Willis braces for Seahawks’ revenge

The Seahawks are essentially out of the playoffs — again. They just shoved out Tim Ruskell, their president and general manager, weeks before his five-year contract was to expire.

Yet Patrick Willis thinks Seattle (4-7) has some things to play for Sunday against San Francisco (5-6): Matt Hasselbeck‘s broken ribs.

“I don’t think they’ve forgotten about it,” the 49ers‘ thudding linebacker said of the hit at the goal line he put on Hasselbeck Sept. 20.

It sent the gasping, three-time Pro Bowl passer to Stanford Medical Center in an ambulance amid fears he had lung or heart issues.

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“They are going to try to come at me,” Willis said.

Hasselbeck just shook his head and laughed at that.

“If my teammates liked me more, maybe,” the three-time Pro Bowl passer joked. “They probably don’t even remember (the play).”

Hasselbeck’s ribs are just now healing, 11 weeks later.

That’s not all that’s changed between these two teams since that meeting in Week 2.

Seattle and San Francisco were playing for the early lead in the NFC West then. Hasselbeck was as fully healthy as Seattle’s running game, which had just gained 167 yards in an opening thrashing of the woeful Rams.

The 49ers had Alex Smith on the bench, watching Shaun Hill play quarterback. Playmaking rookie wide receiver Michael Crabtree wasn’t even on the team. He was at an impasse over his first contract.

Still, San Francisco steamrolled Seattle 23-10 that day by the Bay, starting a skid during which Hasselbeck missed 2 1/2 games as the Seahawks lost three straight and seven of nine. Their running game sank to 30th in the league. They waived backup Edgerrin James, the league’s leading active rusher. Starter Julius Jones, signed by Ruskell before the 2008 season to replace Shaun Alexander, bruised his lung, coughed up blood and is now fighting for his job with elusive second-year man Justin Forsett. Jones may be ready to return Sunday.

Goodbye season. Goodbye Ruskell.

“We’re scrambling a little bit to hang on to our season,” Hasselbeck said.

The 49ers also flopped, losing six of nine after the win over Seattle. Hill was benched in the middle of a loss at Houston, when Smith entered and finally looked like the top overall draft pick he was in 2005.

“He’s a lot more comfortable now,” dominant tight end Vernon Davis said. “There’s a lot of trust with the receivers.”

Smith set a career high with 29 completions Nov. 8 at Tennessee, the third of four straight losses. Last weekend he had 27 completions in a 20-3 over Jacksonville, when the 49ers went into shotgun formation and threw it around in what sure looked like a spread offense, to close within two games of Arizona for the division lead.

“There is something about the word ‘spread’ that I hate,” said San Francisco coach Mike Singletary, the former, famously no-frills linebacker with the Bears. “I would just say, we’re ‘versatile.”‘

Crabtree and Davis have been the beneficiaries of “versatile.”

Despite missing the first five games, Crabtree is second among NFL rookies, averaging 57.7 yards receiving per game.

“What he’s done thus far is a little short of remarkable, to come in basically off the street,” Singletary said.

Singletary, during his first game as a head coach last season, against Seattle, sent Davis to the locker room for selfish play.

“I was like, ‘Man, this guy’s crazy! I ain’t ever met a coach like this!”‘ Davis says.

Now, Davis is a team captain. He needs one touchdown catch to set a 49ers single-season record for a tight end. His nine TDs receiving is tied for most among all NFL players.

Yet for all of San Francisco’s passing fancy, Seattle’s defenders remained focused on running back Frank Gore.

They should be. In his past seven games against the Seahawks, Gore has averaged 160 yards from scrimmage. In the last meeting, Gore rushed for 207 yards. The only higher total of his career came in 2006 – 212 yards against Seattle.

“They have a lot of weapons, but the biggest weapon they have is Frank Gore,” Seattle cornerback Josh Wilson said. “That’s their money guy.”

But all of San Francisco’s throwing has Gore feeling cheapened. Singletary said he’s talked to him about the decreased emphasis on the running game.

“Any great player that I’ve been around, whether it’s Walter Payton, whether it’s a great receiver, Jerry Rice, whoever it might be, when they’re not getting the ball, they feel like they’re not contributing,” Singletary said.

“I understand full well when that happens. It’s like when I was playing. If I didn’t get 10 tackles, I’m sitting there and I’m thinking, ‘Daggumit. Man.”‘