SEATTLE - DECEMBER 24: Running back Marshawn Lynch #24 of the Seattle Seahawks rushes against linebacker NaVorro Bowman #53 the San Francisco 49ers at CenturyLink Field on December 24, 2011 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Well, this game turned out to be pretty much exactly how we figured it would be. Chippy. Sluggish. Smashmouth. Intense. It was a playoff atmosphere at the CLink tonight, and we were treated to what I thought was an excellent game. Lead changes, swings of momentum, late game heroics to keep the dream alive. All in all, I was highly entertained.
I don't think I've experienced the butterflies that I had before and during this game since last year's New Orleans Wildcard game and this San Francisco - Seattle rivalry is becoming a thing of beauty. It was a battle from the kickoff to final kneel down. The NFC West is no longer a soft, pushover division, that's for damn sure.
Here are some of my thoughts on the game, with obviously more to come once I've digested and re-watched a few times.
- I thought, for the most part, that the Seahawks played very tough and displayed that physical, hard-nosed identity we've been talking about here so much this season. They didn't back down to the 11-3 NFC West Champions, a team that dismantled Pittsburgh last week, and really did give their opponent a run for their money. Credit goes to the 49ers for playing equally as tough, and their identity and philosophy shined through as well, but I don't think the gap between these two teams in terms of talent and potential is very great. That's not meant to be a knock on the Niners but more of a compliment to this Seahawks team, a team that is infinitely tougher and more dangerous than the team from one year ago, in my opinion.
- I loved that the Seahawks were able to run the ball against San Francisco, and Marshawn Lynch and the cobbled together Seahawks' offensive line made a statement in this one.
One - Marshawn Lynch ran for 100+ yards, the first time any running back has done that against the 49ers since 2009, a streak of 36 games. Two, Marshawn Lynch rushed for a touchdown agains the 49ers defense, the first rushing TD they've given up this season, an NFL record 14 games.
If there's one thing that you want to take away from this game is that the Seahawks can and did run the football against the best of the best at defending it. I consider myself a pretty levelheaded fan but I really am beaming with pride about that. I was up, fist pumping, as Lynch ran in that touchdown, so hard that I literally think I gave myself tennis elbow.
- That said, the Seahawks' run defense didn't fare quite as well. They gave up 178 yards on the ground on 4.5 ypc and a touchdown. The Niners were able to execute their gameplan for the most part and my hopes that the Seahawks would make Alex Smith beat them with his arm never really materialized. I thought Smith played fine, he finished 14 for 26 for 179 yards and a 75.6 rating, but he did make some big plays at big times.
Leroy Hill had a rough night, especially on the 49ers third quarter scoring drive where both he and Clemons missed a chance to sack Smith for a big loss on third down, and instead he gained three yards. The Niners converted the fourth down, continued to march, including a pass to Vernon Davis in which Hill was exploited again, and scored the go-ahead TD. I didn't notice Hill perform badly in particular outside that drive, but that was a big one.
I just didn't feel especially good about the defense on a whole in this one. There were individual heroic plays but overall, giving up 349 yards to this 49er offense at home is disappointing. I think it started up front, where the normally dominant defensive line didn't play their best game. Alex Smith was able to run around too much in the backfield and had several backbreaking and demoralizing scrambles. This is becoming a problem and one that teams are now gameplanning in. It, again, goes to the size on the Seahawks' line and it's something that the Seahawks defensive coordinators are going to have to adjust for with their linebacker corps.
- The special teams unit had a rough outing up until Heath Farwell broke through the line to block a punt with 6:58 remaining. Up until then, I thought they were outplayed by the 49er unit; Leon was awful on returns, the Hawks were giving up big chunks of yardage on their coverage, and in the 2nd half, the deepest the Niners started was their own 20. That's not winning the field position game.
In contrast Seattle started their drives in the 2nd half at the 15, 14, 16, 4, 19, then 26.
- Tarvaris Jackson and the Seahawks' offense, outside of Lynch's 4-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, was not impressive in the second half.
Trailing 19-17 late in the fourth quarter, in particular, the ball-control, possession style of offense went out the window and this was a gameplan that Jackson isn't especially adept with. The Niners clamped down on defense, getting sacks at key times, and Jackson fumbled the ball on a scramble attempt with 1:18 remaining trying to run for a first down on 3rd and 3 just inside the 49ers end of the field. At that point, it looked like the game would be over, but the Seahawks defense, buoyed by three timeouts, held stiff and forced a San Francisco punt with :52 seconds remaining.
On the ensuing drive, Jackson passed to Justin Forsett out of the backfield, and Force inexplicably didn't go out of bounds, though he had a clear opportunity to do so. Bonehead play number one. Seattle then clocked the football. Third down, deep pass down the middle with no time outs and 23 seconds remaining. Bonehead play number two. Fourth down, Tarvaris Jackson throws the ball out of bounds. Wow. What a great drive.
What an awful way to end what was a decent performance by both teams. It wasn't pretty all the time, but it was a fun football game to watch with a great, cut the tension with a knife style atmosphere. I'm still running on adrenaline a little bit so I'm certain I'm missing a ton of points about this game, but that's what I got right now.
A lot to take away from this game and we'll have a lot of things to break down this week. I'm encouraged about this team, that's for sure, but man that was a heartbreaker. What do you guys and girls think?