Seahawks Lose to 49ers: Playoff Bubble has Burst, but the Future is Bright

First and foremost Merry Christmas.

Unfortunately we're not sitting here thinking about a hard-fought Seahawks win, a result that certainly could've been had yesterday. They lost a war of a football game, one that was an absolute energy sucker of a game to attend. There were twists and turns, after the whistle hits with no accompanying penalty flags, multiple one play momentum changes, oodles of nerves; a rekindled NFC West rivalry at its best for about three hours.

The momentum bubble is much, much smaller than it was about 24 hours ago. And in reality, a win against the 49ers would've been a very big deal and somewhat unexpected. Even though I really wanted this game, I'm not too disappointed over this loss due to the grand scheme of things.

At the end of the second quarter of last week's victory at Chicago, when Anthony Hargrove sacked Caleb Haine, I began thinking about the 2010 comeback victory against the Panthers, when Raheem Brock sacked Jimmy Clausen to end the first half. After the Seahawks scored 31 unanswered to beat the Bears and used an early third quarter defensive touchdown from a team leader to energize the comeback, the comparison became one I thought about semi-regularly over the past week.

I do feel as though that 2010 team and this current team are very different. That comeback win was "mystical" and unexpected; the win in Chicago was a semblance of validation for the ‘beastmode identity." But the other reason why the comparison wouldn't leave my head is because of the team the Seahawks played after both of those victories; the 49ers. Though, last year's 40-21, Week 14 loss was in The Bay and this loss was at home. Not to mention, the 49ers have an entirely different staff.

However, what I'm getting at here is that this opportunity and that opportunity were both unique, in the sense that both games versus the 49ers followed absolutely dashing comeback wins; games where the bounce back could quite easily be a let down. The bounce back game last year was a huge let down, while this one was hard fought until the end.

Though mystique wasn't a topic of conversation after last week's win, I think few were unsurprised by how strongly they came back. I certainly didn't think 31 in a row were coming. That said, this is a program in a completely different place than when they lost in Week 14 last season. That team got blown out in nine of their ten losses; this team was in it to the end in at least half of their eight losses to this point.

Earlier in the season, Jacson wrote about the loss in Dallas being not just any loss; it was a loss that showed the foundation for a championship team is being built, the pieces beginning to settle into place are a consolation for the struggles. Coincidentally, that's the game where the Seahawks shifted their offensive identity to what we've seen over the second half of the season. This experience of watching the team beginning to grow, I think, has been somewhat mystical because the shift was so sudden, coming after a few steps backwards. Sometimes a step forward comes after two steps back.

The loss to the 49ers shows that this Seahawks team can hang with anyone, despite the injuries and holes on the roster. They've taken a step in the right direction, at least enough so that they feel capable of playing to anybody's level. There are a lot of questions going forward about the roster for next year, but it's worth acknowledging this team recovered from having their continuity severely hampered by the lockout and then a 2-6 start. Heck, they were alive in the playoff race through Week 16.

This team and staff are still really young. This is a different team than the one that lost to Atlanta, more mature than the one that lost in Dallas. We saw this team lose a tough battle on Saturday, but they are still gathering pieces for the greater year to year war. I'm not closing the book on the 2011 season, because 8-8 is still a possibility and that would be "improvement."

Rather, consider this a realization that this team is still not there yet, which isn't to say that any of us thought they were there. But, it's becoming more believable that this organization is for real and they are just getting started. It's becoming more believable that next year is something to look forward to, hopefully recovered to full health and a possessing a stash of new, young talent.

On Saturday, the 2011 NFC West Champs were too much for the budding Seahawks. But today, on Christmas, I'm considering it a gift that it's becoming very believable the stage is set for this team to keep rising in the years to come.

Shorter Thoughts Review of Week 16

Offense

I had the following two texting interactions pre-game. Consider this my version of what my pregame tweets would've been.

