By John Boyle
Four days after one of their biggest wins under Pete Carroll, the Seahawks came crashing back to earth Thursday night in a 13-6 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
This certainly doesn’t have to be a devastating, season-altering loss for the Seahawks. The 49ers are a very good team, despite their loss last weekend, and the Seahawks are still 4-3 with plenty of season left to play themselves into a playoff berth. That being said, however, this was a reminder that the Seahawks have some improving to do, particularly on offense, if they are going to be a playoff team.
So what did we learn from Thursday’s loss?
Seattle’s offense isn’t as good as it looked last week
The Seahawks once again tried to hit some big plays down the field after having so much success with the deep ball against New England. The difference Thursday, of course, is that the 49ers have a competent (actually better than that) secondary, so this time around chucking the ball down the field and hoping for the best didn’t work out.
Rookie quarterback opened the game looking he was prepared to build off of last week’s win, but some costly drops killed a couple of drives, then in the second half he and the rest of the offense struggled to get anything going. Wilson completed just 3 of 10 passes in the second half for 19 yards, and made one critical mistake when he tried to force a deep pass to Braylon Edwards despite triple coverage, leading to Seattle’s only turnover. After that third quarter interception, the Seahawks had the ball three times in the fourth quarter in a one-score game, and those three possessions netted just 24 yards and one first down.
… Nor is it as bad as it looked Thursday
Yes, 251 yards and 6 points is a bad day no matter how you slice it up. That being said, however, the 49ers do have one of the best defense in the league and were playing angry after a humiliating loss last weekend (the 49ers have now outscored opponents 106-17 in five games following a loss dating back to last season).
It will not always be as easy as it was for Seattle’s passing game as it was against New England, but it also won’t always been this difficult. With a few extra days to prepare, it would not be surprising to see the Seahawks’ offense take a big step forward next week in Detroit.
An already tough challenge was also made a lot worse by a number of big drops from Robert Turbin (on what might have been a touchdown) Doug Baldwin, Evan Moore and Marshawn Lynch.
And while little went right for the Seahawks on offense, it is worth noting that Lynch did rush for 103 yards on 19 carries, showing that Seattle can run the ball against even the best defenses.
NFC West teams play some serious defense
Coming into Thursday’s game, four of the top five scoring defense in the NFL were the four teams in the NFC West. All four teams also rank in the top 10 in yards allowed per game.
In other words, this game was pretty much what we all thought it would be.
Seattle’s run defense is not, as it turns out, impenetrable
Through six games, the Seahawks had the No. 2 run defense in the league, giving up 70 yards per game. No team had rushed for more than 87 yards.
On Thursday, however, the 49ers rushed for 175 yards and Frank Gore had 131 on 16 carries. Gore had 92 yards in the second half on 10 carries.
The only good news for Seattle in that department is that 49ers do have the league’s best rushing attack, so it should get easier.
The 49ers won the special teams battle
Thanks in large part to the play of 49ers punter Andy Lee, the Seahawks average starting field position was their own 15-yard line, the worst for any team this season according to ESPN Stats &Info. Facing the 49ers defense, that would make for an uphill battle for even the best NFL offenses. And the Seahawks are not one of the best NFL offense (Captain Obvious, reporting for duty).
The 49ers, meanwhile, enjoyed pretty good field position in no small part thanks to the ability to get return yardage out of Tedd Ginn Jr., who had 70 yards on three punt returns.
Jim Harbaugh doesn’t care about your bets
At the end of the game, something odd happened. A penalty was called on Seattle in the end zone, resulting in a safety. The call of a personal-foul chop block appeared to be a dubious one, but had no impact on the game because it was fourth down and Ben Obomanu came up inches short of the first down. But rather than take the two points and get the ball back on a free kick, Harbaugh elected to have the officials measure, then he declined the penalty—and as a result those two points—when it was determined that the Seahawks had come up short.
And before anyone cooks up any conspiracy theories, that was the safe call by Harbaugh. Seattle had no timeouts, so by declining the penalty, San Francisco could take a knee to end the game. Had the 49ers taken the safety, the Seahawks could have gone for an onside kick, then if they recovered that, theoretically they could have made a game out of it with a quick score and another onside kick. Is that an insanely unlikely scenario? Absolutely, but it’s probably more likely than an NFL team fumbling while taking a knee, then giving up an 80-yard drive with very little time remaining.
But while that decision had no impact on the outcome of the game, it did cause a lot of money to change hands. In Vegas and most online betting sites, the point-spread Thursday was in the 7-7.5-point range. So for a moment, everyone who had the 49ers thought they had pulled out an unlikely cover when the safety was called. Instead, Harbaugh took money out of the pockets of the very people who put their money on his team.