The Morning After: Seahawks End 49ers Season, Win 17-7

Logo by Kevin Gamache, Hammerhead 

There was a point late in yesterdays game against the 49ers where the scoreboard incorrectly stated that San Francisco was facing 3rd and 73. In error, the scoreboard operator aptly captured the feeling opposing offenses have had when lining up against this Seahawks defense that past month. This was a determined and physical 49er team whose play defied the narrative of a fractured relationship with their coach. Russell Okung was coughing up blood. San Francisco running backs could not stay on the field. There were echoes of the steel versus steel rivalry that has made these games so compelling, but in the end, the reality was that Seattle’s worst game in four weeks was still plenty to beat a weakened 49er crew.

Blown call costs 49ers the game

That is the headline for Bay Area fans after a controversial roughing the passer call gave the Seahawks a chance to turn a field goal into a touchdown (which they did). There are already articles up with quotes from the head of NFL officiating, Dean Blandino, stating that it was the incorrect call. I agreed as the call was made.

Forget that Seattle has a vault of enough costly and incorrect calls this season to fill Elliot Bay. Forget that the Seahawks have not been able to draw crucial penalties on opponents at critical junctures like the pass interference in Kansas City. And forget that had a correct call been made on that play yesterday, it would have simply changed the amount of Seattle’s lead, not which team was in the lead.

The part that is worth remembering is what losing sounds like. It becomes someone else’s fault. Blame is the salve for a wound that only winning truly heals. It is a dark and empty place, and the Seahawks ushered the 49ers and their fans into that padded room twice this year. This last trip may be an extended stay as that organization will be more soap opera than football franchise for the foreseeable future. Their relevance reduced to tabloid gossip and quarterback controversy.

It was a bad call. But if 49ers fans want to really identify the decisions that cost them a win yesterday, they will need to start with their own front office.

Impressive effort

I was among those that expected the 49ers to roll over in this game. They had little to play for from a football perspective. Pride only takes you so far when preserving health and future prosperity are opposing it. We have seen teams quit before. The 2009 Seahawks did it to Jim Mora Jr. The 2012 Cardinals did it to Ken Whisenhunt. It felt like the 2014 49ers were going to do it to Jim Harbaugh. But they did not.
They came in with a third-string center and a backup right tackle and beat the Seahawks physically in the first half. They employed a winning formula that the Seahawks know well with tough running and stingy defense. San Francisco deserved to be ahead at the half.
Far be it from me to come to the defense of Jim Harbaugh, but this game made it all that much more difficult to understand why an owner would choose to jettison him so he could keep a general manager. Most Seahawks fans will be happy to see him go because the expectation is that the 49ers will be easier to beat without him. But there is little doubt that part of the formula for the Seahawks ascension to being the best team in football required a foe as fierce as Harbaugh’s 49ers. 
The 2005 Seahawks played in one of the worst divisions in NFL history. It was a cakewalk. This era has been defined by playing in the toughest division in football, with San Francisco owning top dog status early on. Seattle fears no team because they have proven to themselves they are tougher than the toughest kid on the playground. The 49ers are a shadow of themselves right now, but they played with a warrior’s spirit all the same. There is pride in that. 

Let’s go Buffalo!

This game took on added meaning when the Buffalo Bills shocked the Green Bay Packers in an early game. The loss means that the Seahawks largely control their own destiny for the top seed in the NFC and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. 
Seattle owns the tiebreaker over the Packers, so if both teams won their remaining two games, the Seahawks would take the top spot. In fact, the only way the Seahawks would not get the top spot by winning their final two games is if the Cowboys are the only other team with a 12-4 record. Seattle wins all tie-breakers in three-team tie scenarios.
Green Bay and Dallas can be 12-4, and the Seahawks get the top spot if they win out. Arizona can be 12-4 and Seattle would get the top spot. Detroit and Dallas can be 12-4, and the Seahawks win that tiebreaker. 
Be sure to thank the next Bills fan you see.

Offensive line island

I live in a lonely place. It is an island of people who are proud of the offensive line play for the Seahawks. The most common diatribe from Seahawks fans is either Darrell Bevell’s play calling or the offensive line being terrible. 
I saw the same game everyone else did yesterday. I know there were five sacks for the 49ers. I have published articles chastising Tom Cable for eschewing pass protection for run blocking in his lineman. But this offensive line was built so that it could push around the best defenses in football, and they did that again yesterday.
Five teams have rushed for over 100 yards against the 49ers this year. Four teams have rushed for over 120 yards. Three teams have eclipsed 130 rushing yards. Only one team has rushed for over 150 yards against the 49ers this season. That would be your Seattle Seahawks. And, by the way, they did it twice.
Not only that, but they did most of their damage yesterday after they lost their starting left tackle in the first half and were still playing with a backup center. People often retort when I defend the line that they are not talking about the run blocking, they are talking about the pass blocking and the penalties. The penalties are indefensible. The criticism is just.
The pass protection is a little below league-average, and it overblown as a flaw. The percentage of sacks Seattle takes that are directly due to Russell Wilson are far higher than most fans want to admit. His high-wire act makes him one of the most exciting players to watch and difficult players to defend, but it also puts incredible strain on the line and leads to sacks that most winning quarterbacks would never take.
At least two sacks from yesterday’s total were due to Wilson’s conscious (and correct) decision to keep the clock moving instead of throwing the ball away and allowing San Francisco to preserve timeouts. Those were the only two sacks Seattle yielded in the second half. 
Nobody is saying the Seahawks line is perfect, but their play in that half was every bit as important to the outcome of that game as the Seahawks defense. They imposed their will on a team playing with passion and strength. A little more appreciation and a little less scorn would be nice to see. There is room on my island for all of you.

Super Bowl walkthrough part deux?

Seattle traveled to New York (technically New Jersey) last year for a game against the Giants late in the season. They would return their a few weeks later to hoist their first Lombardi trophy. The setup is similar this year as they now go to Glendale with the chances of a return trip for the Super Bowl becoming more likely each week. 
This game will not be like the Giants contest last year. The Cardinals still have the best record in the NFC. They have the toughest defense the Seahawks have played all year. Nothing will be easy, even if Ryan Lindley is the quarterback. It is as it should be.
There is a toll that is taken when a team plays this many consecutive games against physically taxing teams. As well as the Seahawks have been playing, they must find the will to sustain it for two more weeks in order to earn a well deserved bye week. This game will not be an all-or-nothing affair. The Seahawks have proven they go anywhere and beat anyone. It will simply help to choose the path they will travel.

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