--A friend of mine wanted an assessment of Baldwin's health. From my seat, I texted him saying he "looks ok. Dunno if he is full go though." I got nervous when Baldwin dropped that first pass. Even though he scored and downed another punt on the five, this wasn't his best game.

--I texted Danny that Ricardo Lockette - known as "rocket" to Pete Carroll - was "active and looking speedy." Given that Carroll had been talking about Rockette all week, I felt the deep ball coming. This was Pete Carroll's new toy, was he really not going to use him? I'm bummed his only other look was a bad throw, which was after a solid route. More Rockette in Week 17, please.

--I liked seeing us spread it out early before establishing the run. It may have helped open up the field.

--This looked like an absolute war in the trenches; on some plays the Seahawks got great push, on others the 49ers defense was penetrating and even pushing Lynch backwards. On the whole, 4.7 yards per carry against this defense is a strong effort.

--Only two 20-plus yard plays isn't enough to beat one of the league's top defenses.

--2 for 3 in the redzone and 1 for 2 in goal to go situations aren't bad. That one missed opportunity, however, I think was very, very costly in the end. 14-3 would have been much more threatening than 10-3 was.

--This was an eye opening day for me in regards to T-Jax and the quarterback position in the near future, and not in a good way. He threw the ball high or off target too often. He's been carelessly swinging the ball around all year when he scrambles (which, by the way, doesn't appear to be a strength as some may have believed it would be heading into his tenure with the Seahawks) and it bothers the hell out of me. In this game his bad habit of sub-optimal ball security when running caused the back-breaking turnover.

--The final drive, and especially the 4th down throw to Miller, is one too many times of Jackson being incapable of leading a comeback this season for me to feel comfortable with him being the sure-fire starter into next year - I'm not saying bench him, but he has to improve pocket awareness, plain and simple. Dude's toughness is absolutely undeniable, but today he squandered a chance to potentially make this his team for the near future. The fact that the stadium began to clear out at the 2:57 mark - the second to last time the Seahawks had the ball - was a horrible sign to me that this fan base maybe does have minimal confidence in Jackson. Maybe that's too sweeping of a statement, but watching the isles fill when the game was nowhere near over was disheartening.

--No first downs in the 3rd quarter and they had one first down by yardage in the second half. C'Mon, Man!

--Marshawn Lynch was split wide nearly a handful of times in this game. The offset I was used often again as well.

--On the 3rd down play before the booth review occurred, at the end of the second quarter, Golden Tate was at running back and Lynch was at fullback. I was really looking forward to that play happening, as it was a variation on the unsuccessful Washington pitch from the week before.

Defense

--David Hawthorne and Alan Branch stood out. They played with some nasty, as did Mebane and Bam Bam Kam. Atari Bigby flashed physicality we haven't seen recently, notably with a special teams play and shoestring tackle on Gore early in the game.

--It seemed like more 4-3 and less scheme variation in this one. I noticed very little 3-4, if at all.

--The 49ers had 35 total yards and one first down in the second quarter.

--Even though the Seahawks had the lead at half and were sticking with the 49ers punch for punch, my concern was that the 49ers may gain an offensive rhythm in the second half. The inside power running game was working in the first half and the 49ers seemed primed to hit their stride.

--The opening drive of the second half was a complete momentum shifter. The defense missed what would have been a huge sack on 3rd down - how the Seahawks couldn't get Smith down on this play, especially considering he bobbled the snap, was befuddling - before the 49ers attacked the sidelines via the air, over top of the Seahawks linebackers. Danny already noted, but this was a rough drive for Leroy Hill.

--The 49ers had 122 total yards and nine first downs at halftime. They had 268 and 18 after three quarters. They really got the inside power running game going, as feared. 178 yards rushing on the game is way too many. The run defense has been exposed up the middle over the past few weeks to a month. There is still a piece or two needed in the front seven for this run defense to be complete. The Seahwks need depth on the line and at linebacker.

--K.J. Wright had his first quiet game in a while.

--Chris Clemons needs an edge rushing mate.

--There were open receivers in the flat after Alex Smith evaded pressure on too many occasions. Too much Alex Smith scrambling for positive yards too.

