The San Francisco 49ers will have to win on Monday night against Atlanta to clinch a playoff berth before Week 16 concludes. That’s because the Arizona Cardinals (10-5) became the first team to win at CenturyLink Field since Dec. 24, 2011, when the Alex Smith and the Niners beat the Seahawks 19-17.
The Cardinals snapped Seattle’s streak of home wins at 14 games, thanks to the 14th fourth quarter comeback of Carson Palmer’s career in a game where the Arizona quarterback threw four interceptions (including two to Richard Sherman).
The Cardinals won 17-10 on a phenomenal 31-yard touchdown pass from Palmer to Michael Floyd, who battled with Byron Maxwell for the ball before securing it as he landed in the left side of the end zone. The Damp Dungeon of Din™ was silenced immediately as Larry Fitzgerald celebrated with Floyd in the end zone …
… and even with over two minutes left, Russell Wilson couldn’t rally the Seahawks (12-3) to what would’ve been a home field-clinching win.
Now the 49ers (10-4) are left with an outside shot at winning the NFC West. In order to leapfrog Seattle they’d need to win their next two games (including what could be a wild game in Glendale next week) and the Seahawks would have to lose at home to the St. Louis Rams (who beat Tampa Bay by 10 today).
Carolina (11-4) came back late to beat New Orleans 17-13. The loss drops the Saints’ record to 10-5. If the Panthers lose in Atlanta next week and everything in the previous paragraph came to fruition, the 49ers would have home field advantage throughout. Every single one of these scenarios playing out is exceedingly unlikely, however.
Arizona keeps their hopes alive, but barely. If the 49ers beat Atlanta, the only way the Cardinals make the postseason is if Tampa Bay wins in New Orleans (good luck) in the early game next Sunday, then the Cardinals would have to beat the 49ers.
Even if the Seahawks accomplish what we all expect and beat St. Louis next Sunday, a large part of their invincibility at home was taken away today. The defense is undeniably strong up north, but their offense was awfully quiet: 192 yards (103 on the ground), 10 first downs, nine punts. Wilson completed just 11-of-27 passes for 103 yards, and the Cardinals intercepted him once and sacked him four times.
Worst of all, they scored only 10 points on a day when the defense collected four turnovers, including one that put the Seahawks at Arizona’s 3-yard line (Steven Hauschka would miss a 24-yard field goal attempt off the left upright four plays later).
The 49ers have a glimmer of hope for those dreaming of another playoff game or two at Candlestick Park, but the reality is they’ll probably still face a slate of road games (as long as San Francisco wins one of its next two games, of course). But if the NFC indeed ends up going through Seattle, playing in CenturyLink doesn’t seem like quite the roadblock it did before today.
Let’s check out Lettuce Top one more time, just because: