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The fact that this game carried as much import as it did says a lot about how far the Seattle Seahawks have come in such a short time. It also served as a litmus test, as the San Francisco 49ers came to town engorged on the blood of their last six foes. It wasn’t that long ago that this was the best rivalry in the NFL and with the Seahawks rising and the 49ers near the top of the heap, we may be headed back that way. But right now, in this moment, there is a clear difference in talent, execution, and experience between these two teams, and that disparity was on display for the entire country tonight.
The Seahawks started the game with the ball and immediately picked up a first down when Geno Smith followed up a six-yard Ken Walker III run with a five-yard completion to Tyler Lockett. It was a nice lil pop to keep a frenzied crowd titillated but the drive would stall after that. Damien Lewis got beat on a screen pass to Walker III for a loss of three and Smith threw consecutive incompletions, leading to a Michael Dickson punt that pinned the Niners at their own 10.
As the 49ers prepared for their first possession, Seattle’s much-maligned defense took the field having forced the fewest three-and-outs in the NFL. San Francisco’s offense, for their part, had committed the fewest, but the Seahawks immediately forced San Francisco off the field anyway. Cody Barton strung a Christian McCaffrey run out on first down, Jordyn Brooks snuffed a short completion to George Kittle, and Ryan Neal wrapped up McCaffrey short of the sticks to end the drive. Exactly what we needed to see and, more importantly, what that defense needed to feel.
From then on, however, the 49ers defense did what they’ve been doing all season, and it led to a quick three and out highlighted by a Talanoa Hufanga sack that knocked the ball from Smith’s hands. The Niners offense would be getting a lot more run if it wasn’t for the unmatched prowess of their defense, and they showed exactly what makes them so dangerous on their next drive. With their monstrous offensive line creating holes, McCaffrey used his shiftiness and explosion to exploit the gaps for big gains. And when he wasn’t rookie Brock Purdy calmly distributed the ball all over the field.
The steady march culminated in a beautiful play design that was executed flawlessly by Brock Purdy. On it, Purdy faked one swing pass, then turned and pantomimed another before pivoting back to the middle of the field to find a slanting Kittle wide open. Kittle caught the pass and weaved his way through the last two defenders and into the endzone to make it 7-0.
The Seahawks offense continued their struggle, going three-and-out on their next two drives, leaving them with just 11 total yards on their first 11 plays. Fortunately, the defense did their part, taking advantage of 49ers penalties to stop two promising drives themselves and the punt-fest continued.
Smith got rolling on the next possession, finding DK Metcalf on consecutive throws for consecutive first downs. And when it looked like the momentum would stop faced with 3rd & 13 a couple snaps later, Geno kept it pushin’. As he dropped back to pass, Smith found no one open and leaked out to the right. As he approached the line of scrimmage, he pump-faked to freeze the isolated defender then gained the edge for a 15-yard scramble. A Walker III run and an out route to Noah Fant gained another first down before the drive finally sputtered out at the 20. Jason Myers trotted out and banged home a 38-yard field goal to close the gap at 7-3 and the game suddenly felt different.
The 49ers got another first down on their next possession before Purdy finally made his first mistake. Standing in a clean pocket, Purdy tossed one over the middle— right to Quandre Diggs. The ball hit Diggs in the chest but he couldn’t clasp it and it fell incomplete. It happened on third down so the Niners had to punt anyway but the drop cost Seattle at least 40 yards of field position with less than two minutes to go in the half and made scoring a whole lot tougher.
Still, it was a big stop for a struggling defense and the good vibes continued when Smith found Lockett and Marquis Goodwin on consecutive plays for a first down. Feeling the flow, the Seahawks stayed no huddle and Travis Homer took it up the middle for five more. Smith went back to Homer with a little arrow route on the next snap, but Dre Greenlaw absolutely leveled him with a huge hit and the ball sprung free. Charvarious Ward scooped it up and returned it all the way down to Seattle’s 7. Two McCaffrey plunges later, the 49ers were knocking an extra point through the uprights to make it 14-3, where it would stay until halftime.
