SEATTLE -- So this is what a Jim Harbaugh team looks like when it's overmatched, under-prepared and embarrassed for every millisecond of a high-magnitude game.
We'd never seen the 49ers get humiliated like this in the two-year Harbaugh tenure, not until Sunday night at CenturyLink Field.
We'd never seen or heard them humbled.
"I think everybody's going to feel the same way after this -- just wasn't good," Harbaugh said in his measured news conference after Seattle's 42-13 crushing of the 49ers. "You can't feel like you coached well, you can't feel like you played well after this one."
We'd never watched the 49ers lose every individual matchup, lose the strategic contest, lose all control of every aspect of the game and lose by this kind of margin.
Not until Seattle beat the 49ers to the punch on Sunday and kept on pummeling them until long after the cornermen should've stopped this one.
Flat out, this was the worst loss of Harbaugh's 49ers career -- by the most points, at the worst time, against Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, Harbaugh's longtime bitter rival.
Obviously, the 49ers still are one of the top teams in the NFL and still are loaded with talent -- on the roster and on the coaching staff.
But now, instead of building momentum, the 49ers have to spend at least a week regrouping and rebuilding their confidence.
The real leaders of this team were already addressing that Sunday evening.
"Things didn't go our way. It's about how you bounce back. We know what type of team we've got."
I asked linebacker Patrick Willis if he agreed that Gore's optimism was the mood the team had to strike in the aftermath of this performance.
"It's the truth," Willis said. "There's no question about that.
"Any great competitor, whether it's a boxer, basketball player, basketball team, football team, you're going to have times like this.
"For us, you have to have the lowest low to be able to enjoy the highs. And I think tonight will be one of those lows for us. But looking forward to next week."
The 49ers still can clinch the NFC West title with a victory over hapless Arizona on Sunday, and they can earn the No. 2 seed and a playoff bye week if they win and Green Bay loses to Minnesota.
But if the 49ers don't get that bye, or if they stumble badly in the playoffs, this game will have loud echoes.
For the first time since Harbaugh's arrival, the 49ers' performance opened their coach up to several major second-guesses.
Second-guess No. 1: Though Colin Kaepernick surely wasn't the main reason the 49ers were destroyed here, did the midseason switch from Alex Smith to such an inexperienced quarterback set up the possibility of a debacle like this?
And could it be repeated against another good defense -- or the Seahawks, a possible first-round opponent?
Sunday, with Seattle making sure to keep him in the pocket, Kaepernick (19 of 36 for 244 yards, a touchdown and an interception) never got on track and looked unsettled through much of this game.
How did he think he played?
"Not good enough to win," Kaepernick said.
Meanwhile, the proud 49ers defense simply got walloped by Seattle rookie QB Russell Wilson, and Kaepernick could not make up for it.
Second-guess No. 2: Through a season of continued shaky kicking, Harbaugh has stuck with David Akers through thick, thin and thinner.
On Sunday, Akers had a short field goal attempt blocked and returned for a touchdown early in the second quarter that all but ended the 49ers' chances in this game.
There were obviously more issues than just those two, and there are other serious developments that do not involve Harbaugh's decision-making -- including injuries to Justin Smith, Vernon Davis and Mario Manningham.
But simply put, going into the postseason with question marks at quarterback and kicker is not the surest way to a Super Bowl.
Last year, the 49ers won 13 regular-season games, didn't lose any of their centerpiece players to injury for a sustained period and didn't change their QB.
This year, the 49ers have won 10, lost four, tied one and are dealing with all kinds of new issues in late-December.
"Last year was an epic year and we all wish we could kind of just go through that season and glide through it," Willis said. "But last year was last year and this year is this year. We've had some adverse times and we had one tonight. And I know we'll be stronger for it and that's all that matters."
As long as he's been running the 49ers, Harbaugh has had every answer, and he has led them from mediocrity to a place among the top Super Bowl contenders.
But 15 games into his second season, his hand-picked QB looked shaky, his kicker looked bad, his defense broke into pieces, and his greatest rival was celebrating on the opposite sideline.
Maybe Harbaugh's 49ers needed a humbling, maybe they didn't. Seattle made sure it happened, anyway.