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Man. The Seattle Seahawks gave this one everything they had and, for two glorious quarters, maintained the suspension of disbelief that their fans have held since their dramatic opening day win four months ago. Let’s not fool ourselves— the San Francisco 49ers are an elite football team and Seattle needed to be damn near perfect in order to beat them. They almost were.
The Seahawks started the game with the ball and, after a promising nine-yard run by Ken Walker III, quickly fizzled. Walker III got stacked up on 2nd down and the drive ended with a sack. After Michael Dickson booted it away, San Francisco got to work, leaning on their shifty wide receivers. To be honest, rookie quarterback Brock Purdy got away with a couple throws on that drive, with Tariq Woolen getting his hands on an endzone attempt and Cody Barton nearly snagging a 3rd down pass over the middle. Before that, however, Deebo Samuel turned two tosses into 29 yards rushing and Brandon Aiyuk caught a pass over the middle for 19. Still, Barton’s play in the red zone helped keep the 49ers to just three points and it felt like the Seahawks had avoided catastrophe for the time being.
Seattle’s second possession wasn’t much better than the first, as they went three-and-out again— and this time the 49ers dropped the hammer. The opening play of San Fran’s second drive was a toss to Christian McCaffrey off left tackle and the Niners’ fleet of road-graders absolutely obliterated the Seahawks’ front. McCaffrey took the pitch and sprinted through a four-lane tunnel into the secondary. He was tracked down short of the endzone but not until he had put 68 yards behind him and he’d close the deal on a short touchdown catch a few plays later. That made it 10-0 as the storm clouds quickly converged on Seattle’s hopes for an upset.
The thing about this Seahawks team, though, is that they’ve been resilient as fuck and that grit was on full display after that score. They responded with one of their best drives of the season, going 78 yards on 14 plays to cut the lead to 10-7. On that possession, Geno Smith completed four of five passes for 25 yards and added an 11-yard scramble to keep the chains moving. Deejay Dallas chipped in nine yards on two carries but the star of this particular march was Seattle’s stupendous rookie runner. Walker III received six carries on that drive, translating them into 33 yards and a slick seven-yard score— looking shifty and decisive in the process.
The Niners kept on pushing, applying constant pressure the way few teams can. Undaunted by Seattle’s impressive possession, they embarked on a 10-play, 60-yard trek of their own. Aiyuk got loose against Woolen for a big gain and McCaffrey added a 14-yard run to get them into scoring range but Bruce Irvin snuffed the drive out with a 3rd down sack. That forced San Francisco to accept the consolation of a field goal for their efforts and, more importantly, kept the Seahawks within a score— a score that was waiting just around the bend.
This time, it didn’t take Seattle nearly as long. Three Walker III rushes netted 10 yards and an 11-yard completion to Noah Fant kept things moving. Now, there’s a reason teams never press DK Metcalf unless there’s help over the top but maybe the Niners just got a little cocky. Whatever the reason, cornerback Jimmy Ward creeped up on Metcalf as Smith took the snap at midfield and DK made light work of the poor fella. Accelerating faster than anyone that size ever should, Metcalf quickly gained outside leverage and sprinted past Ward up the left sideline. Geno’s pass was perfect and by the time it hit Metcalf in stride, the gargantuan receiver was three yards ahead of the only defender with a shot. He coasted into the endzone and Jason Myers’ extra point gave the improbable Seattle Seahawks an improbable lead in this game.
By the time Tanner Muse tipped away Purdy’s next 3rd down throw, the potential for Seattle to make this a truly competitive game was very real. The ‘Hawks weren’t able to score on their next possession, running a maddening draw to Dallas on 3rd & 8 for no gain when Smith and the passing game were humming. The Niners responded with another field goal drive, putting them back up by two with just 13 seconds left in the half.
But instead of launching it deep, the Niners squibbed the ensuing kickoff. Colby Parkinson scooped it up at the 24 and covered 14 yards in two steps, setting Seattle up at their own 38 with nine seconds to go. That was enough to convince Pete Carroll to take a shot and, when none materialized, Smith tucked the ball and scrambled up the middle. Last week, Geno expertly goaded Jalen Ramsey into a personal foul and he did the same thing today, soliciting a flag with a late slide. This time, his victim was Ward, who hit him high and added 15 yards to Seattle’s desperate attempt at a pre-halftime score.