The 49ers opened the third quarter with a big kick return and stepped on Seattle’s throat on their next play from scrimmage. Purdy dropped back as Kittle exploded out of his stance, and then just... didn’t get covered by anybody. Purdy hit him with ease for a huge gain and Kittle summarily dismissed Diggs and Barton inside the 10 for the long score. 21-3, and what felt like a close game less than two minutes of clock time ago was suddenly on the brink of a blowout.
The Seahawks’ once burning fire had been reduced to embers and those were nearly stamped out completely when Geno underthrew Lockett a couple snaps later. The pass was undercut by Deommodore Lenoir, who returned it for a touchdown that was waived off by an admittedly bullshit roughing call against Nick Bosa. Granted a break, Smith was able to hit Metcalf three times on the drive, as the Seahawks inched it close enough for Myers to hammer a 51-yarder through the uprights. 21-6.
After that it was a whole bunch of not scoring, with nary a real chance at it, until the Niners missed a short field goal with five minutes left in the game. It didn’t seem like much at the time but it kept the Seahawks within two scores. Through 55 minutes, Seattle had managed just two field goals but they weren’t ready to give up the ghost on the division just yet. Smith and Co took the field and got to work.
Geno found Metcalf for nine and after Walker III picked up the first down, hit Will Dissly for 13. Two plays later, Smith slung it out to Walker III in the right flat and the rookie smoked the lone defender’s pursuit angle to the sideline and turned upfield for 33. Despite the urgency of the situation, Smith remained calm and followed that big completion up with a seam pass to Noah Fant for a 10-yard touchdown that brought Seattle within eight at 21-13 with three and a half minutes left.
One more stop, and the Seahawks would get the ball back with an improbable shot at tying the game. That stop never came, however, as McCaffrey picked up one first down and Purdy scrambled for another, barely sliding past the first down marker and costing Seattle their final timeout on the ensuing unsuccessful challenge. From there, Seattle’s best case scenario was to force one last stop and get the ball back with about 30 seconds left. Instead, Jordan Mason burst through a well-blocked hole on the left side and juked Ryan Neal in the open field, streaking all the way down to the 2 before Mike Jackson knocked him out of bounds. Still, that run served as the finisher, and Purdy kneeled out the clock from there.
~Games like this— scratch that— defenses like this make it tough to judge a quarterback. Geno Smith was under siege all night, with San Francisco’s monstrous front seven making it difficult to get through his reads and eliminating any of the boot-action / moving-pocket schemes Seattle likes to employ. And on the back end, the Niners secondary stuck to Seattle’s receivers like flypaper, providing exactly zero margin for error. They’ve been annihilating the stat lines of opposing quarterbacks all season long and today was no different, as they reduced Geno’s remarkable season-long efficiency to rubble until the final drive.
When the dust settled, Smith’s numbers were decent considering the circumstances. He dropped back to pass a career-high 47 times, completing 31 of 44 throws for 238 yards, a touchdown, and no picks while taking 3 sacks in the process. All told Seattle finished with just 207 net yards passing, or 4.5 yards per play. Sheesh.
Geno has narrowly avoided a lot of interceptions recently and that continued again today. An endzone shot in the first half went through Tanaloa Mufanga’s hands and the call that erased the pick-six was honestly brutal. His final numbers were fine, and he stayed true to his process until the bitter end, but this was not a great performance. No one’s is against these guys, though, and the 10 second half points Seattle scored was the most anyone has in seven games.
~Yards were just so difficult to come by today and that’s reflected in Ken Walker III’s final line. For the fourth time in five games, Seattle found themselves down early and never got their run game into any kind of rhythm. Walker III finished with an underwhelming 47 yards on 12 carries but chipped in 32 more on four receptions. 77 total yards is just fine considering the circumstances.
I love Travis Homer and my confidence doesn’t waver one iota when he’s on the field. His fumble really hurt Seattle’s chances today, and you could see how bad he felt after, but I’m not sure there’s anybody who holds onto the ball the way Dre Greenlaw hit him.
~DK Metcalf is the coolest for so many reasons but my favorite is the deep personal offense he takes at the gall of any cornerback daring to line up against him. It’s even better when that cornerback is someone like Charvarius Ward, who is just as fearless. These two tussled all game long, locking facemasks on every run play and battling for each pass like flags don’t exist. Just awesome to watch.
