I could get used to this. For the second consecutive game, the Seahawks' defense asphyxiated a divisional opponent en route to a 19-3 victory. Seattle crushed the 49ers in nearly every facet , flying into Santa Clara and sliding right in to the Niners' Levi's like they were custom-tailored for them; a game so one-sided it insulted what has become the NFL's most marketable rivalry.
Much like the Super Bowl, the tenor of the game was established by Kam Chancellor on the first pass play. In this iteration, Michael Crabtree caught a short pass, was crunched by Seattle's dark-souled ubermensch, and had to leave the game with a rib injury. He would return but finished with just three catches, 10 yards, and two ears full of Richard Sherman, who only caught one fewer of Colin Kaepernick's passes than Crabtree did. It wouldn't get much better for the 49ers from that point on, as the Seahawks limited their erstwhile hosts to 3.2 yards per play*, smiling maniacally as the light slowly faded from their opponents' confused and frightened eyes.
*Not per run. Per play.
So how'd they do it? Well, pretty much every way, really. Cliff Avril, who has looked reborn over the last couple of weeks, led the pass rush with a sack, two QB hits, and a billion pressures. He was joined in the Sack Club by D-line cohort Michael Bennett and linebackers K.J. Wright and Bruce Irvin. Demarcus Dobbs had a phenomenal play when he strafed past Joe Staley to make an impressive tackle for loss, one of seven recorded by the Seahawks defense tonight in an effort that yielded just 64 rush yards on 18 carries.
The linebackers, for their part, were nothing short of sensational. Wright had seven tackles, Irvin had three, and Bobby Wagner swallowed up everything near him like a collapsing star en route to a team-leading (again) 10 takedowns. In fact, since Wagner has returned to the lineup, Seahawks opponents are averaging 3.7 yards per play and 0.75 points per quarter.
Behind them, the Legion played out of their minds, throwing the entire passing game into a stifling fog. To wit, Byron Maxwell and
Kaepernick's favorite receiver Richard Sherman were targeted nine times, allowing one catch for seven yards and recording two interceptions. The Seahawks' safeties descended upon the 49ers like weapons of the gods; Earl Thomas as Zeus' lightning bolt with Kam Chancellor as Thor's hammer. Together they stormed upon the Niners' tattered ship, breaking their mast and short-circuiting their controls.
It was an experience that Kaepernick has gotten all too used to when facing Seattle. He was limited in this, his fifth matchup vs the Seahawks, to 16 of 29 for 121 yards, zero touchdowns, two interceptions, and a passer rating of 36.7. In fact, here are the lines from all five of Kaep's games against the 'Hawks:
-13/28, 127 yards, 0 TDs, 3 INTs, L
-15/29, 175 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, W
-19/36, 244 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, L
-14/24, 153 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs, L
-16/29, 129 yards, 0 TD, 2 INTs, L
TOTAL: 77/146 (52.7 comp%), 829 yards (5.68 YPA), 3 Tds, 9 INTs, a 50.8 rating, and a 1-4 record.
Russell Wilson, by contrast, led his team with the clear-eyed, square-jawed determination of Prince Valiant, an unwavering torch in the hollow darkness of a fallen world. When the passes were there, he delivered them with conviction, hitting his receivers in the hands and keeping them on their feet after the catch. When the passes weren't there, he calmly tucked the football into the shimmering comfort of his wings and maneuvered through the sinful muck until someone got open. The result was a sterling line of 15/22, 236 yards, a touchdown, no turnovers, and a 118.8 rating.
Once again, he spread the ball around like a doting mother who just can't stop adopting these adorable kids. Those 15 catches were meted out to eight different receivers, with Luke Willson (right?) leading the way on four catches for 39 yards. His touchdown went to Robert Turbin on a sneaky little misdirection pass in the first quarter and had another one to Paul Richardson called back on a penalty by Turbin who should stop being so greedy and not try to hog all of the touchdowns to himself, jeez. It's Thanksgiving Robert, not Thankstaking. But perhaps his best play was this escape that resulted in a 63-yard completion to Tony Moeaki, who runs like he's tangled in Christmas lights and joined Zach Miller as the only tight ends in the NFL that would get tackled before crossing the goal line on that catch. His failure to score would result in a four-point swing, as the Seahawks had to settle for a short Steven Hauschka field goal.
Marshawn Lynch had a slow first half, even leaving for a spell with an undisclosed ailment, but he got the tinge of blood in his nostrils in the second half and gobbled up 49ers defenders like so many goldfish in a piranha's bowl. Tackler after tackler fell before him like henchmen in a Tarantino movie as he stomped his way to 104 yards on 20 carries, all the while running like a devourer of worlds. His 100+-yard performance was the fifth such game against the 49ers in their last seven showdowns, the same number that every other team has combined for versus San Francisco over that same timeframe.
Turbin was productive in expanded duty, logging 55 yards on six touches (four carries, eight yards, two receptions for 47) and Christine Michael chipped in 22 yards on four (three caries for 10, one reception for 12). I'm still waiting for Darrell Bevell to uncork a Lynch/Turbin/Michael wishbone formation and watch the hearts of their foes wilt in fear. Someday...
All told, the Seahawks rushing game gashed the leagues seventh-ranked run defense for 157 yards on 34 carries. That's 4.6 yards per carry against an excellent defense while ankle deep in the well-trimmed compost that the 49ers call their home field. They were mighty this night.
Even the special teams, heretofore ranked 20th in DVOA, looked good. Jon Ryan netted 44.5 yards per punt, an unremarkable number made more impressive by this And1 Mixtape audition that resulted in a 'Hawks fumble recovery. They limited the 49ers kick returns to an underwhelming 20.7 yards per and an overall starting field position of their own 20. The Seahawks, for their part, started their average drive on their own 33, accounting for 130 hidden yards of advantage. Hauschka also nailed all four of his field goal attempts, giving him eight in the last two games, a number that's impressive to everyone except for the women at the bars he goes to.
Not a lot to complain about tonight if you're a 'Hawks fan but this game was not perfect. The Seahawks did allow four more sacks, although Wilson seemed to have much more time tonight than he's been accustomed to. The penalties were distractingly lopsided again, as Seattle was flagged an amazing 14 times for 105 yards while the 49ers committed only three transgressions totaling 20. Much of those penalties were correct calls and I'm not saying there's a vendetta or anything, but the numbers are starting to get pretty curious. Here are the penalty totals in each of the last three games:
That means that the Seahawks have been called for 75% of the penalties and 82% of the yards over that span. Too many of those have been completely avoidable pre-snap fouls but even so, you're telling me the Seahawks are that much less disciplined than their opponents? The 'Hawks were okay on third downs, converting 5/14 (35.7%) while San Francisco went 4/11 (36.4%) and the teams tied with 16 first downs, which seems surprising.
This win, combined with the results from the earlier games, moves Seattle to 8-4 and into the more coveted of the two Wild Card spots, the #5 seed, and a hypothetical first round date with the "winner" of the NFC South. They are now only a game and a half behind the division-leading Cardinals and sport the sixth-best record in the NFL overall. Their +77 point-differential is good for fifth in the league and their path to the postseason looks almost infinitely brighter than it did two weeks ago. And while the road has been rougher than anticipated, the team is getting healthy and, more than that, dominant. Pete Carroll even went for it on 4th down deep in 49ers territory with two minutes left in the game in an apparent effort to leave the Bay Area with Jim Harbaugh's heart in his fanny pack.
A Seahawks team playing like this can beat anybody. Happy Thanksgiving.