Washington showing the level of respect they felt for Reirden.

5. Reirden nearly became the head coach of Calgary

Reirden interviewed for the head coaching job in Calgary in 2016 and was considered a finalist for the position before eventually losing out Glen Gulutzan.

Gulutzan was fired by Calgary after the 2017-18 season and is now an assistant coach in Edmonton while Reirden is the frontrunner to become the head coach for the defending Stanley Cup champions. Sounds like things worked out for Reirden.

6. The Caps have been grooming Reirden to be a head coach

Reirden was promoted to associate coach in August 2016 after Calgary had passed on him. Since then, the Caps have not allowed him to interview with other teams for head coaching positions. The implication was clear, this was someone the team wanted to keep.

"You know I think we’ve been grooming him to be a head coach whether for us or someone else," Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan Monday.

7. Reiden played in 183 career NHL games

Reirden was a defenseman drafted in the 12th round by the New Jersey Devils in 1990. After playing four years at Bowling Green, Reirden went pro with several seasons in the ECHL, IHL and AHL. He made his NHL debut with the Edmonton Oilers in the 1998-99 season. Reirden would also play with the St. Louis Blues, Atlanta Thrashers and Phoenix Coyotes. 

For his NHL career, Reirden scored 11 goals and 46 points in 183 games.

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With Barry Trotz out, Jay Gruden is now your longest-tenured major head coach in D.C.

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With Barry Trotz out, Jay Gruden is now your longest-tenured major head coach in D.C.

Jay Gruden is many things, including honest, witty, one of the greatest Arena League quarterbacks in the history of the universe and, as of June 18, the longest-tenured head coach of a major D.C. sports team.

With the Capitals and Barry Trotz parting ways, Gruden is now officially the area's most experienced boss (while Gruden was actually hired a few months before Trotz back in 2014, they both have led their teams through four seasons up to this point, which is the number that matters here).

Scott Brooks, meanwhile, has overseen the Wizards for two campaigns, while Nats manager Dave Martinez is in the middle of his first year at the helm.

This designation will pair nicely with the fact that Gruden will also be the first 'Skins headman to hold his job into a fifth season in the Dan Snyder era. You don't need to make plans to visit his statue yet, of course, but this is some uncharted territory the 51-year-old is currently hanging out in.

Now, his overall record of 28-35-1 certainly needs work, or else he'll be in danger of handing the longest-tenured distinction over to Brooks. However, Gruden does deserve credit for bringing an amount of stability to the Burgundy and Gold, a franchise that is usually as stable as Metro's Wi-Fi connection.

So, with all due respect to DC United's Ben Olsen, the Kastles' Murphy Jensen and whatever legend is in charge of your kid's dynastic flag football team, when you think of the man who's been roaming the sidelines longer than anyone else in D.C., be sure to think of this man and only this man:

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