--I felt like the 49ers were pretty prepared for our blitz package. On Hill's sack memory says there were three blitzers, and I remember Kam getting through on one blitz and forcing an incompletion. Otherwise, I felt like they handled our pressure well.

--I'm not shy about liking Brandon Browner, but this wasn't his best game, at all. He was quiet as a physical force on the edge and in real time, I thought he was getting ready to jump and make a play on the 2nd and 17, 41-yard bomb. I thought he was tracking, but there was no play on the ball. This reminded me of the Redskins 3rd and long bomb (my guess is I'm not the only one); another back breaker. This is the type of game that shows his play can still go to another level, and that's the upside. Hopefully, he gets there.

--On the other side, I thought Richard Sherman stood out as a tackler. Teams have figured out he's susceptible to the double move, though. And he may have gotten away with a PI on his second pass defense, but being three quarters of the stadium up and on the other side of the field, I could be totally off.

Special Teams

--I couldn't see the helmet to helmet call on Robinson. To me, it looked like Kyle Williams simply slipped and someone came in at the end of the play. Still haven't seen a replay, but tough call there. We all thought it was Seahawks football.

--The blocking by the kick return unit was atrocious in the second half. On the first kickoff Justin Forsett got completely turned around and missed his man, and that's who made the play. On the second return, it looked like the entire left side of the kickoff team collapsed. Punt coverage was suspect, too. Do the 49ers have a tell on our special teams?

--On the Heath Farwell block, Golden Tate was back deep with Washington. He was for the last one, too.

--Chris Maragos is becoming my favorite special teams player. He's just always in there.

--Two of the best punters in the NFL played in this game.

--This is more of an open thought; were expectations for Leon's season too high after last year, or was this a down year for him? I feel like the kick return unit never quite got in sync this season.

--David Akers' 4-5 performance - his only miss coming from I believe outside 50 - was impressive. So is his NFL record 42 field goals on the year.

Miscellaneous

- The whole third down, time out, late review situation at the end of the second quarter was a fiasco. I think not scoring a touchdown here was a major momentum shift, even though the 49ers didn't capitalize on their next possession. This was a chance to put the 49ers in a hole, and not give them the chance to tie it early in the 3rdquarter.

--During previously said fiasco into the end of the half, the stadium film crew told/showed us the Lions scored 24 in the first half not once, but twice; groans galore. That game score wasn't on the scoreboard the entire second half.

--The pregame handshake was very professional. No jawing, just handshakes and "good games". On the opening kickoff, it all changed. The 49ers made it known they were here to play, and the war was on. Surprisingly, they let the players' rumble while pushing the boundaries of the rule book. From afar, it looked chippy and questionable that there were no flags. I'm curious to see the broadcast.

--When the Seahawks got inside the redzone at the end of the second quarter, the crowd started chanting "Beast, Beast, Beast." During the uber long play stoppage, the chants turned into "Beastmode, Beastmode, Beastmode." That crowd wanted to end the 49ers' no rushing TD allowed streak. They got their wish.

--Employees were sweeping up Skittles out of the end zone during the TV timeouts after Lynch's touchdown.

-- Where's the no huddle? I think it needs to be mixed in, as it keeps the defense a bit off balance and lets the passing game strike a rhythm. I'm not talking no huddle heavy, but use it as a tool to facilitate explosive offense and the vertical passing game.

--My from-out-of-town, not-Seahawks-fan uncle kept saying "this is one play from being a different game" as the second half droned on and the crowd got restless. He was right. Unfortunately, the 49ers were one drive away from going back ahead. .

--At the time, I thought they needed to go for it on 4th down in 49ers territory, badly needing to create some offense. They needed assurance that the offense could function if they needed it later on, which they did and it didn't. I think in the end it hurt, as the Lynch run was only one play and not exemplary of the second half offense in general. The ending was just too stale and they looked too out of sync. I hope they take some offensive risks next week in preparation for offseason evaluation.

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