The storyline should be a familiar one by now- the 49ers imminent collapse when facing the men in Blue and Green. That wouldn’t be the case in this game, in which the 49ers refused to go into the offseason quietly.
Seattle started out strong, with Bobby Wagner recovering a Colin Kaepernick fumble at the 25. The Seahawks could advance no further than he 13, and settled for a Steven Hauschka Field Goal. The 49ers would get the ball back, and set from the shotgun, Kapernick led a no huddle drive to take four minutes off of the clock and hand the ball to Shaun Draughn for the first of two rushing touchdowns he would score on the day. On the second touchdown, the Niners converted two fourth downs, one from the Seattle 1-yard line, and it was 14-3, San Francisco less than one minute into the second quarter. Seattle would keep it close with another Hauschka Field Goal from 32 yards out.
On the very next drive, (ex-Seahawk) DuJuan Harris fumbled the ball, which Frank Clark recovered near mid field. Russell Wilson found Luke Wilson for an 11 yard strike a few plays later. The defense quickly forced a three and out, and Richard Sherman called for a fair catch at the Seattle 9-yard line. Russell Wilson handed off to Thomas Rawls for a 7-yard run, than threaded a deep pass (41-yards!) to Doug Baldwin, who landed awkwardly on top of a 49ers player, who appeared to break his ankle. After firing a short incomplete pass to Baldwin on the next play, Wilson found Jimmy Graham for an incredible jump ball near the goal line for 42-yards. Rawls rumbled in for the touchdown, but Hauschka’s PAT kick was blocked by the 49ers. Seattle 19, San Francisco 14.
Seattle stalled again twice in the red zone, settling for Field Goals once in the third and fourth quarter, but once again the Special Teams component of the ‘Hawks nearly doomed them. An errant snap by Nolan Freese sailed far over Jon Ryan’s head for a safety, and a 9-yard bullet from Kaepernick to Garrett Celek in the end zone brought the 49ers to within two points of tying the game.
As is seemingly customary, the wonkiness of these games reared its ugly head, and in a highly unusual turn of events, Pete Carroll pulled most of the starters and put Trevone Boykin in with just over 5:00 to go, as Atlanta was steam rolling the Saints en route to locking up the #2 seed in the NFC. A couple of incomplete passes stopped many hearts in Candlestick Park and watching from afar, but Boykin easily moved out of the pocket under pressure and kept the drive alive with a pair of 1st down conversions to go into victory formation and close the nail biter out.
The defense, after giving up the two early rushing TDs, came alive, with Bobby Wagner and Frank Clark both notching fumble recoveries, while Clark and Ahtyba Rubin forced two. There were five sacks recorded against San Francisco, with Wagner having two by himself. Michael Bennett, K.J. Wright, and Frank Clark all tallied one apiece as well.
How about the offensive line? They gave up no sacks, for the first time in recent memory. Russell Wilson was 19/32 for 258 yards passing and the one TD, with no INTs. Wilson found six different receivers for gains of 15 yards or more, with Graham, Baldwin, and Jermaine Kearse all catching passes in excess of 30-yards. The running game struggled again, with Thomas Rawls and Alex Collins combining for 69 yards (on 15 attempts for a 4.6 ypc average). This was largely inflated by one long rush from Collins of 26 yards (which would drop the ypc to 3.01). When Wilson had time, he consistently made precise throws into coverage, and even though the final score was close, the Seahawks coaches trusted their defense to stop the 49ers progress before Boykin wound down the clock to victory formation. What’s awesome, is that they did.
Seattle now welcomes the Detroit Lions back to Century Link Field for a matchup on Saturday night in primetime. The Lions are 0-3 in their last five games, but snuck into the playoffs with a Redskins loss on Sunday. Quarterback Matthew Stafford is playing with a dislocated middle finger, but has still shown the prowess to throw some touchdowns. Golden Tate will return to Seattle as the team’s #1 wide receiver, with Calvin Johnson retiring at the end of last season. Most fans will remember the Monday Night Football thriller between both of these teams last season, where Kam Chancellor (in one of his first games post contract holdout) made a superhuman play at the goal line, punching the ball out of Johnson’s hands in the waning seconds of the game. K.J. Wright was the subject of much post game grief, as he unintentionally batted the loose ball out of the back of the end zone.
What’s changed this time is a more diverse passing attack, with Marvin Jones coming from the Cincinnati Bengals and being and outside speed threat. They have a progressing tight end in Eric Ebron, and the aforementioned Tate is finding ways to make spectacular catches all of the time. The running game in anchored by Zack Zenner, a former college standout ho rushed for 2,000+ yards in three of his four collegiate seasons. He represents as much of a receiving threat as he does running the ball. Where the advantage lies for the Seahawks is the Lions inability to mount any sort of pass rush. They will need the noise of the 12s, a consistent running game, and clean pockets all day long to win this game and set up a rematch of the 2012 divisional round versus the Atlanta Falcons.
After the came, Pete Carroll said that he felt: “We got done what we had to get done today. We got a win, got out of here (Candlestick Park) and we’re real proud of the statement of winning 10+ games five years in a row. I think that’s pretty darn good.” He also later said in his press conference (in response to a question about whether he had second thoughts about putting Russell Wilson back in after he pulled him with over 5:00 to play in the 4th quarter: “No. We were going to finish it the way we went in.” Carroll also praised Wilson for both of his 40+yard completions, remarking that: “I loved that Wilson saw Jimmy down there and threw the ball up to him to make a play. Doug’s catch was ridiculous, and it was fantastic for him to get the franchise record for receptions.” Indeed, Baldwin did tie the franchise record for receptions in a single season at 94, with Bobby Engram. He also posted back to back 1,000 yard receiving seasons for the first time in his career.
The game is on NBC, Saturday night at 8:15 P.M EST.