The Morning After: Seahawks Drink 49er Tears in Delicious 30-23 Victory
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They smelled blood. Enlivened by the glow of a three-game winning streak, they crawled out of their holes and blew the dust off their “Faithful” jerseys. Drawn by the whimpers of a weakened and seemingly helpless Seahawks team, they marched on Lumen Field with visions of riotous carnage. Nothing would taste sweeter than vaulting higher into playoff contention while placing their daggers in the heart of a Seattle team already on life support. Thousands showed up at the Seahawks home with the unearned arrogance of a fanbase that acts as if their glory days during the age of hair bands and parachute pants matter more than finishing 3rd or 4th place in their division 15 of the previous 23 seasons. They draped banners over our stadium walls, and chanted while walking through security. They patted each other on the back as they found more of their own, and smiled as if they knew sweet victory was inevitable.
As I settled into my seats, I found the entire row behind me filled with red jerseys. More red jerseys to my left. More to my right. The Seahawks first possession was met with unending chants of “DE-FENSE” with drunken stumbling knees into my back. Silenced momentarily by a shocking Travis Homer fake punt for touchdown and a three and out forced by the Seahawks defense, the horde reawakened after the first of three Gerald Everett turnovers and the ensuing San Francisco touchdown to an uncovered George Kittle.
Shane Waldron fed them red meat with a bizarre series of weak screen passes that led to another 3 and out, and then Bobby Wagner did what so many before him have done and made Jimmy Garoppolo look like an idiot while accepting a perfect pass into his belly for an interception.
Tie score. First down at the 49ers 28-yard line. Maybe this might be a good day after all. A holding penalty on 1st down moved the Seahawks back 10 yards. Still 1st down and now Russell Wilson takes another unnecessary sack as the 49ers defensive line overwhelmed the Seahawks offensive line, and this time Wilson fumbles all the way back to their own 39-yard line. It is now 2nd and 43. The offense has managed to reach a new level of ineptitude by moving 33 yards backwards in two plays after starting inside their opponents 30-yard line. How anyone on this defense could still sacrifice their bodies to fight on the same field as this offense was beyond my comprehension.
Niners fans danced and jeered as the possession ended in yet another missed kick from Jason Myers and then turned into another touchdown aided by the offense once again gifting San Francisco prime field position.
The game was headed toward an early TKO as Seattle answered the 49ers touchdown with another drive resulting in negative yards as they were sacked again and took a false start penalty. The Seahawks first six first down plays were:
-1 yard loss on screen to DK Metcalf
-5 yard run with Adrian Peterson
8 yard pass to Tyler Lockett
-10 yards on holding penalty
-23 yards on strip sack
-9 yards on sack
The Seahawks defense that had stood so strong for so many weeks had every reason to drop their guard. It looked like that might happen as they allowed the 49ers to rush pretty easily for the go-ahead touchdown and now they were driving again.
But it was the 49ers turn to botch a 1st and 10 on their opponents 28-yard line. First, a holding penalty. Then an incomplete pass. Then a false start. Then two short passes to setup a long 50-yard field goal that their kicker managed to make. Still, 17-7 felt meaningfully different than 21-7.
None of it would have mattered if the Seahawks offense had not come to life. And that, they did. The special teams, once again, sparked the team with a 33-yard kickoff return from DeeJay Dallas. The offense did the unthinkable and gained yards on a first down via a pass to Freddie Swain. They went no huddle and completed a second pass to Metcalf for 12 yards and a first down. The Seahawks fans in attendance reacted somewhere between a bronx cheer and stunned applause as they looked around at each other to verify the offense actually made two consecutive positive plays.
The PA announcer came on to say, “And that’s ANOTHER Seahawks FIRST! DOWN!” My dude, that was their only first down to that point in the game. The Seahawks offense did not get a first down until just over 9 minutes remained in the second quarter.
Emboldened by the smallest momentary absence of disaster, Waldron made the bizarre decision to call a double pass. The Seattle offensive line had barely blocked anyone on a pass or run play to that point in the game, but sure, let’s call a slow developing play with lots of risk. Both passers faced pass pressure on the play and the intended target was double covered downfield. Just to complete the Waldron experience, Lockett was injured on the play.
What followed was one of the more underrated moments of the game. Facing a 3rd and 3 at the 49ers 37-yard line, the Seahawks chose to hand the ball to Adrian Peterson, who bulled ahead for four yards and the Seahawks second 1st down of the game.
Seattle returned to no huddle and gained a total of 1 yard on the next two plays. On a critical 3rd and 9, Wilson lost track of the play clock and Pete Carroll had to call a timeout to avoid a delay of game. Undeterred, Wilson got his delay of game coming out of the timeout anyway. Clearly, Wilson was showing Carroll who is boss.
That setup the next pivotal moment in the game. Wilson took the 3rd and 14 snap from the 37-yard line, likely out of field goal range, looked off the safety beautifully and delivered a strike to Metcalf for 33 yards down the right sideline. That one play gained more yards than all previous offensive plays had to that point.
