I turned to my son after Russell Wilson completed a 24-yard pass to D.K. Metcalf near midfield on the final drive and said, “What happens if they get it to the 1-yard line?!” What ultimately happened was beyond the limits of my imagination. Seattle did get the ball to the 1-yard line after John Ursua’s first NFL reception on 4th and 10. They then spiked the ball and stood around in the huddle until they were penalized for a delay of game. People in the stadium looked around at one another as if they suspected they were part of the largest prank show stunt in history. That did not really happen, right? Brutally, it did. There were other controversies to be sure, but this was something completely in the Seahawks control that they blundered and almost certainly was the difference between winning the NFC West and traveling Philadelphia next week having lost three of four.
Pete Carroll has been criticized for game management decisions all season, and over his tenure. There is an argument to be made this was the worst coaching fail of his career. Even the interception in the Super Bowl at least involved a play being called and run.
This undermanned, overmatched, Seahawks team fought and clawed their way back against a team with talent advantages at almost every position on the field. The coaching staff made adjustments after a failure of a first half, and had the 49ers on their heels. Seattle did not punt in the second half against the best defense in football.
All that, and they failed to even get out of the huddle. My focus goes to the head coach because all success and failure ultimately falls at his feet. He is responsible for everyone doing their job properly even if it is not his job to manage substitutions or call plays or execute them. That does not mean Carroll is the only one who deserves scrutiny here.
Brian Schottenheimer and his staff botched this terribly. Marshawn Lynch came onto the field about 20 seconds into the play clock and appeared to get caught halfway in-between as their was confusion about whether he was supposed to go in or not. Russell Wilson and the players share some of the blame for showing absolutely no urgency as the play clock wound down. You think Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, and the like would have waited calmly for the play clock to expire? They would have been screaming and waving guys to get on or off and to hurry up with the play call.
It was a collective failure that Carroll is responsible for avoiding. He will fall on the sword as he did in the Super Bowl, but all of us Seahawks fans are getting skewered by the blade. These are scars we need not have.
If that was not torture enough, there was clear defensive pass interference penalty on the following play that was neither called nor reviewed. It was egregious enough that former official Terry Mcauley said he was surprised they were not stopping the game to review it, and multiple national reporters were voicing disbelief. In a cruel bit of irony, the team that was unfairly bounced from the playoffs last year due to a blown DPI call that led to the new rule allowing those plays to be reviewed, once again was indirectly impacted by the blown call this year. Had Seattle won, the Saints would have had a bye week.
There is no doubt the 49er defender was grabbing Jacob Hollister to deny a completion. The NFL chose to allow that sort of play to stand. It is unfortunate, but I will always place responsibility back on the team for things that were under their control.
The final play also went to Hollister and he was just short of the goal line. They reviewed that and there was some belief the ball crossed the plane, but it was far from obvious and not surprisingly upheld.
Three straight agonizing failures against your most bitter rival with the division title on the line. It was a tough way to end the regular season for sure.
Somehow, though, I came away from the game encouraged. Many of you noticed I did not post a Morning After column last week. That was one of the few times in the past 13 years I have missed a game. It was a combination of enjoying a rare chance to sleep in while getting time off work, taking care of my kids while my wife was out of town, and just a general feeling that my time was better spent elsewhere because the Seahawks season seemed to end after that game.
The injuries at running back, the surgery for Duane Brown, the continued slide of the offense, made any additional victories out of reach. The idea of even competing with a team like the 49ers was absurd.
The Marshawn Lynch news was a huge shot in the arm, and gave us all something to look forward to even if the outcome seemed almost certainly negative. The first half did little to change that perspective as the offense was held under 100 yards and without a point, and the defense did not force a punt.
It was a little miraculous that Seattle was only down 13-0. A quick three-and-out for the 49ers out of halftime and then a 62-yard touchdown drive that had three Wilson scrambles, two sizable Lynch runs, and three 3rd down conversions, made a game of it.