There was one tick left on the second quarter clock and Seattle had the ball on San Francisco’s 38. Despite the distance and soggy conditions, the Seahawks sent Myers out for a 56-yard attempt. The NFL’s best kicker this season, who lifted Seattle into the postseason with his game-winner against the Rams, hammered the kick and sent his team to the locker room with a 17-16 lead.
The way Seattle responded to the early deficit against a superior team was just inspiring enough to rope me in. I spent halftime thinking about all the ways the Seahawks could pull this off as well as the impending delirium of our fan base and the savory taste of Niners fans’ tears. Those dreams would become delusions in the span of two drives. The 49ers received the kick at the start of the 3rd quarter and leaned on McCaffrey, Kittle, and Samuel to smash their way down the field. They used nearly eight minutes of clock before Purdy culminated the drive with a one-yard sneak to give the home team their third lead of the game.
The Seahawks were undaunted, however, and answered San Fran’s score with another great drive. Smith found Metcalf for a tough 25-yard gain then went back to him for a massive conversion on 3rd & 12 to the 49ers’ 25. Then Smith found Tyler Lockett for 10 more and another first down, setting themselves up to retake the lead or, at the very least, cut the deficit in half with a field goal. Following a short Dallas run, Geno returned to Lockett for seven yards to set up a very makable 3rd & short. Unfortunately Damien Lewis, finding no one to block, went foraging downfield and trundled a step too far. He was flagged for being illegally downfield and 3rd & 1 became 2nd & 13. It seemed innocuous enough at the time but it ended up being the fulcrum upon which the entire game tipped.
Smith’s endzone shot to Metcalf came up empty on the next play, and that’s when the ground beneath Seattle’s feet shook and gave way. Smith took the snap on 3rd & long and, as pressure came around the edge, stepped into the pocket. As he did, he brought the ball down by his waist and Charles Omenihu swatted it out of his grip. Nick Bosa jumped on the fumble, delivering a heavy kick in the nuts to a Seahawks team that had been punching well above their weight.
It was a blow Seattle would not recover from. The Niners stacked up another long touchdown drive then stopped the Seahawks after a first down completion to Metcalf. They wasted no time removing all doubt from the equation, as Purdy hit Samuel for a 74-yard knockout to make it 38-17 and the Bay Area celebration began in earnest. San Francisco picked Geno off on his next attempt and the rest of the game was academic. They’d add a field goal and Smith would manufacture one last scoring drive, hitting Metcalf in the endzone for the second time, but it was way too little, way too late. Final score: 41-23, San Francisco.
~Even though they lost, I think this is Geno Smith’s team moving forward. The two turnovers in the second half hurt but the 49ers do that to everybody and he was as good against them as just about anyone has been since Halloween. He completed 25 of 35 passes (71.4%) for 253 yards (7.2 Y/A), two touchdowns, an interception, and the fumble. He was really good on a day where the chips were stacked heavily against him.
He had to be absolutely flawless if the Seahawks were gonna have a real chance at this and he was until halfway through the third quarter. There will be lots of time to discuss and debate how Seattle should approach the QB position this offseason but if they decide to roll it forward with Geno, I’m on board.
The man is beloved in that locker room and outside of some potential interception regression, I see no reason he can’t be every bit as good next year. And when I say every bit as good, I mean a top-10 / top-12 kind of quarterback. Those are hard to find and if he is, his contract should be something of a value relative to new contracts given to other QBs in that tier. Regardless of what happens, I will cherish Geno Smith’s 2022 season for a long time.
~Ken Walker III is a difference maker. He’s looked healthy the last few games and the effect it’s had on this offense is palpable. He had 15 carries for 63 yards and a score and, like Smith, while the numbers aren’t amazing in a vacuum, they’re as good as anyone has been against SF. Walker III seems to be learning not to give into the temptation of bouncing runs outside, hitting his gaps with authority and cutting upfield instead of laterally. He’s running with poise and intention and his ceiling is as high as anyone’s in the league.
~DK Metcalf just played the game of his life, grabbing 10 of 13 targets for 136 yards and two touchdowns. That the Seahawks got blown out anyway speaks to how far this team still has to go in order to compete with the truly great teams in the NFL; but DK put everyone on notice today. Good players impact games but great ones take over. And Metcalf took over this game as much as any receiver could given the circumstances. He received 37% of the team’s targets, hauled in 40% of the catches, notched 54% of the receiving yards, and caught 100% of Smith’s TD passes.