Two plays later, Peterson scored his first touchdown as a Seahawk. It was just the second Seahawks first half touchdown in the past four games.
The Seahawks defense could not do their part to keep the game close, allowing the 49ers their only long scoring drive of the game as they went 75 yards for a touchdown, capped by a toe-tapping balancing act from George Kittle along the sideline for 48 yards.
Niners fans were losing their minds with glee. All their dreams were coming true. The chances that a Seahawks team so broken on offense and now starting to hemorrhage on defense could recover from a nearly 10-point deficit late in the first half felt slim. Their win probability at that point was 80%, per ESPN calculations.
Not today. Not this team. Not this quarterback. Not this coach. Not this defense.
The climb back began with another strong kickoff return from Dallas out to the 35-yard line. Wilson then snapped into his two-minute drill self. Stubborn, slow-developing pass plays were replaced with quick, short, passes for 5 yards, then 9 yards, then 2 more that included an extra 15 for a roughing the passer call. Seattle moved from their 35-yard line to the San Francisco 34-yard line in just 30 seconds.
A key 3rd and 2 was converted with an 11-yard pass to rookie Dee Eskridge, who almost made a crucial mistake dodging a defender toward the middle of the field before recovering and getting out of bounds. Good thing for him as the drive ended with Eskridge getting his first NFL touchdown and the Seahawks narrowing the score to 23-21 going into halftime.
San Francisco fans were noticeably rattled by the drive. Their endless chest-pounding boasts had turned into more nervous admissions of, “Well, we’ve got ourselves a game.”
Little did they know their team had scored their last point.
Special teams set the tone to start the second half as they had done to start the game and throughout the first half. A crushing hit from captain Nick Bellore forced a fumble on the opening kickoff that Homer recovered.
The Seahawks offense quickly moved down to the 49ers 5-yard line and faced a 3rd and 4. Wilson made a perfect pass into the chest of Everett who inexplicably took his eyes off the ball, bobbled it, reached to grab it and bobbled it again, before finally kicking it into the air high enough to allow a 49er to pick it off. Disaster.
It was like having an old mustang in the garage that you’ve been trying to repair for weeks, hearing the engine purr and speed down the driveway, only to sputter and stall just before you reach the open road. The offense just could not keep the engine running.
The only thing more difficult to find in a Seahawks game this season than a competent offense is a pass rush, especially one led by Carlos Dunlap. But there it was three plays later as Dunlap made a mockery of the 49ers right tackle as he ran right through and over him for sack and safety.
Thanks to an earlier missed point by Robbie Gould, the game was now tied, and the offense was getting yet another chance to take control of the game.
The engine started again, as big passes to Lockett (16 yards) and Eskridge (17 yards) helped move the Seahawks down to the San Francisco 31-yard line. On 2nd and 7, Metcalf absolutely smoked his defender on the left sideline and was open by a few yards. Wilson saw him and had the time to make a good throw. This is a money in the bank moment for Wilson. The bigger question would be if Metcalf could hold onto it. Instead, Wilson sailed the pass far out of bounds. That is a throw he makes 95 out of 100 times in previous seasons.
That proved to be larger mistake than expected as he was then sacked on 3rd down and knocked out of field goal range. The defense and special teams had provided two turnovers and a safety to that point in the game, and the Seahawks offense had scored exactly zero points on the drives that followed.
Not to worry. Michael Dickson provided yet another brilliant kick that pinned the 49ers inside their 10-yard line, and the defense came through again as Quandre Diggs picked off Garoppolo, returning it to the magical 28-yard line that had previously flummoxed both the Seahawks and the 49ers.
Seattle finally broke through on arguably the prettiest play of the game. Needing six yards on 3rd down from the 49er 12-yard line, Wilson floated a pass to the back corner of the end zone. Lockett still had his head down and had his back to his quarterback when the ball was released. He then looked up and somehow located the ball coming over his head and made a gorgeous over-the-shoulder catch to finally put the Seahawks back on top.
The defense had held the 49ers to a safety on 3 plays, and an interception on 4 plays to that point in the second half. What would they do now that they finally had the lead? A more typical Seahawks game script would be that the defense had their down moment immediately following the offense doing something right.
Not today. Not with Diggs on this team.
San Francisco came out determined to impose their will after getting away from the run. They gained 5 yards on first down, and then ran again on second down on a play that looked like it was destined to result in a first down. Diggs had other plans. Flying down from his safety position, he absolutely crushed running back Elijah Mitchell one yard short of the sticks.
The 49ers tried to power it home on 3rd and 1 only to have Darrell Taylor annihiliate Mitchell for no gain and an apparent fumble that Diggs recovered. Review overturned the fumble, setting up a 4th and 1.
Kyle Shanahan, sensing the game was getting away from them, made the decision to go for it from their own 39-yard line. The 49ers ran the ball and were denied yet again. This time losing 2 or 3 yards. Seattle was about to get the ball on the San Francisco 36-yard line, but a flag was thrown as the tackle was being made.
