Throughout the season, the Seattle Seahawks have relied on big plays from their defense to close out games. On Sunday, they came up just a bit short.
In a rivalry game featuring two of the league’s best defenses, the San Francisco 49ers kicked a 22-yard field goal with 26 seconds left on the clock to lift the 49ers to a 19-17 victory and hand the Seahawks just their second loss on the season.
The Niners win prevented the Seahawks from clinching the NFC West in San Francisco’s Candlestick Park, where they haven’t lost to a division foe since October of 2008. The hard-hitting, defensive battle reinforced the perception that the Seahawks-49ers has become one of the NFL’s best rivalries, a notion echoed by San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh after the game.
"Enjoy it? Not the word I would use," Harbaugh said. "It's like going to the dentist chair for 3½ hours and getting a root canal. These games are only for the tough."
On Sunday, San Francisco was a bit tougher. After the 49ers staked a 6-0 lead in the first quarter, Seattle responded with an 11-yard touchdown run from Marshawn Lynch, whose team-leading 72 yards put him over 1,000 yards for the third consecutive season. From there on out, the teams traded leads four times, with Seattle pulling ahead 17-16 on Steven Hauschka’s 31-yard field goal with 6:20 remaining. The score was set up by a 38-yard punt return by Golden Tate, who also caught a team-high six passes for 65 yards.
With a fourth-quarter lead, Seattle’s No. 1-ranked defense has been perfect in closing out games this season, but with little chance of winning the division, the 49ers knew they needed a victory to remain on the inside of the NFC playoff picture. With their backs against the wall, San Francisco strung together an 11-play game-winning drive, keyed by Frank Gore’s 51-yard run that put the Niners into field goal range. San Francisco was then able to pick up one more first down on a run by quarterback Colin Kaepernick, an important play that allowed them to bleed the clock down to less than 30 seconds remaining when they kicked the deciding field goal.
All losses to a hated division rival sting, but by virtue of their dominant win over the New Orleans Saints on Monday night, Seattle had already earned a playoff berth and sat on a two-game lead over the rest of the NFC playoff field entering the game. In other words, the loss didn’t cost them anything in the standings.
“I’ve got a motto that I go by that says, ‘You win some, you learn some,’” Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin said after the game. “It’s frustrating, but at the same time we’ve got to learn from this.”
Seattle can apply the lessons of the loss on Sunday when they travel to New York to play the 5-8 Giants, before closing out the season with home games against their other division rivals, the Arizona Cardinals and St. Louis Rams.