By Eric D. Williams The News Tribune
SAN FRANCISCO — In a clash of similar, bruising styles, the Seattle Seahawks were beaten at their own game Thursday night.
Behind a physical running game and a stingy defense, the San Francisco 49ers showed they are not ready to relinquish their title as the heavyweights of the NFC West, pounding the Seahawks 13-6 at Candlestick Park.
Seattle allowed a season-high 175 rushing yards on a variety of traps, leads and toss plays, as the Niners kept Seattle’s defense off-balance most of the evening.
Heading into the game, the Seahawks were the No. 2-ranked rushing defense in the league, allowing an average of just 70 yards per game.
Seattle hadn’t allowed that many rushing yards since — wait for it — the last time the Seahawks played the Niners, giving up 178 yards at CenturyLink Field in a 19-17 setback last December.
Seattle held San Francisco to 58 rushing yards in the first half. But the Seahawks let the floodgates open in the second half, giving up 115 yards.
San Francisco entered the game as the top rushing team in the league, averaging 176.8 yards a contest.
“It was disappointing because we didn’t stop the run like we wanted to,” said Seattle linebacker Leroy Hill, who finished with a team-high nine tackles. “But there’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Holding them to 13 points is nothing to be embarrassed about.”
San Francisco continued its dominance over the Seahawks, defeating Seattle for the fourth straight time and for the fifth time in the past seven meetings.
The Seahawks haven’t won in San Francisco since 2008.
After being held to 36 yards in a 26-3 humbling by the New York Giants last week, running back Frank Gore finished with 131 yards on 16 carries to pace the Niners, including three explosive runs of 18 yards or more.
Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch also proved effective running the ball against San Francisco’s stout front, totaling 103 yards on 19 carries.
But rookie quarterback Russell Wilson could not overcome at least four key drops by his receivers, including three on third down that would have went for long gains.
“It was crucial,” Seattle head coach Pete Carroll said of the dropped passes. “Because the game was so close, it was those plays that could have made the difference.”
Wilson did not have a good day, completing nine of 23 passes for 123 yards and an interception.
His counterpart, Alex Smith, wasn’t much better, finishing 14 of 23 for 140 yards, with one touchdown and one interception.
With the win, San Francisco sits alone atop the NFC West at 5-2. Seattle dropped to 4-3. Arizona is second at 4-2.
The Seahawks are now 0-3 in NFC West contests this season, and 1-3 on the road.
The two teams traded field goals in the opening quarter. After Seattle’s defense stopped San Francisco on the opening drive, the Seahawks marched 62 yards on 10 plays from their own 4-yard line, with Steven Hauschka drilling a 52-yard field goal to give Seattle a 3-0 lead.
But on San Francisco’s next drive, the Niners drove 60 yards on 11 plays, tying the game 3-3 with a 38-yard, David Akers field goal.
Hauschka made another field goal from 35 yards in the second quarter to give Seattle a 6-3 lead, but also missed from 51 yards in the first half.
San Francisco took its first lead of the game on a 10-play, 86-yard drive midway through the third quarter that ended with Smith finding tight end Delanie Walker on a shallow crossing route for a 12-yard score, giving the Niners the lead for good, 10-6, with 4:29 left in the third quarter.
The Niners got the ball back and appeared in position to put the game away, but on third-and-goal from the 7-yard line, Smith broke outside the pocket and tried to stick a throw to wide receiver Randy Moss in the back of the end zone, but Seattle cornerback Brandon Browner jumped in front for the touchdown-saving interception.
Seattle took over at the 3-yard line, but couldn’t get a first down and had to punt.
After a Ted Ginn Jr. 16-yard punt return put San Francisco at Seattle’s 49-yard line, the Niners drove deep into Seattle territory once again for their final points of the game, an Akers 28-yard field goal.
Seattle crossed midfield just once in the second half, finishing with just 74 yards of offense in the third and fourth quarters.
The Seahawks now get three days off to lick their wounds and get ready for another tough road test at Detroit on Oct. 28, the last of a five-game stretch where Seattle plays four on the road.
“We had a short week, then with the travel, but it’s no excuse,” Seattle defensive tackle Brandon Mebane said. “We still should have come out and played better than we did.
“I think we played pretty well, but we didn’t play good enough to win this game.”