As far as his total output went, he was productive on a night when few others were. He caught seven passes for 55 yards on nine targets against phenomenal coverage and never backed down in the face of the best defense in the league.
Tyler Lockett also caught seven of nine targets, turning them into 68 yards and a bunch of first downs. He is the finesse to Metcalf’s power and he was out there wiggling his way into soft spots in the defense all night. He’s on his way to another remarkable season and remains the most consistent playmaker in the offense.
~Believe it or not, I think the offensive line did alright. I know I’m beating the hell out of this drum but it’s impossible to talk about any aspect of the offense without acknowledging just how good their defensive counterparts were in this one. Charles Cross and Abe Lucas were admirable against Nick Bosa and Samson Ebukam and three sacks is actually pretty good when you consider that they called 47 pass plays. The interior line held their own on most of the pass plays but were unable to create any holes big enough for Walker III to convert into long runs. That part of their game has really stalled out over the last five weeks.
~In the same way the 49ers defense creates constant tension for opposing offenses, their offense does the same. And that makes it tough on a team like Seattle, who still seems hesitant at the point of attack. Overall, I thought the defense played pretty well— certainly as well as any team has against the Niners lately— but the relentless pressure eventually creates, and then exploits, cracks in their opponents’ plumbing. And when those cracks give way, the 49ers explode. That’s what they did today, as Seattle kept them bottled up on the vast majority of their plays but when the opportunities were there, San Francisco maximized ‘em. The story of this game was the disparity in explosive plays.
Holding this offense to 21 points is really good but they allowed the Niners to wring out the clock with 170 yards rushing, pushing Seattle’s total over 1,000 yards allowed on the ground in the last five games. They gave up two long touchdowns to Kittle through the air but were actually excellent aside from those. Even with those two huge plays, they held the 49ers to 211 yards passing on 27 dropbacks and looked good in coverage aside from a couple blown assignments.
~Michael Dickson and Jason Myers might be the best players on this team right now. Dickson was sensational, punting 7 times at 50 yards per, pinning 3 of them inside the 10 including killing one inside the 1. Myers nailed both his kicks as he continues to be the most accurate kicker in the NFL this season, converting 96% of his field goals and 97% of his extra points. The crazy thing about it is almost every attempt he’s had this season has cleared the crossbar in the middle third. He’s not even making us sweat.
We lost a very close friend a couple days ago. Someone who fought so hard for the people in her life— who’s unrelenting optimism turned each occasion into a great time, and who went out of her way to help at every opportunity. Most importantly, she made everyone feel good about themselves whenever they were around her. There is a huge hole in my heart today, and in the hearts of hundreds of others. The world dimmed a little when she left us, but it’s much brighter than it was before she arrived.
Tonight’s outcome sucks, and it’s hard to watch the Seahawks stumble towards the finish line after such a promising start to the season. We care a lot about this team, this game, and it hurts to watch the 49ers clinch the division on the Seahawks’ field. But I’m reminded that this is just a game, and that I am so fortunate to be healthy, happy, and able to watch it with people I love.
Seattle’s arrow is still pointed up— maybe not as steeply as it was a month ago— but the team is young, fun, hungry, and brimming with potential. The postseason got a little further away today, but it’s very much still in play and the outlook for the ‘Hawks for the next few years is so much rosier than I would’ve imagined as recently as September.
I feel incredibly lucky to watch these guys play, and to have the opportunity to write about it for such a remarkable fanbase. I appreciate you guys so much and the fact that anyone reads this each week still blows me away. I’m grateful for y’all and I can’t wait to watch this team rise with you. Onward and upward. We love you Carmen.
Lit up one of the fanciest cigars I’ve ever had tonight. The Year of the Rabbit from Davidoff is very difficult to come by and I’m extremely grateful to the guys at Seattle Cigar Concierge for providing the rare opportunity to get my hands on some. Delicious stogie, it burns forever, holds its ash to the knuckle, and never pulls hot. Super enjoyable experience!
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