A flag thrown at that time usually would indicate a facemask or some live action penalty. Inexplicably, it was a pre-snap penalty for illegal snap against the 49ers. The late flag allowed the 49ers to punt the ball and cost the Seahawks roughly 40 yards of field position. But the point had been made. This Seahawks defense was not budging.
Niner fans were now noisy in a different way. Their obnoxious cheers were now tinged with anger and nerves. Was their team really going to lose to the 3-8 Seahawks? They had traveled all this way and paid a chunk of change because this was a guaranteed victory. Why else would you show up to watch your team play? No fanbase is more faithful to a winning team than the 49er fans. They retreat back to their holes during losses. But there was nowhere to bury their heads here. They were exposed, and fight or flight was kicking in.
The teams traded two short and empty drives to setup the final showdown.
Seattle had the ball and the lead with 10 minutes and 56 seconds left in the game. The drive started at their 27-yard line. Two modest plays left the Seahawks with a 3rd and 4 at their own 33-yard line. A short pass to Everett was not enough for the first down, but the 49ers once again roughed Wilson to give Seattle a key first down. Now at the fifty, Seattle came out in a super heavy formation with nearly everyone on the line, and handed it off to Rashaad Penny for a 10-yard run that nearly broke into a bigger gain. Was Waldron about to let this offense impose its will and steal the soul of their opponent?
No. They came out in the same formation and ran play action for an incomplete pass. It would have been nice to see if the 49ers could have stopped the Seahawks running from that formation at least once more. But then another rarity was sighted. Seattle ran a decently constructed inside screen to Penny, who cleverly cut in and away from defenders into open space for a 27-yard gain. As good as the play was, it was not Penny’s best of the day. His blitz pickup earlier in the game was a thing of beauty and courage.
At the 13-yard line, Penny curiously was removed and Seattle handed the ball to Peterson twice. A short pass to Homer left the Seahawks with a 4th and 1 at the 49ers 4-yard line. A field goal would put the Seahawks up by two scores, but with over 6 minutes remaining, this felt like a chance to end the game. Carroll went for it. Homer made yet another big play, bulling his way for the first down all the way to the 1-yard line.
Just run the ball straight at them three times. Don’t get cute. Don’t run outside. Just get the one yard. Nope. They did it once on first down for no gain. Then an outside run for a loss and then a truly terrible play call for a shovel pass in the midst of all sorts of interior traffic. Everett caught the ball, but this time he fumbled. It would be his second turnover at the end zone and third of the game.
He should have held onto the ball, but his offensive coordinator should have never put him in that situation.
The 49ers, down by just one score, had the ball at their own 2-yard line with just over 4 minutes left in the game. They gained 29 yards on first down to Kittle, and then 11 more to Mitchell. By the time the two minute warning rolled around, San Francisco was sitting pretty with a 1st and 10 at the Seahawks 30-yard line.
A few plays later they were all the way down to the Seahawks 7-yard line, first and goal. Just 38 seconds remained.
The final series started with a first down run for 3 yards. 32 seconds to go. They again tested the Seattle run defense on second down, but could only muster a single yard. 27 seconds to go. A pass to the back of the end zone fell incomplete as Sidney Jones closely defended the receiver. 22 seconds left. One more play. Garoppolo dropped back, looked for his favorite target and stepped into a throw. The ball hit a hand, but not of his receiver. Dunlap once again made a big play as he batted the ball into the air and both teams watched as it fell to the earth.
The only thing lower than that ball were the gazes of humiliated 49ers faithful. Their shoulders slumped. Their faces were longer than an explanation of why Jimmy Garoppolo is a good quarterback. For the 16th time in the last 18 meetings between these two teams, the Seahawks came out victorious.
The worst Seahawks team in over a decade, had -40 yards on their first six first down plays, did not get a first down until 9 minutes remained in the second quarter, had two turnovers on the 1-yard line, were behind 17-7 and 23-14, had to play Adrian Peterson at running back, lost Jamal Adams and two members of their offensive line to injury, still beat a 49ers team that had won three straight coming in. Love to see it.
Fans streamed out of Lumen Field and started piling up at the light rail station. Trains normally show up in a few minutes. It took nearly a half-hour this time. More and more fans filled the station. It was the most packed I had ever seen it. The scene reminded me of what it was like leaving MetLife Stadium after the Seahawks won their first Super Bowl and were packing all forms of transportation to try and beat a blizzard to get home. Chants of “SEA! HAWKS!” broke out. Those have felt misplaced and annoying most of this year. Not today.
As I watched the faces of sullen 49er fans stuck in a crowd of Seahawks fans chanting their team name while waiting to pile into an uncomfortably packed train ride and probably a longer ride home, I smiled. It was a smile of satisfaction that was absent to this point of this lost Seahawks season, and one that could only have come from beating this team. No other game the rest of the year could feel this good to win.
There may be turbulence behind us and turbulence in front of us, but not today. We settled into the eye of the storm, and to some extent, prolonged a Seahawks hurricane that has caused massive destruction to our chief rival in the Bay. Back to your holes, Niner faithful. We would be fine to never see you again, but if you choose to come back to our house, expect more pain and suffering. Even at our lowest, we are far above you.