SEATTLE — Coming off an emotional Week 12 road win, Seattle refused to overlook the San Francisco 49ers.
And for the third straight week these re-tooling Seahawks edged closer to a playoff berth.
Facing an underwhelming 49ers team at home, Seattle avoided a potential trap game and solidified itself as the frontrunner in the NFC wild-card race.
Seattle put together arguably its most complete performance of the year and spoiled a rather uneventful Richard Sherman homecoming with a 43-16 blowout of the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday at CenturyLink Field.
“We knew coming in this was not a game that we could just accept as a win,” Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin said. “For us to get this win at home, knowing that we are continuously keeping our playoff hopes alive and that we are in the driver’s seat, is a good feeling to have.”
The Seahawks (7-5) won their third straight game, and with four regular-season contests remaining they own leads over Minnesota, Washington, Carolina and Philadelphia for the NFC’s top wild-card spot.
“We’re putting together the right formula for us to make a push here,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “… It’s great to have three wins in a row, but we have a long ways to go because of what happened early.”
Seattle’s 43 points marked a season high. Russell Wilson efficiently threw four touchdown passes on 11-of-17 passing for 185 yards.
Jaron Brown caught two TDs, Tyler Lockett had one and Baldwin also found the end zone, complementing a running game that got back on track following a down Week 12 in Carolina.
Chris Carson led Seattle in rushing with 69 yards on 13 carries, and Rashaad Penny added 65 yards and a touchdown on seven rushes.
But Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner shined brightest Sunday.
The All-Pro recorded a game-high 12 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and ran a Nick Mullins interception back 98 yards for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
“Bobby is a legend,” Seahawks defensive lineman Frank Clark said. “He’s a legend in his prime right now. I feel honored to be a four-year player and look at him as a leader. Bobby don’t say much, but he lets his play do the talking.”
Seattle built a 20-0 first-half lead with touchdowns passes to Brown and Lockett. A 1-yard touchdown pass from Wilson to Baldwin with 1:17 remaining in the half gave the Seahawks their three-score advantage.
Each score delivered a new receiver-led TD celebration, but Seattle’s first gained the most attention.
Following a 4-yard TD pass to Brown, Seahawks receivers re-enacted The Tip in CenturyLink’s south end zone as an ode to Sherman and his memorable play during the 2013 season’s NFC Championship game.
Sherman paid it no mind.
“I didn’t even see it,” the former Seahawk said after the game. “I don’t think about it, honestly. They’ve done a bunch of fun celebrations.”
Lockett gave Seattle a two-score lead with his ninth touchdown of the year at 13:41 of the second quarter. The speedy wideout beat former Seahawks linebacker Malcolm Smith before hauling in a deep ball from Wilson for a 52-yard score.
A key special-teams play set up Seattle’s third score.
Late in the first half, San Francisco punt returner Richie James Jr. muffed a Michael Dickson punt. Neiko Thorpe pounced on the ball, setting Seattle up deep in San Francisco territory. Six plays later, Wilson connected with Baldwin for a 1-yard touchdown that extended Seattle’s lead to 20-0 with 1:17 remaining in the half.
San Francisco kicker Robbie Gould made a 45-yard field as the half expired, cutting Seattle’s lead to 20-3.
Seattle, just 16 seconds into the second half, extended its lead to 27-3. Lockett burst through San Francisco’s kickoff coverage for an 84-yard kickoff return, and one play later Penny took a pitch around left end for a 20-yard TD run.
San Francisco responded with a touchdown from former University of Washington standout Dante Pettis, who finished with five catches for a game-high 129 yards and two touchdowns. The rookie caught a short pass from Mullens, picked up a block and raced down the right side and into the end zone, trimming Seattle’s lead to 27-10 with 11:24 remaining in the third.
Brown’s second touchdown reception — an 18-yarder — put Seattle in front 34-10 with 14:17 to play in the fourth quarter. On the 49ers’ first play following the kickoff, Pettis flashed more big-play ability with a 75-yard catch-and-run touchdown.
A Janikowski 40-yard field goal pushed Seattle’s lead to 37-16 with 7:46 remaining in the fourth, and Bobby Wagner polished off the win with a 98-yard interception return for a touchdown to give Seattle a 43-16 lead late in the fourth.
The win puts Seattle (7-5) atop the NFC wild-card standings with four weeks to play. The Seahawks own leads over Minnesota (6-5-1), Washington (6-5), Carolina (6-6) and Philadelphia (5-6) among the teams contending for wild-card spots.
San Francisco (2-10) owns the worst record in the NFC and is tied with Oakland in the race for the No. 1 pick in next year’s NFL draft.
Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks — Wilson completed 11-of-17 passes for 185 yards and threw four touchdowns. Seattle leaned on the run, and Wilson delivered big plays when needed. The four TD passes marked a season-high, pushed Wilson’s season total to 25 and was his eighth consecutive game with multiple TD passes.
Bobby Wagner, Seattle Seahawks — Wagner’s brilliant season continued Sunday. The All-Pro recorded a game-high 12 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and returned an interception 98 yards for a touchdown.
Dante Pettis, San Francisco 49ers — The University of Washington product returned home Sunday and played well to lead a depleted receiving group. The rookie caught five passes for a game-high 129 yards and two touchdowns. His electric 75-yard catch-and-run touchdown in the fourth quarter was reminiscent of his work on Montlake.
Bobby Wagner on his fourth-quarter pick-six:
“Yeah, I just caught it. It was a crazy run. I was super tired, and I was trying to figure out which celebration I can catch my breath on. I figured what better celebration than to go to sleep.”
Pete Carroll on whether he talked to Richard Sherman:
“Yeah, we talked pregame. He was good. We just said ‘Hey.’ It was exactly the way you would hope it would be. It was nice to see him.”
Richard Sherman on his emotions ahead of the game:
“It was just a regular game. It’s just unfortunate we didn’t play as well as we could have. Had too many turnovers, gave up too many plays. That’s football, and that’s kind of the way things have gone this season.”
Neiko Thorpe on his second-quarter muffed punt fumble recovery:
“It’s like a dog that ain’t ate in a month, you feel me? That’s your lunch right there, and you got to go get it. It’s definitely a by-any-means mentality. It was a big dog pile, and I was at the bottom, but I definitely couldn’t let it go. It was too great.”
Dante Pettis on coming back to Seattle:
“I mean, I love this city. I’ve been here for four years. It’s always cool to come back. But it sucks that we lost here. I wanted to get a win out here, but we couldn’t do that.”
168 — Number of rushing yards for the Seahawks. Seattle ran for 75 last week against Carolina, breaking an eight-game streak of 150 or more rush yards a game.
0 — The number of tackles former Seahawks great Richard Sherman recorded. Seattle rarely targeted Sherman, who had a quiet game in his much-anticipated return to Seattle.
17 — The total number of pass attempts from Russell Wilson, which matched his season low. Wilson was 14-of-17 during a Week 8 win against Detroit.
25 — San Francisco’s percentage of success in the red zone. Seattle rose up when it needed to. Bobby Wagner was responsible for two stops with his forced fumble and his interception.