SEATTLE — San Francisco had more members of Seattle’s Super Bowl-winning defense in uniform Sunday than the Seahawks did.
But the one guy still wearing blue stole the spotlight.
“You can’t talk about this game unless you talk about Bobby Wagner,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said after the Seahawks routed the 49ers 43-16 in an NFL game. “He just had a phenomenal game. There’s not many more things the guy could do.”
Certainly not on the stat sheet.
Wagner had 12 tackles, including a sack. The All-Pro middle linebacker forced a fumble and recovered it. He had two tackles for losses.
The highlight of it all was a team-record 98-yard interception return for a touchdown, his first on an interception.
“That was the first pick six in my life, I think,” Wagner said. “I was just trying to make sure the quarterback didn’t catch me.”
With four minutes remaining in the game, Wagner stepped in front of San Francisco running back Jeff Wilson, Jr., and intercepted a pass over the middle from 49ers quarterback Nick Mullens.
Wagner broke down the right sideline, and Mullens was the only 49er who maybe had a chance to keep him from going the distance.
But Wagner outran him for the touchdown that proved to be the final points of the game.
“I just broke on it and caught it and tried to score, make sure I didn’t get caught by the quarterback because I would never hear the end of that for the rest of the year,” Wagner said.
He said he gave no thought to trying make a move on Mullens.
“I was 50 yards in by that point so I was losing my breath already,” Wagner said. “I didn’t have time for no jukes. I was just putting my head down.”
Wagner’s interception return was the longest in team history, topping a 94-yard pick six by Brandon Browner against the New York Giants in 2011.
Browner was one of the original members of the Legion of Boom, the secondary that led Seattle to the Super Bowl title after the 2013 season, and a lot of media attention last week went to the return of former Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman to CenturyLink Field as a member of the 49ers.
The 49ers (2-10) also have linebacker Malcolm Smith, who was named Most Valuable Player of Seattle’s 43-8 Super Bowl victory over Denver after the 2013 season.
Other than linebacker K.J. Wright, who has played in just three games this season because of a knee injury, Wagner is the only member of that defense still playing for Seattle (7-5).
If you could have only one player from that unit around which to rebuild a young defense, Wagner made another strong statement Sunday that he should be the one.
“He’s playing as good as you can play the game,” Carroll said of Wagner. “He’s a phenomenal football player, really in the peak of his career, doing a great job, making all the plays.”
Now the unquestioned leader on a young defense, Wagner is responding in a huge way.
“He’s the best linebacker in the game, and nobody can argue that,” Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson said. “He’s been making a lot of great plays. He makes our defense tick. He does the right thing, he knows how to do it, and he prepares the right way.”
Seattle defensive end Frank Clark agreed.
“Bobby’s doing everything right now that says: Best linebacker in the NFL. At the end of the day, if you feel like there’s somebody better out there, I don’t know what to tell you,” Clark said.
“You look down the list, you look at the ability to affect the game individually, that man is doing his job all across the board, and there’s nothing but respect for him,” Clark said.
If Wagner is having his best season yet — and some say he is — that would really be something for the seven-year veteran.
He came to Seattle as a second-round draft pick out of Utah State in 2012 — 28 picks before the Seahawks chose Wilson in the third round – and has been a starter since Day One.
He has been named to four straight Pro Bowls, and he was first-team All-Pro in three of the past four seasons.
In 2014, Wagner got a vote for NFL MVP. Not Defensive MVP. Straight-up, overall NFL MVP.
He now has nine career interceptions, seven fumble recoveries and four touchdowns, the first three on fumbles.
Statistically, Wagner has never had a better game than he did on Sunday. It would be hard to top a day with a sack, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and a pick six.
But Wagner was hesitant to declare it his best game ever.
“I don’t know. I mean, I felt good,” Wagner said. “It’s good to keep points off the board. I’m just trying to do my job.”
If Wagner is shy about saying how well he is playing, his teammates aren’t.
“One of the things Bobby and I will always say is don’t get bored with consistency,” Wilson said. “He believes in consistency. He believes in his approach and how he prepares. We just love him being the quarterback of the defense.”
And if he ever wants to play offense, Sunday’s pick six made for a good audition.
“He looked great,” Seattle running back Rashaad Penny said of Wagner’s sprint down the sideline. “He was pulling away from that quarterback.”
Wilson said he’d take Wagner on offense any day.
“Bobby and I always have this discussion on who’s faster. He always talks about how he can chase me down. Today he was rolling,” Wilson said. “He could play receiver if he wanted to.”