Seattle is going to the Super Bowl.
And they managed it with a second half display that won’t get enough credit.
That’s your score in second half.
And that’s with the Seahawks scoring zero points in the red zone following the Cliff Avril strip sack.
The first half was a combination of mistakes and missed opportunities.
The second was a tour de force. A truly ‘super’ performance.
More on that in a moment, but let’s start with how this game began — in the most frustrating manner imaginable.
Russell Wilson’s fumble on the first offensive snap turned into a San Francisco field goal.
Richard Sherman’s ill-judged hold extended one drive that eventually led to a 49ers touchdown. Shortly after the penalty, a huge scramble by Colin Kaepernick could’ve been stopped but for several missed tackles.
Seattle failed to recover a muffed punt and couldn’t turn a big downfield pass to Doug Baldwin into seven points.
At the half it kind of felt like the 49ers were dominating.
But they weren’t.
Their entire offense was based around Kaepernick running. Frank Gore was shut down. They weren’t throwing the ball.
Seattle got no breaks and gave up some serious point swings.
San Francisco failed to convert a single third down in the first half.
It was 10-3, felt depressing and yet the opportunity was there to win quite comfortably.
The first thing they had to do was put a lid on Kaepernick’s runs.
Some of them were well designed, if not particularly complex. They’d line up with a runner and then have him motion to an empty backfield. It forced a Seattle linebacker wide to cover and took a body out of the middle.
That was just too easy for Kaepernick, who could afford to let the edge rush develop and then sprint straight ahead on the draw.
On other occasions they faked a bootleg and just had him keep it with no intention of throwing.
The problem is, you can’t keep doing that against a good defense and staff. They’ll find a way to take away a wrinkle. This isn’t the Green Bay defense on the road, happily being gashed against the read option without any answer. The Seahawks had plenty of time to counter and make the necessary adjustments.
In the second half they limited the running lanes, did a better job tackling and forced the Niners to open up the playbook.
San Francisco had to run the ball with Frank Gore (who ended with 14 yards and 1.3 YPA) and have the quarterback throw (two picks, one fumble).
As soon as that was the case, the Seahawks had the advantage.
I like Kaepernick. He’s a fantastic athlete — perhaps the best in the league. That snaking run to set up the first touchdown, the throw to Boldin for another score, the ability to avoid pressure and extend plays. How many other quarterbacks are capable of running for 130 yards against this defensive unit?
But he consistently gives you a chance.
In Green Bay he almost coughed up a pick six on the game winning drive. In Carolina, they had a handful of missed opportunities.
As the second half progressed, and as it became obvious he would have to attempt a few forward passes, it was a matter of waiting for the errors.
For all the hand-wringing about Russell Wilson over the last few weeks, he didn’t throw an interception and his only turnover was the fumble on the first offensive play of the game.
That was a significant difference between the teams.
This was always going to come down to forcing turnovers and making big plays.
The Seahawks won both battles.
Some other brief thoughts tonight…
- Lynch’s big touchdown run to start the second half was a momentum changer and electrified the crowd. On a night when Gore was a complete non-factor, Lynch found a way to have an impact.
- Russell Wilson was really good today. He converted third downs. He did his best to scramble around against a pass rush that flat out dominated at the line of scrimmage. He made the big plays that were lacking in previous weeks.
- If you’re looking for a MVP on offense, Doug Baldwin is your man. Six catches for 106 yards, a 69-yard kick return and clutch plays galore — Baldwin was the playmaker this team had to have at receiver in order to win.
- It kind of makes you wonder — who is more important to this team? Baldwin or Golden Tate? Because both guys will be free agents over the next 12 months. And I’m not sure you can pay both plus Percy Harvin. That’s a debate for another time.
- Avril and Michael Bennett both recorded sacks and once again proved their worth. If the Harvin trade has been a disappointment so far, the other two major off-season additions have been a roaring success.
- Kam Chancellor led the charge in the second half with some thunderous hitting and a key interception. What a night he had, his best for the Seahawks in my opinion.
- Malcolm Smith has three interceptions in his last four games. Talk about making a name for yourself.
- The run blocking gradually improved during the game, but pass protection was as bad as it’s been in many weeks. Aldon Smith had success against Russell Okung, the interior line struggled most of the night too. Wilson was constantly running for his life and deserves some leeway for the decisions he made on some of those scrambles. But we have to remember — the 49ers have an elite front seven.
- A lot of people are talking about the Richard Sherman post-game interview to Erin Andrews. I’m not sure what all the fuss is about.
- The injury to Navarro Bowman was sickening, especially given the truly horrific call by the refs to rule a fumble recovery by Seattle instead of an interception. Let’s hope he makes a full recovery.
So it’s onto New York for a meeting with the Broncos.
It’s strange that amid all the euphoria tonight, the reality is Seattle hasn’t really won anything yet.
This incredible story that began in 2010 and really took off when Russell Wilson became starting quarterback as a rookie will include a Super Bowl chapter.
The question is — will there be a happy ending?