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Seahawks 43, Niners 16: The best defender on the field was Bobby Wagner, sorry not sorry Richard Sherman

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NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks
bobby hug > bear hug
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

How can you talk about this game without mentioning Richard Sherman’s return to CenturyLink Field in a San Francisco 49ers uniform?



In today’s Swerving Points column, we’ll get to Sherman, and the second-best play of Bobby Wagner’s exceptional game, and a statistically indefensible yet intelligent decision by Pete Carroll, and finally the anti-matter present throughout the game. You read that last one right.

Swerving Point 1: Sherman is honored and roasted, all day long

After one of the numerous touchdowns of the day, select Seattle Seahawks re-enacted The Tip.

This is either a homage to the greatest cornerback in Seattle history, or a roast... or both? Both is more fun. Football should be fun. Celebrations should be creative, trollish, or flamboyant. Like when the scoring team —

Yep, they’re digging for gold. One of the best things — can’t believe these words are about to appear on your screen — the NFL has done recently is to allow players to express themselves after scoring. Individually and collectively. You get originality, mischief, and goofiness. Sports, pro sports especially, needs more of those elements, badly. There was a time when even a harmless spike was illegal and would draw a penalty on the kickoff. Glad to see that cooler (literally and colloquially) heads have prevailed and now an occasion that calls for celebration allows celebration.

Anyway, Sherman and the teasing. It continued.

In the .gif below, Doug Baldwin converts 2nd and 21, with Sherman in coverage. A one-on-one situation develops. Watch as the other routes clear out at the bottom of your screen, leaving Baldwin with a hitch designed to pick up half the necessary yardage. Spoiler: he gets more than half.

Another view, with the play coming right at you. Sherman misses the chance to wrap Baldwin up! An unusual sight for one of the league’s surest tacklers. Turns out Baldwin is a little more slippery than you thought when it’s your turn to cover him in a real live game.

And the afternoon’s final TD, a scramble drill beauty that Sherman can only watch, from the closest possible range: his side of the field.

Some would call Jaron Brown the Seahawks’ WR4. Sure, why not? He’s fourth in receiving yardage and fourth in targets. That WR4 scored his second touchdown of the day by escaping the clutches of a CB1. It was a fatality. It was a TD. It was a fataliTD.

Why all these paragraphs and clips about something that wasn’t even a single swerving point? Yes, things happened to Sherman, but multiple touchdowns and celebration stuff doesn’t make a turning point... unless you view it as an important transitional moment in the story of the franchise, not of the specific game on Sunday.

The page was turned on Richard Sherman, for all present: the active Seahawks in attendance, the coaches, even for some fans presumably. He’s now officially been witnessed as the beaten enemy, the emblem of a glorious past, the humbled rival. His good works for Seattle have been acknowledged, memorialized, referenced, roasted, and thus a chapter ends.

Swerving Point 2: Wagner’s play before the play

Wagner makes the impossible look routine, without sacrificing the routine. Are we all aware that the Seahawks middle linebacker and future Ring of Honor member hasn’t missed a tackle in 2018, and the season is 12 games old?

Bobby Wagner forever. He’s outlasted the entire Legion of Boom (though they had a head start of a season or two). He’s never in legal hot water, doesn’t play dirty, doesn’t complain in the press, plays hurt, and does his job to the best of his ability, every single goddamn time. Additionally, he never met a stat he didn’t like.

There’s a reason he’s the last man introduced on defense in the stadium on game days. Why? Because when the game was still a game, relatively, and the 49ers had driven to the red zone in a bid to cut Seattle’s lead in half, to 14-7, Wagner vetoed the possession.

It was somehow only his second-biggest play of the night. It took points off the board for the visitors. 4.37 expected points. Not quite a pick-six, but special nonetheless. Wagner is irreplaceable. Legends agree.

Almost, Matt. Almost.

Bobby. Wagner. Forever.

Swerving Point 3: Punting on 4th and 1

The setting: 4th and one little teeny tiny yard to go, the Seahawks at their own 45, 8:57 of the first quarter. After much deliberation, and indecision, Seattle’s punt team takes the field.

On the Seahawks’ first 14 rushes, they gained at least 1 yard. Faced with three feet to go, the offensive line would very likely have moved the chains. The numbers were with Pete, had he chosen to go for it. He didn’t. He wasted the timeout thinking about it, because he hates timeouts, and opted to trust his defense. Such a vintage Pete process.

What’s defensible about his decision last Sunday is that this was exactly the type of game in which he could trust his defense to make a play before a long drive turned into 49er points.

As has been detailed countless times, the whole idea behind Carroll’s “keep everything in front of you” defense is that the longer you force an offense to be perfect, the more likely they are to make a mistake. We’ve listened to him explain the concept for, well, the entire decade.

San Francisco’s four longest drives all ended in sorrow. Theirs.

8 plays — fumble

8 plays — punt

9 plays — interception

16 plays — downs

The longer Seattle kept the 49ers offense on the field, the more and more likely it became that something good was going to happen, for the Seahawks. (On the other side, Seattle’s five touchdown drives lasted an average of 4.2 plays. That’s not peak Carroll-ball, but it is explosive enough to fit within his system.)

It was a good day to punt on 4th and 1. San Francisco wasn’t going to put a lot of long scoring drives together; Carroll was wise to avoid giving them a short field, at almost any cost. But maybe the same decision is foolish against the Chiefs in Week 16.

Swerving Point 4: Passing yards are trash

This isn’t a play of the game, per se, as much as a screed. Danny and Kenneth gave me this soapbox, and neither of them have removed it, so any dumb opinion I present is actually on them.

Passing yards don’t matter in a game like this. When the Seahawks are forcing fumbles and Wagner is relieving “skill” position players of the ball, Wilson can get out-thrown in volume all day long. Which is what happened.

Dante Pettis’ gorgeous route and beeline for the end zone? Neither matters.

No matter that Bradley McDougald takes a sub-optimal angle, that Tre Flowers misses the tackle, or that Shaquill Griffin is five hundredths of a second too slow in the open field.

The 49ers’ running backs and all their attempts to establish a ground game, thus winning time of possession? Didn’t matter. Didn’t matter that SF had the ball for 18 more plays (76-58) and five more minutes (32:30-27:30).

Matt Breida came in with an average of 5.8 yards per carry. He went for three yards on his first two totes, and gained a grand total of zero yards thereafter.

The fantasy-football-driven cult of offensive numbers and yards generated is fine for the moments you’re playing... fantasy football. On the real field, ball security, explosiveness and shrewd game plans win the day. Seattle dominated in all three facets.

Hey, by the way, Richard? Thanks for everything. Yep, again. We started with you, let’s end here too. Without you, there’s no hardware in the case.