Move over, San Francisco — there's a new Sheriff in town, and it resides about 850 miles to the north and drinks one heck of a lot of coffee.
Fueled by yet another punishing ground game by Marshawn Lynch (21 carries, 81 yards, 1 TD), the wizardry of escape artist Russell Wilson and a swarming, lock-down defensive effort, the Seattle Seahawks defeated the San Francisco 49ers 17-7 on Sunday, sweeping their two-game series and leaving no doubt as to which team has the upper hand in their intense rivalry.
“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish," said wide receiver Doug Baldwin, who had three receptions for 53 yards. "That’s our mentality. That’s how we always approach each game. And that’s how we approach the season."
The Seahawks Take a First Quarter Lead
After initially being stymied on offense, Seattle put together a nine play, 62-yard drive near the end of the first quarter to take the early lead.
Two key penalties on safety Eric Reid set the tone for the drive. The first was a quick pass to Baldwin down the left sideline, who scampered for eight yards before being knocked out of bounds. In a controversial decision, the refs ruled that Reid committed a personal foul, tacking on an additional 15 yards. The second was a flat pass to rookie wide receiver Paul Richardson, who drew a 15-yard penalty on Reid for a hit on a defenseless receiver. “From the time I played peewee, my coach told me to hit him as hard as I can," explained Reid. "That’s what I try to do.”
The drive stalled at the San Francisco 19, and kicker Steven Hauschka then split the uprights from 38 yards out for the 3-0 lead.
The 49ers Respond with a Touchdown
Although Seattle's defense thoroughly shut down the 49ers in their first encounter, San Francisco was able to run the ball effectively in the first half of the rematch. Rushing for 41 yards on their next drive, the 49ers capitalized on a Frank Gore rumble through the defense on 4th and one from the Seattle 10 for the touchdown, putting San Francisco on top 7-3.
The half ended with the same score, but not before the Seahawks eschewed a field goal with eight seconds remaining and saw Russell Wilson's errant pass down the middle intercepted by Reid, who nearly ran it back the entire length of the field as time expired before being tackled at the Seattle 24. “We were trying take a shot into the end zone there," explained Wilson. "I just kind of threw it high. I kind of mis-aimed there. I was trying to get it to Doug. I just threw it a little high. The guys made a great effort of stopping Reid there, in terms of tackling him."
Seattle Owns the Third Quarter
Starting the second half, the 49ers had run up 168 yards on Seattle's vaunted defense, four more yards than their entire output on Thanksgiving at Levi's Stadium. However, as is typical of a Pete Carroll team, the Seahawks made significant adjustments at halftime, leading to substantial differences on the field.
The 49ers managed a paltry four yards of total offense in the third quarter, while Seattle ran up 104. "We adjusted well, to give us the chances to play better," said Carroll. "They did some nice things against us, and the coaches did a really good job to convey the message of what they had done and in the second half the stuff didn’t work.”
The lone score of the period was a 4-yard run by Lynch, who literally walked into the end zone. After three quarters, Seattle was on top 10-7.
The Seahawks Put the Game Away
A second controversial whistle gave the Seahawks a second chance, and they capitalized on it to put the game away early in the quarter.
On third-and-five from the San Francisco 15, linebacker Nick Moody was called for roughing the passer with a helmet-led hit on Wilson. Two plays later, Wilson connected with Richardson for a ten yard touchdown pass, the first of Richardson's career.
“I think it was a bad call," said 49ers safety Antoine Bethea. "It’s so up and down with those types of calls—one week you see something, another week you see another. They made the call and you got to play. It was a tough call, crucial moment, on third down, and that was a tough call.”
Although the 49ers moved the ball more effectively in the fourth quarter (61 total yards), they were unable to recover from the early 17-7 deficit. When the final horn sounded, had not only lost the game, but been eliminated from playoff contention.
Wilson finished 12/24 for 168 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception. Kaepernick, in by far his best game against the Seahawks in Seattle, ended the game 11/19 for 141 yards. Seattle outgained San Francisco 290-245.
“Well, it was a really good win against a tough opponent," said Seahawks coach Pete Carroll. "The Niners came out really going for it. They did a great job planning. They did a lot of new stuff and some things that challenged us on defense today, early in the game. Fortunately, our guys settled down and figured some stuff out and did a really good job of adjusting, and just really didn’t give up anything in the second half. I think we gave up 60 yards in the second half, or something like that. A great turnaround from the first half to the second half."
Niners coach Jim Harbaugh was understandably dejected, but remained positive. "I thought that we competed really well," he said. "I thought that we had some really good drives even with some poor field position. We had a very good defense, they played extremely well today. Protection was an issue."
With the 49ers now officially out of the playoffs, speculation will continue to swirl regarding the fate of Harbaugh as 49ers head coach for next season. Regardless, San Francisco heads back home to play the 8-6 San Diego Chargers next week. Seattle travels to the desert for a huge Sunday night battle against the division-leading Arizona Cardinals.