I'll admit that I wasn't expecting to be as nervous as I was coming into this game. In hindsight it seems kind of silly, now that the Seahawks have smashed the 49ers 20-3, but I had my doubts coming in. I'm not saying I thought the Niners were as good as the 'Hawks or, more accurately, that the 'Hawks were as bad as the Niners, but for the first time in three years, there was cause to doubt whether Seattle still had it.
I mean, not only were the Seahawks coming off of back-to-back late-game collapses, they were traveling on a short week to a divisional opponent that, despite their struggles, was feeling good after a win of their own on Sunday. There was visible frustration in the Seattle locker room, loud calls for the heads of both coordinators from the rabble, the grim emergence of a trend of failure in high-leverage situations. There was the performance of the offensive line, arguably the worst in the history of the NFL (Russell Wilson is getting pressured at a higher rate than any QB on record), the performance of the secondary (allowing 80%+ completions and a 135 QB rating in the 4th quarter), and the inability of the offense to keep drives alive (converting just 36.9% of 3rd downs). There were plenty of reasons to be concerned.
Then the game started. Almost throughout, this was classic Carroll-era Seahawks football. San Francisco went three and out on their first drive on that goulash of a field in that soulless stadium in front of fans half-cheering for their team to lose so they'd have more ammo for their Fire Jed York campaign. Seattle responded with a long, cumbersome, drive that culminated with 176 carries by Marshawn Lynch from inside the 5 yard line, the last of which gave Seattle a lead they'd never relinquish. After another three and out from the Niners, Seattle tacked on three more when Team MVP Steven Hauschka squibbed a 49-yard field goal through the bottom left quadrant of the uprights.
From then on, the 'Hawks never let their foe off the mat. Lynch bruised 'em up for a season-high 122 yards on a season-high 27 carries behind an offensive line that finished with a season-high of not sucking balls. And when Marshawn was on the sideline regurgitating the remains of devoured 49ers defenders, Thomas Rawls borrowed Lynch's thumpin' stick and added 32 of his own on six totes. The Seahawks played downhill all game long, which allowed Wilson to push the ball downfield while the Niners licked its wounds. The result was a first half wherein Wilson notched a ridiculous 13.1 YPA including this bomb to Tyler Lockett, who scampered under it for the longest of his career-high five receptions, as well as his first NFL receiving TD.
And while the second half was essentially a slow, uneventful bloodletting, it didn't matter much because the defense locked up San Francisco's offense like puppies that just peed on the rug. Cliff Avril consistently collapsed the corner of the line while Michael Bennett turned Levi's Stadium into Black Santa Clara. Meanwhile, the recently maligned Legion of Boom handcuffed the 49ers receivers to the nearest water heater and didn't let them go until after Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas yapped it up with the NFL Network crew on their field. And while perhaps no quarterback has seen a sharper regression than Colin Kaepernick has the last couple of years, even palindromic peak-Kaep wouldn't have stood a chance against this defense tonight.
Think I'm overstating it? Consider this- in his career vs Seattle coming in, Kaepernick was 88-165 (53.3%) for 961 yards (5.8 YPA), 3 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions for a passer rating of 54.1 and a record of 1-5. Tonight was just more of the same, as the Seahawks held him to a line of 13-24 (54.2%), 124 yards (5.2 YPA), 0 TDs, 0 INTs, a rating of 68.7 and another double-digit loss (his fifth vs Seattle). In the past, some of the blemishes have been hidden by his 341 rushing yards in those contests, including 130 in the NFC 'Ship but even that was stripped from him in this one, as he rushed for exactly as many yards as I did. And that's not even mentioning the 43 yards he lost on six sacks. That means the 49ers' finished with 81 net passing yards on 30 dropbacks.
San Fran wasn't much better on the ground either, as Carlos Hyde bravely played through a stress fracture in his foot while Seattle's stress fractured their run game. 61 yards for the Niners, as a team, rushing in his one. The result was more punts (9) than first downs (8) and a measly 1-12 on third downs. In all, the 49ers offense treated their fans to 142 yards on 45 plays. That's literally shorter than the distance between the front rows on opposing ends of their own stadium. In fact, in the last two games these teams have played in the Bay Area, the Niners have accrued a grand total of 304 yards on 96 plays.
Perhaps most importantly, the Seahawks not only protected their fourth quarter lead* in this one, they extended it. Was it perfect? No. Seattle didn't run away from the 49ers late, they just pressed their thumbs to their windpipe and smiled as the late faded from their eyes. A win is a win and a fourth quarter shutout can go a long ways towards dispelling the doubts that had been creeping in around this team. 20-3 isn't a glamorous final score but it is a telling one.
*Lost in all the talk of blown fourth quarter leads is this remarkable stat: the Seahawks have had a fourth quarter lead in 67 of their last 72 games.
Look, there are still plenty of issues with this Seahawks team, and yes, the 49ers are one of the worst teams in the NFL, but this was a game that hearkened back to the type of Seahawks football we've grown accustomed to over the last few seasons. For all of my trepidation coming into this game, this was the sort of performance I expected out of the 'Hawks when the schedule first came out. The O-line was better tonight but far from good. Wilson saw his usual amount of pressure and succumbed to his usual amount of sacks but there were also a new pair of cargo pants' worth of clean pockets available to him and he stood in them confidently. He did have two interceptions in this game, both of which land firmly on his shoulders (a late throw to a briefly wide open Doug Baldwin in the end zone and a heave into double coverage that Jermaine Kearse either lost track of or gave up on). Funny enough, the Seahawks are 0-3 when winning the turnover battle and 3-1 when they don't. Strange season.
Jimmy Graham's production (2 catches, 31 yards) was down from last week's monster game of 8-140 but he still tied for the team lead in targets with five and had a third catch jarred loose on a big hit. I don't think this game is any cause for concern. His box score vacancy was filled by Lockett who grabbed all five of his opportunities for 79 yards and a TD.
The real stars of the show were the defensive linemen, namely the two starting ends. Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett squeezed the San Francisco pocket like a bellows, flushing Kaepernick off his spot and straight into their own loving embraces. They got off blocks quickly and rarely gave any of the Niners ballcarriers room to maneuver. Their best game of the season, bar none, and a performance that Bennett likened to having multiple orgasms because Michael Bennett will be damned if he lets you go to bed after a game without thinking of his dong.
Steven Hauschka, man. Now 16-16 on field goals and 14-14 on extra points in a year that has seen placekicking accuracy go haywire, Hausch Money is the team's constant, reliable rock- much the way Alan Thicke is for me.
I could go on for a while longer, hammering on all the ways that the Seahawks outplayed the 49ers tonight but I think the point has been made. Seattle played their best game of the season and, in so doing, re-inflated their dwindling playoff hopes. Tonight was a reminder of what this team is capable of and, perhaps more than anything, it is an encouragement to us and to them that this is still the same team that has pillaged the league over the majority of the last 1,000 days.
Next up is a whole bunch of rest followed by a game against the Tony Romo-less Cowboys in Dallas followed by a shit ton more rest after that. The Seahawks have a real good chance to reach their bye week at 4-4, a respite that's followed by three consecutive home games. The pastures ahead are greener, just have to get there. Onward. Upward.
The cigar I chose for this article was the quick and tasty Revelation Triumph from San Cristobal, available for less than $10/stick at Famous Smoke. Smooth, oily, tons of flavor and a really even burn. It may not knock your socks off but it's thoroughly satisfying, much like tonight's game.