It wasn’t always pretty — in fact a good portion of the game was hideous — but the 49ers didn’t lose points for poor style in their 19-17 victory over the Seattle Seahawks. While the division title was out of reach before the game was even played, the 49ers needed to not only gain ground in the Wild Card race, but defend home turf on what has become the fiercest rivalry in the NFL.
“We felt like it was a statement game,” Donte Whitner said. “We felt like it wasn’t just an ordinary game … because it’s not. That’s our rival, they’re on top of the division, we feel like this is our division, we felt like we needed to make a statement today and we did.”
These two teams are evenly matched (regardless of what the last two scores in Seattle indicate), so even with the 49ers’ mailed-in homefield advantage, Seattle kept it close. San Francisco had a chance to take a big lead early, but a 10-play 56-yard drive and a Kassim Osgood-blocked punt deep in Seattle territory only resulted in field goals. The former was called on a 4th & 1 inside the 10 yard line, which speaks volumes about Jim Harbaugh’s confidence in this offense.
Colin Kaepernick was, for most of the game, what we’ve come to expect him to be this season: a game manager. He finished 15-of-29 for 175 yards, a touchdown and a pick — worse than his northwestern counterpart (15-of-25 for 199, 1 TD & 1 INT), but not by much. He stayed clean for most of the game, thanks in part to a patchwork offensive line that continues to impress sans Mike Iupati.
The quarterback’s only blemish was a big one: Michael Crabtree had a step on Byron Maxwell, but Kaepernick underthrew the ball right into the corner’s waiting hands.
So this is the offense we’ve come to expect from the 49ers, and while beating the (now) 11-2 Seahawks is indeed a statement, this team still has some kinks to work out. The offense still operates like a stick-shift driven by a novice, accelerating at random moments before skidding to a halt a bit too early. The ground game is dreadful, and they can’t seem to maintain separation with any playoff-quality opponent. Credit where it’s due for the 49ers producing offensively against one of the league’s best defenses, but like it or not, this is a team the 49ers will have to get through if they have aspirations of making it to the Super Bowl.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a man confident that Kaepernick could march the length of the field down 17-16 in the final minutes. Luckily Frank Gore did the heavy lifting, breaking off a 51-yard run in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter. I was field level when the frustrated running back got past Earl Thomas and found some daylight — the crowd’s eruption seemed to echo what Gore had to be feeling.
“The O-line did a great job,” Gore said. “I kind of knew [Thomas] was going to overrun it, so I kind of shed him outside and cut it back in.”
And all involved — from Gore to Jim Harbaugh, Kaepernick and Vernon Davis — all of them gave credit to the offensive line. But that run was all Gore. Sure, the blocking was executed well, but that’s the kind of blocking the 49ers are supposed to be known for. It’s the kind of blocking Gore hasn’t gotten this season, and maybe that explains why the jump from Gore was something we haven’t seen in quite some time.
With clock and Seattle timeouts to drain, San Francisco faced another tough 3rd & 7. This time it was Kaepernick, who ran an end-around to pick up eight and keep the offensive drive alive. From there it was trusty Phil Dawson, nailing his fourth field goal of the day, to take the lead before Eric Wright sealed the game with a pick.
— The effort from San Francisco’s defense cannot be overstated, and yet the standard we’ve come to expect from them is so high. It’s still pretty disappointing to see the 49ers give up a rushing touchdown like Marshawn Lynch’s today, and somehow, allowing 17 points to the Seahawks is considered “caving.”
In truth, the squad held down a pretty potent offense. Lynch only gained 72 yards to go with his score and Wilson couldn’t crack 200 yards for the first time in six weeks.
— NaVorro Bowman led the way nine tackles and a sack. Bowman shining while Patrick Willis goes unnoticed is becoming something of a trend and I’m beginning to wonder just how healthy Willis actually is. He got smoked on Wilson’s 39-yard touchdown pass to Luke Wilson (no relation to Russell, or Owen … no, not the Old School guy), and actually let the rookie tight end lead the team in receiving yards when all was said and done.
— “G-Ro (Greg Roman) kind of spoiled us the last couple years,” Gore said, while discussing the running game, “but I had to tell him ‘we just got to go out there, stop feeling sorry for us and go take it.'”
The 49ers’ running back didn’t emphasize and nobody followed up, but it was one of the most intriguing quotes to come out of the post game press conferences.
How did Roman spoil Gore and the offensive line? Why has it stopped this year? Something to follow up on this week for sure.
— Anquan Boldin has had the pleasure of battling this Seattle secondary twice now. At least this time, Crabtree was around to take a little pressure off, but even so Boldin still saw his fair share of Richard Sherman.
“That’s the way that I play,” Boldin said when asked about the physicality and verbal nature of Seattle’s secondary. “If guys want to pretend to be tough, I look forward to it. Talking … that’s just what they do. I let my play speak for itself.”
— Gore brought up the various offensive contributions, and the 49ers did find some production from different places. While Vernon Davis did catch a touchdown pass, he was also held to only two catches for 21 yards. Instead, Bruce Miller caught three passes, Crabtree caught four for 40 yards and Boldin hauled in six for 93.
— The sore thumb of the group? Mario Manningham, who was targeted four times and never caught a pass.
— The sore thumb of the game? The officiating. I can’t imagine trying to properly call a Seahawks game, especially as an official in the defensive backfield. Seattle is … grabby and overly physical, and for the 49ers to hang they had to do the same. This game featured 16 penalties for 155 yards (Seattle with the edge, 9-85).
A good portion of those flags came on punts. During one stretch mid-game, the teams exchanged four punts, all of which resulted in extra yardage or yardage taken away for a penalty. It was basically a basketball game out there.
Even Whitner got flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct (taunting) after a routine play. It look like something that goes uncalled in the NFL dozens of times every Sunday, so Whitner must have really crossed the line.
“I don’t think it was warranted. We were both talking to each other,” Whitner said. “I don’t know what you have to say to get [a taunting call], I guess you just have to have refs that don’t understand the game. They think that it’s just, like, girls out there playing, but this is the NFL.”
God bless you, Donte. Harbaugh was less colorful, but in a way, equally expressive.
“I don’t like getting penalties,” Harbaugh said. “We’re not allowed to talk about them, so I don’t know what there is to say about it.”
— Seattle and San Francisco fans alike seem to really be enjoying this rivalry. Seattle is the more vocal of the two: jawing on social media, throwing rallies in the streets of San Francisco, and even flying tiny banners in the sky.
Not surprisingly, Harbaugh isn’t having fun with the rivalry. Not one bit.
“Enjoy it? Not the word I would use,” he said, “Feels like you go to the dentist chair and three and a half hours of getting a root canal done.”