Penalties, two big red zone sequences and one run decided this game.
In the first half the Seahawks consistently extended 49er drives with a series of holding or P.I. calls. From what I saw, all were called fairly.
In the second half it was something much more avoidable.
San Francisco were rolling before Byron Maxwell’s interception, and it was a chance to regain momentum and swing things back in Seattle’s favour. It was never going to be easy driving from the 2-yard-line, but a time-consuming scoring possession at that stage could’ve been decisive.
Things started well. A favourable unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Donte Whitner gave the Seahawks some breathing room.
Marshawn Lynch broke off a big 20-yard run. Seattle had 1st and 10 at the San Francisco 42.
Michael Robinson got a handful of facemask. It was a fair call — the type we’d all call fair if it benefited the Seahawks.
Instead of 1st and 10 at the 49ers 42, it was 1st and 25 at the Seahawks 23.
It killed the drive and Seattle punted (after wasting a time out — more on that later). O’Brien Schofield then interfered with the returner. Another 15-yard penalty.
That sequence just about sums the night up. The Seahawks couldn’t get out of their own way.
Here’s an interesting stat. Seattle had 64-yards of total offense and lost 45-yards on penalties in the third quarter.
They ended the night with nine total penalties for 85-yards.
Stuff like that gets you beat.
Apart from the sea of yellow, two big redzone plays had a major impact — giving the Niners an eight-point swing.
RED ZONE PLAY #1
Vernon Davis’ touchdown before half time was avoidable and costly. Seattle appeared destined to restrict San Francisco to a fourth field goal, taking a 14-12 lead into the break. K.J. Wright left the game with a broken foot, leaving Bobby Wagner covering Davis. Wagner reacted slowly and didn’t get any help.
It was a sloppy redzone score. As good as Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree are — Davis is a killer redzone target and demanded more attention in that situation. It wasn’t a shock he was the intended target.
14-9 Seattle became 16-14 San Francisco. And it stayed that way until the fourth quarter.
RED ZONE PLAY #2
Clinton McDonald’s sack and the subsequent punt return from Golden Tate looked like a potentially game-defining moment in the fourth frame.
Seattle began to move the ball, edging closer to a crucial touchdown and moving into the redzone. A 21-16 Seahawks lead would’ve forced the Niners to go after a touchdown to win.
Instead they kicked a field goal. Settling for three instead of seven was big in hindsight and led to the second four point swing of the game.
(In fairness, Aldon Smith should’ve been called for a face mask on Zach Miller on the failed third down conversion)
It would’ve been really interesting to see the 49ers deal with a decent fourth quarter deficit. At home against Indianapolis and Carolina — they imploded and lost on both occasions.
When Seattle failed to punch it in you felt they’d need another drive to win. And so it proved.
This was a small margins game. In the two big redzone sequences that ultimately decided it, the 49ers won both situations.
TD Niners. Field Goal Seahawks. Eight points. Home team wins.
GORE BREAKS IT OPEN
San Francisco couldn’t run on the Seahawks. They had 3.5 YPC before one big, 51-yard effort by Frank Gore.
A play that put the Niners in position to win.
The blocking up front was perfect, but Earl Thomas took a bad angle on the tackle and struggled to catch Gore in the chase. Richard Sherman sprinted past Thomas (surprisingly) to make the play.
This was a heavyweight contest figuratively speaking. The Niners jabbed all night but landed the knockout blow in the last round when it mattered.
QUESTIONING THE TIME OUTS
The 51-yard run by Gore might’ve actually helped the Seahawks initially — it prevented a slow death via manageable field goal and gave them a chance to get the ball back with time on the clock. If they weren’t going to get an outright stop, a big play in that situation wasn’t totally back-breaking.
So it was a surprise to see all the time outs pretty much wasted.
The first was tossed away in the third quarter on 2nd and 25 (why?). The two remaining T/O’s were spent before the ‘and goal’ conversion. As soon as Colin Kaepernick converted on third down with a designed run, he basically iced the game. With the two minute warning stopping the clock anyway — the Seahawks were better served holding fire with their time outs.
It left just 26-seconds to try and get a game-winning score. It was never going to be enough. Even on the long throw Wilson attempted to Kearse (intercepted) it would’ve been nearly impossible to spike the ball with eight seconds left.
SO WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
Losing a second game might not be the worst thing for the Seahawks. Getting a bloody nose every now and again isn’t so bad. A 15-1 season was very likely with a win today — and how many of those do you see in the NFL?
The target switches to 14-2 — and that’d still be a franchise record. It’s also very achievable against the Giants (A), Cardinals (H) and Rams (H).
The big negative though is what this win will do for San Francisco. They might be hitting their stride at the right time. And they’ll believe they can beat Seattle in the playoffs — and they can.
Even at Century Link.
I truly believe the Seahawks can handle most NFC teams quite handsomely. The Saints, Panthers, Eagles, Lions. Against all of those teams I’d expect a big win.
It’d be a battle, just like this. Decided by small margins, just like this.
And I’ll say this now — make no mistake, Seattle’s biggest threat in the NFC is the team they played tonight. They are the annual dangerous Wild Card team everybody fears.
A win today would’ve put real doubt in the minds of that San Francisco team. The Seahawks could say they marched into Candlestick Park and took the NFC West title away from the defending Champs… right on their own doorstep. They could’ve pushed the Niners towards possible elimination.
In that sense, it’s a missed opportunity.