SEATTLE (AP) – Matt Hasselback’s honest appraisal might best define the Seattle Seahawks’ first 13 games.

They are a losing team on the road, riddled with major injuries to key players all season, and have displayed very little of the dominant, complete and consistent unit that rolled to the NFC championship a year ago. Yet Seattle is 8-5 and with a win on Thursday night over San Francisco (5-8) will wrap up its third straight NFC West title.

“I don’t think I can figure us out either,” Hasselbeck said.

“It’s fine. What we have to do quite honestly is attack each goal that we have one at a time, and our first goal is win the NFC West.”

Seattle’s inconsistency has frustrated players and coaches alike, compounded by injuries that sidelined Hasselbeck and MVP running back Shaun Alexander earlier in the season, and now has benched leading receiver Darrell Jackson with turf toe.

Toss in injuries to three starting offensive lineman, and the offense that was second in the NFL last season has at times struggled to get out of its own way. They are ranked 21st in the league heading into tonight, down about 25 yards both passing and running from last year. Because of the problems running effectively, Seattle has lost the time of possession statistic in more than half its games and all five losses.

“If you lose that battle on a consistent basis one of two things is happening: you’re not stopping the run and you’re not running like you should,” coach Mike Holmgren said.

During his 1,880-yard season, Alexander rushed for 100 yards 11 times. This season, he has one such performance, a 201-yard performance on Nov. 27 against Green Bay.

Despite missing four games with a sprained knee, Hasselbeck has been sacked 24 times, the same amount as all of last season. Seattle is minus-5 in turnover margin and is the only team of the 12 currently in position to make the playoffs that has been outscored.

If not for Josh Brown’s four winning field goals, the Seahawks wouldn’t be on the cusp of their fifth division title in franchise history.

“We have not been as consistent as I would like, but still, having said all that and going through the ups and downs we have had this year, we have in front of us what we want, and that is Thursday night,” Holmgren said.

Despite the problems, offensive coordinator Gil Haskell can see the offense getting closer to the machine of a year ago. Alexander and Hasselbeck will play their fourth game together since returning from injury on Thursday. Only Alexander was on the field when the Seahawks lost to San Francisco 20-14 on Nov. 19.

In last week’s loss to Arizona, Hasselbeck was outstanding, completing 20 of 28 throws with three touchdowns and a 133.5 passer rating, the second-highest mark of his career. That should continue Thursday facing a San Francisco secondary beset by injuries and exposed last week by Green Bay’s Brett Favre. “Since they’ve both been back, there have been glimpses of it,” Haskell said. “I see it coming and it’s coming at the right time.”

San Francisco cornerback Shawntae Spencer is expected to return after missing the last three games with an ankle injury, but won’t be 100 percent. Spencer’s replacement, Donald Strickland, was put on injured reserve this week with a left knee injury, along with reserve cornerback Sammy Davis.

Added in: This is a short week of preparation for both teams, with the added inconvenience of travel for the 49ers.

“Both teams will be beat up a little bit,” 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. “Usually, it’s about Friday when guys get their body back, when they really start feeling good again.”

Unlike the first meeting, 49ers running back Frank Gore won’t catch Seattle’s defense by surprise. The Seahawks had only seen Gore on film, and the second-year back blitzed them for a 49ers record 212 yards.

With Seattle’s defense not expected to overlook Gore, a good performance from quarterback Alex Smith is a necessity. Smith was solid, but not spectacular in the first meeting, completing 19 of 25 passes for 163 yards and a TD. In the last three weeks, his struggles have returned, completing only 47.5 percent of his passes and tossing seven interceptions against just three touchdowns.

“We’ve had a couple of tough weeks, but this team is still in a different place than we were at the start of the season,” Smith said. “We know what it takes to win now, and we just have to bring that intensity and that effort to every game.”

AP-ES-12-13-06 1658EST


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