It took the 49ers just five plays to respond with a touchdown of their own. Then, a 14 play response from the Seahawks, capped by a memorable Lynch dive for a touchdown, made it 19-14. San Francisco once again had little trouble marching down the field for a touchdown that appeared to be the dagger.
Down 26-14, with just under six minutes remaining in the game, a comeback felt like a very long shot. The last two Seattle touchdown drives took seven and eight minutes. After the 49ers kicker gifted Seattle the ball at the 40-yard line by kicking it out of bounds, the Seahawks scored a touchdown in just over two minutes.
The 49ers had punted just once all game. They ran for 3 yards on first down. Then they ran for another 3 yards to drain the clock or force Seattle to use timeouts. Thankfully, their center decided to play beyond the whistle and was flagged for a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty that both moved the team back and stopped the clock. A blown tackle by Tre Flowers nearly allowed San Francisco to convert a 3rd and 17, but Raheem Mostert was tackled a yard shy.
Seattle took over the ball at their own 27-yard line with 2:27 seconds to go and two timeouts. It was pretty shocking that the Seahawks were in position to win the game on the final drive.
Metcalf was the focal point of the drive and made some big plays. He finished with just a 50% catch rate (6 catches in 12 targets), but the 49ers had trouble with him all night. San Francisco was missing cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon in the first matchup between these teams, and I expected him to give Metcalf trouble in this game. Instead, Metcalf’s play forced Witherspoon to the bench as San Francisco brought in Emmanuel Moseley. Having at least one matchup Seattle can exploit is big deal for any future games between these teams.
The running game was better than expected. Travis Homer played a nice game. He ran hard and showed quickness in compiling nearly 100 total yards from scrimmage. Lynch did fine in his first game back. More importantly, the offensive line played much better than the week prior.
George Fant replaced Jamarco Jones at left tackle. Nick Bosa finished with 3 QB hits, but no sacks. Wilson was only sacked once. Some of that was due to his wizardry in the pocket.
It was clear he knew what the stakes were. He was much quicker to scramble and take a few yards and hits than he usually is early in games. This felt like his best performance in months. His numbers were more impressive in Carolina, but this defense is the best in the league, and Wilson gave them fits.
Seattle found their rhythm on offense not with deep throws, but with short and intermediate patterns that they have struggled with the past six weeks after teams started to take away the deep ball.
This team was a few soul-wrecking plays away from scoring 28 points in one half against the best defense in football. They finished 8-14 on 3rd down. That is something to build on.
The defense had less to feel good about. It continues to baffle me how this coaching staff stands behind Lano Hill instead of putting Marquise Blair on the field. Blair saw a few snaps and forced a fumble. Hill saw many snaps and his only positive play was drawing a personal foul penalty. The coaches clearly feel Hill is more sound in his assignments, leaving the defense less vulnerable. I see a guy who is not close to making a positive impact in the game playing in front of a guy who has made a positive impact in every game he has played.
Blair very well might make some terrible coverage mistakes, but I fail to see how that is worse than Hill being so slow and late that he is not making any plays at all. Thankfully, it sounds like Quandre Diggs is due back next week. The defense is different with him out there.
The pass rush started off well with a couple of sacks and a decent amount of pressure, but it evaporated thereafter. Jadeveon Clowney played and was not all that effective. Seattle did not force a turnover. Mychal Kendricks was lost after being burned for a deep pass, but I’m not sure how much of a loss that really is.
Special teams deserves a shout for playing one of their most solid games of the year. Punting and punt coverage was excellent. David Moore had a nice punt return as well.
Seattle lost a tough one to a very good team. The question becomes whether they can take the progress shown in this game forward into the playoffs against an Eagles team that is not close to San Francisco in terms of talent. Duane Brown is at least one more week away. Al Woods is two games away. Should the Seahawks get past the Eagles, they would likely travel to Santa Clara to play the 49ers a third time. Both teams have to feel good about their ability to win what would be the rubber match.
It all starts with a win next week. Wilson has never lost three games in a row. We see how far he can take this team, starting in six days.