Metcalf was a complete menace this afternoon, winning every which way a wide receiver can. The full array of his talents were on display, beating good defenders with speed, size, route-running, and hands. It was a fierce reminder that while his end-of-season numbers weren’t quite what many hoped, he’s still an extremely dangerous animal.
Tyler Lockett was efficient with his targets but there was no explosion to his performance. he caught six of eight opportunities for 39 yards but you’re hoping for more than five yards per target to a player of his caliber. It’s rare to see two receivers on the same team go off in the same game, and Lockett has been that dude plenty of times when Metcalf has struggled. Today was just DK’s day.
~The defense did what they could against an offense that seems, well, unstoppable right now. Ryan Neal had 10 tackles, Cody Barton had nine, and Bruce Irvin had a sack among two tackles for loss. There were a few other flashes from Quandre Diggs, Uchenna Nwosu, and Tariq Woolen but it’s apparent that this unit still has a long ways to go. The 49ers are good, sure, but they scored 25 points in an 18-minute stretch today, vaporizing any hope Seattle had.
The front seven simply needs to be a lot better if the Seahawks are going to entertain realistic hopes of true contention next year. The good news is that there are a lot of avenues available to them as they go about trying to improve. Part of the reason I’d like to extend Geno is because it silos the team’s shopping list, allowing them to target their biggest weaknesses— defensive line, edge, and interior O-line* without distraction. Those deficiencies are far bigger reasons for Seattle’s struggles than quarterback play was.
*and hopefully a third WR, as a little treat
The secondary had some misses today but they are a strength of this team moving forward. Woolen and Coby Bryant are coming off excellent rookie seasons, Diggs is a stalwart, Neal was a revelation, and they get Jamal Adams back. And, assuming a full Jordyn Brooks recovery, this team can pin their ears back in pursuit of additional talent closer to the ball.
~The Seahawks didn’t commit a penalty until halfway through the third quarter. The first one was a false start that turned 3rd & 7 into 3rd & 12 but Smith and Metcalf bailed them out of that one. Damien Lewis’ penalty (and I hate the rule), was the crack in the dam that the 49ers’ relentless pressure finally exploited. 3rd & short became second and long, which became a turnover the team would never recover from. Seattle would commit three more penalties in the next five minutes as the wheels rattled and came off.
Honestly, five penalties for 30 yards on the road in the playoffs is pretty great. It just reiterates the theme of near-perfection that was required to have a shot in this one. It’s hard to perform when there’s no margin for error and even though there weren’t a lot of mistakes, that constant stress makes the ones that happen feel huge.
~Seattle had their best 3rd down performance in a long time and did it against the best 3rd down defense in the league. Man... they really took their shot in this one. Really proud of this team.
The Seahawks season ends in the first round of the playoffs for the third time in five years but this time it feels different— in a good way. This team isn’t as good as the 2018 and 2020 squads but I think that’s part of the reason this loss has a more favorable scent. The expectations weren’t nearly as high as they were in ‘18 or ‘20 but the trajectory ain’t the same either. Those teams felt like they were trying to cling to something that was slipping away. The 2022 Seahawks are reaching for something they have yet to attain. Those teams’ arrows were pointed sideways, and wavering. This team’s arrow appears to be pointed steeply up.
The next seven months will be rife with discussions about the best way to maximize this team’s obvious potential but for now, I simply want to appreciate how fun this season was. It started with an insanely emotional win against franchise legend Russell Wilson and ended with an equally crazy victory of franchise legend Bobby Wagner. In between, we saw them win the highest scoring game in the NFL, rip off four straight double-digit wins, complete an unbelievable playoff push with consecutive victories, and put a bunch of dudes in the Pro Bowl.
There was no beef that we were aware of. Just raucous, unrelenting positive energy that wove its way through the season like golden thread. The loss stinks but once the odor dissipates, the vibes are gonna be resplendent. I had so much fucking fun watching the Seahawks this year and I fully anticipate them to make a lot of noise next season.
There are plenty more playoff games in Seattle’s near future— here’s to this being the last one with low expectations. Onward, upward, and thanks for reading.
I had to watch this game at the airport so I wasn’t able to light up but if had been able to, I would have gone back to one of my favorite cigars in the world— the 1964 Padron Anniversary. Just the smoothest, easiest smoke you can ever ask for, and the only cigar I’ve ever retro-haled without so much as a hint of discomfort. Immaculately constructed and packed with flavor. Gonna have one as soon as I get home.
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