Unfortunately for the Seahawks, it would never be that easy again.
Against a San Francisco defense that became more physical, more stout and more dominating as the game went on, Seattle's offense began to sputter and stall. And with the game on the line in the late minutes, the Seahawks finally mounted another promising drive only to have it stopped with a costly turnover.
The result was discouraging 19-17 loss to the visiting 49ers on Saturday afternoon, a setback that snuffed Seattle's bid for a second straight playoff appearance.
Seahawks quarterback Tarvaris Jackson had a mediocre outing, going 15-for-28 for 163 yards and one touchdown, but he was pressured on most passing plays by a relentless San Francisco pass rush. Still, he put Seattle in a position for a possible game-winning field goal in the late minutes, but then fumbled the ball away while trying to scramble for a first down with 1:07 to play in the game.
"We had opportunities to win the game, but we didn't make those plays when it came down to it," Jackson said. "Obviously we've got to be able to make those plays. ... We've got to do a better job -- and I have to do a better job -- in order for us to win."
In winning five of their previous six games, the Seahawks were consistently able to move the ball and put up points. Seattle scored 22 or more points in each of those five wins, and 30 or more in the last three, including 38 points last week in a victory at Chicago.
But the NFC West-leading 49ers have one of the elite defenses in the NFL, and they were able to expose and exploit Seattle's offensive weaknesses. San Francisco slowed Seattle's rushing attack as the game wore on, and held Jackson to just 99 passing yards in the final three quarters.
The Seahawks had just 13 yards of offense in the third quarter and 72 in the second half. After the early touchdown, Seattle's only other TD came after a blocked punt in the fourth quarter -- a one-play, 4-yard possession.
After halftime, said Seahawks center Max Unger, "we had a couple of three-and-outs in a row. We couldn't get going. ... That really killed us. You can't have a quarter like that in a game against a good team and expect to win. We had to have production in the third quarter."
Field position was partly responsible for Seattle's offensive woes in the third quarter, said Seattle head coach Pete Carroll. San Francisco kicked off twice in the period and again early in the fourth quarter following a touchdown and two field goals, and Seattle's ensuing possessions after short returns began at the 15, 14 and 16-yard lines.
"The field position shifted and we didn't (move the ball) out," Carroll said. He added, "Just because you're backed up doesn't mean you can't (move the ball), but it's just harder and we were being very careful. ... We would have loved to get out of there, but we didn't and so the whole third quarter was their quarter."
In the third quarter "we weren't able to really get anything going, period," Jackson said. "We have to do a better job of coming out and putting two halves together. ... We felt like we were in control early. That was the start we wanted, but we didn't back it up in the second half."
Despite a stagnant offense, Seattle still had a chance to win in the late minutes. A blocked punt and the resulting touchdown gave the Seahawks a 17-16 lead, and they were marching once more after the 49ers moved back in front with a field goal.
But as Jackson tried to run for a first down near midfield, San Francisco linebacker Larry Grant stripped the ball from behind and teammate Donte Whitner won the scramble for the recovery at the 49ers 36-yard line.
"I was just trying to make a play, trying to get the ball in there, trying to get the first down," Jackson said. "But the guy made a good play. He got the ball out. I've got to be able to protect the ball a little more if I'm going to try to make that play."
After a 49ers punt, the Seahawks got the ball a final time with 41 seconds remaining, but then turned the ball over on downs. It was a disappointing end to an otherwise discouraging day for the Seattle offense.
"It's the National Football League," said Seahawks fullback Michael Robinson. "Those guys get paid to stop us and we get paid to move the ball. And we didn't do that today, especially in the second half."
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