The Seahawks paid tribute to their former teammate Richard Sherman in his return to CenturyLink Field. Then, they showed the NFL that they are much more than a 'middle of the road' team.

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The Seahawks were respectful, if not reverential, in their interactions with Richard Sherman before, during and after Sunday’s game with the 49ers.

“It was emotional to see my brother again,’’ said Doug Baldwin, grasping the No. 25 49ers’ jersey he received in an exchange with his longtime college and pro teammate. “This is the first year I’ve been without him for this long for a very long time, over 10 years.”

But the Seahawks, by virtue of their dominance in a 43-16 victory over San Francisco, conveyed a message to Sherman that was undeniable: This is no “middle of the road” team.

That was Sherman’s biting appraisal of the Seahawks in a news conference Thursday – the same session in which the 49ers cornerback noted dismissively that he’s seen Russell Wilson throw five picks. Wilson had no picks Sunday – and four touchdown passes out of 11 completions, a hearty 36 percent.

SEAHAWKS 43, 49ERS 16


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Not that the Seahawks were gloating to Sherman in any fashion whatsoever, mind you. There was just some good-natured teasing from Bobby Wagner, he of the 98-yard interception return, who was asked about the animated conversation he had with Sherman after the game.

“He was just telling me that I was slow,’’ Wagner said. “I was telling him if I’m slow, then what does that say about his team? We were just talking trash. That’s my brother. It was an amazing time for us to play with each other. To see him on the opposite side in the other jersey that he looks ugly in was cool.”

The fact is that the Seahawks, far from middle of the road, are looking increasingly like not just a playoff team, but one that is getting stronger by the week. A franchise known for its December surges is hoping it is on the verge of another one.

“I love the way it’s fitting together for us,’’ said coach Pete Carroll.

But then in the next breath, Carroll said, “We haven’t done anything.”

And: “We didn’t tackle as well as we needed to.”

And: “Right now, we’re nowhere.”

And then, because he’s Carroll and can’t help himself from exulting in the team’s triumphs, “It was just big-play-o-rama here for a bit.”

The calculated reserve by Carroll is reminiscent of the mindset that has served this team well in the past: that nothing is accomplished until everything is accomplished.

But by winning three in a row, by avoiding a letdown against a downtrodden team with just two victories, by once again perfecting a run-first offense peppered with high-impact passes, and by forcing two huge turnovers while having none of their own, the Seahawks played like a team set up for a strong playoff run.

“We’re putting together the right formula for us to make a push now,’’ Carroll said.

The football gods seem to be smiling on Seattle as well. Virtually every outcome in recent weeks has played in the Seahawks’ favor, including defeats on Sunday by Minnesota (their next opponent), Chicago, Carolina and Green Bay. The Seahawks now hold possession of the No. 5 playoff berth, with three of their final four games at home.

“We’re right where we want to be,’’ offensive lineman Duane Brown said. “This was a huge, huge, huge win for us. It’s a big-time game, a divisional opponent in December. These are must-win games for us.”

It was not lost upon the Seahawks that they allowed the 49ers to accumulate 452 total yards (414 by quarterback Nick Mullens) – but with the game never in doubt, they seemed like empty yards to a large extent.

“I think it sucks,’’ countered defensive end Frank Clark. “You don’t want to give up that many yards. Four-hundred-and-50 yards looks like 500 to me.”

But Clark added, “We’re not far off, man. I’m liking the unity. I feel like the unity amongst us is at an all-time high. We can’t allow that to fall apart, like some teams do throughout the season.”

Clark, in fact, indicated that the team is on a crusade to keep complacency from settling in.

“Guys get comfortable with winning, they get the hype around them and they get sucked into it,’’ he said. “I feel that’s one thing we have to keep our head down about. We can’t look too deep into the articles, because they talk good about you when you’re winning. They speak all the good things, and sometimes that goes to guys’ heads.

“I feel like we have to ignore that and keep that cloud over our head, continue to fight and feel like the underdog.”

It was a very good sign that the Seahawks’ wide receivers produced so many touchdowns that they had to scramble to come up with a choreographed celebration for No. 4. That explains why David Moore could be seen hastily running through “The Macarena” on the sideline.

“We were trying to figure out what other celebrations we had so we could do it next time we scored,’’ Moore said.

Those are hardly the issues of a middle-of-the-road team, one that is starting to truly believe that a December run is brewing.

“Absolutely,’’ Baldwin said. “Especially if you look at our schedule, there’s some challenges in there for us that I think play to our strengths.”

“We ain’t peaked yet,’’ added Clark. “We ain’t close to peaking.”