By John Boyle
I wrote in today’s Herald about how meaningful a win in San Francisco would be for the Seahawks, so I’m not going to try to convince you now that a loss wasn’t sigfnicant. That being said, however, it is worth remembering after Seattle’s 19-17 loss to the 49ers that all of the Seahawks’ goals are still in front of them.
At 11-2, the Seahawks still have a two-game lead over San Francisco in the NFC West with three games to play, and over New Orleans, which beat Carolina on Sunday night to go to 9-4.
“What’s important to us is that we’ve got a lot of football left,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “… Everything’s out there. We’ve got three huge games coming up here.”
With Seattle’s second loss of the season in the books, let’s take a look at some things that stood out from their afternoon in San Francisco.
1. The 49ers still a threat in the NFC
Yes, the Seahawks are still very likely going to win the division title and earn home-field advantage, but the 49ers showed Sunday they’re still a very good team, particularly on defense. And for San Francisco, a team that has been up and down this season, beating the team with the league’s best record has to serve as a confidence builder. Of course the Seahawks have dominated the 49ers in Seattle in each of the past two meetings, which should bode well for their chances in a playoff game, but if San Francisco’s defense can come close to the effort it showed in this game, the 49ers should be tough in the playoffs, even on the road.
2. Sunday’s injuries could be costly
The Seahawks came into this game relatively healthy — by late-season NFL standards at least — but could have some significant injury concerns going forward. Linebacker KJ broke a bone in his foot, which according to Carroll “looks like a six-week type of injury.” That means if Wright does make it back this year — the Seahawks could elect to put him on injured reserve if further evaluation determines the injury will keep him out any longer — it might not be until deep in the postseason or the Super Bowl if Seattle were to get that far. With Wright out, Malcolm Smith will take over as the starter at weakside linebacker. Smith started the first four games this season at strongside linebacker for Bruce Irvin, and has also started on the weakside this season when Wright was filling in at middle linebacker for an injured Bobby Wagner. Additionally center Max Unger was unable to finish the game with what Carroll called a pectoral strain, and safety Jeron Johnson, who has battled hamstring issues this year, injured his other hamstring and could not finish the game.
3. Seattle defense had another very good day… until one very bad play
After the 49ers drove deep into Seattle territory on their second possession, the Seahawks got a stop in the red zone to force a field goal, then after the 49ers blocked a punt, the defense again forced a field goal. And until San Francisco’s game-winning field goal, the Seahawks were pitching a second-half shutout while holding Colin Kaepernick to another sub-par performance and keeping the run game in check.
All of that was undone, however, by one 51-yard Frank Gore run that set up the winning score. Malcolm Smith said he was out of position on the play during a postgame interview with Q13 Fox — “I’ll take the blame for that… We just got outflanked on that one,” he said — but Smith was hardly the only guilty party on the play. Most notably, Earl Thomas, who is almost never out of position, appeared to take a bad angle and get sucked in too far on the play, allowing Gore to turn a solid run into a huge one. If the Seahawks limit Gore to a shorter run there and eventually get off the field, they’re looking at a victory in which they held the 49ers to 16 points and less that 300 yards. Instead, one of the 49ers’ only big plays of the day was a game-changer.
“We just let them get out with a big run,” Carroll said. “It was a one-play deal as it came down to it. Once they made that run, they’re already in field goal position.
4. Seattle’s special teams were a little less special Sunday
Usually a strength of the team, Seattle’s special teams unit, and punt team in particular, struggled. The blocked punt was the most obvious mistake, but usually steady punter Jon Ryan didn’t seem to be hitting the ball as well as usual, and had a net average of only 31 yards per punt.
On the plus side, Golden Tate did have a 38-yard punt return to set up Seattle’s final field goal.
5. Penalties were again an issue
Earlier this season the Seahawks lamented how often penalties caused their offense to stall out, and that old problem came back again Sunday. And I know, I know, there were some questionable calls in there, but really both teams were victim of/benefited from some bad calls and no calls both ways, and some of those costly penalties against Seattle were very much legitimate calls. When the Seahawks are rolling at home, they can afford a few more penalties than is ideal, but in a low-scoring, physical battle on the road, 9 penalties for 85 yards was a significant factor.
6. The Seahawks won’t panic after losing to their rivals
Sure the Seahawks would have loved to clinch the NFC West in San Francisco, but they’re not about to implode after one tough loss, especially not when very little changes in the grand scheme of things when it comes to postseason seeding, the division race, etc.
The Seahawks are back on the road next weekend, but against a struggling New York Giants team that was blown out by San Diego on Sunday, then finish with two in a row at home. Two wins would clinch the No. 1 seed regardless of what else happens around the NFC, and one win could if the Seahawks get a little help.
“It’s not panic time, we just need to make sure we get back to work, come back with our attention to detail,” quarterback Russell Wilson said in his postgame press conference. “Obviously you don’t want to lose this game, it gave us a great opportunity for down the road, but at the same time, you don’t win them all. The key is to try to get to the last one and win that one.”