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Close, but …
For the Seahawks to continue hanging with the better teams in the league, they were going to have to defeat one of the best teams in the league.
They got excruciatingly, dramatically and eventually frustratingly close on Christmas Eve before a revved up crowd of 66,697 on Fan Appreciation Day. But in the end, the NFC West champion San Francisco 49ers kicked the Seahawks’ playoff hopes to the curb – literally – as David Akers’ 39-yard field goal with less than three minutes remaining lifted them to a 19-17 victory at CenturyLink Field.
The victory pushed the 49ers to 12-3, and into the No. 2 seed in the conference playoffs. The loss dropped the Seahawks to 7-8, and effectively eliminated them from the playoff hunt.
“That was a heckuva' football game today,” coach Pete Carroll said. “They’ve (San Francisco) had a fantastic season, and they’ve played great football all year long. I think our guys went toe to toe with them in a game that we really had a chance to win.”
The Seahawks did have their chances to salt this one away, none bigger than Heath Farwell’s blocked punt with seven minutes left that Chris Maragos recovered at the 49ers’ 4-yard line. On the very next snap, Marshawn Lynch did what no one had all season– he rushed for a 4-yard score that gave the Seahawks a 17-16 lead.
“We needed a big play,” said Farwell, a special teams specialist who was signed at midseason. “We were hoping it was going to be the game-winner, but we weren’t able to pull it out. But that’s football. You just try to compete until the end and they made one more play than we did.”
Lynch became the first player to run for a touchdown against the 49ers’ top-ranked defense this season, and also the first to run for 100 yards against them (107) since the Green Bay Packers’ Ryan Grant in 2009 – a span that had covered 36 games. Lynch now has 1,118 rushing for the season and ran his club-record streak of games with a touchdown to 11 in a row.
“Marshawn did a great job all week, as far as our technique and doing what we asked for,” quarterback Tarvaris Jackson said. “We wanted to be able to run the football on these guys. Hats off to the offensive line and Marshawn and our fullback (Michael Robinson) and everybody for being to run the football against these guys.”
Added Robinson, “I’m pretty sure Marshawn is not excited about it because we lost. It definitely doesn’t mean much when you lose a game like this. Tough one to swallow today.”
Because the Seahawks could not hold the 49ers, or the lead, as they drove 40 yards in six plays to Akers’ game-winner.
“The plays that we needed to make we didn’t make today, so you have to give the 49ers a lot of credit,” said defensive end Red Bryant, who was presented with the Steve Largent Award in a ceremony prior to the game.
“You see why they have the record that they have, because they’ve been able to make plays all year and today was another one of those days.”
The Seahawks still had time, and the ball, to make two last comeback bids. But they were snuffed, along with their playoff aspirations, when Jackson was sacked and fumble to end the first opportunity and he then threw incomplete to tight end Zach Miller on fourth down with 13 seconds left.
“I felt like we had the game,” Jackson said. “We made some plays toward the end of the game. We felt like we were back in control.
“I couldn’t really say what happened, but we couldn’t get anything going.”
The 49ers had to rally late because the Seahawks had taken the early lead on Jackson’s 15-yard touchdown pass to Doug Baldwin to cap a game-opening drive, and Steven Hauschka kicked a 19-yard field goal to make it 10-3 at the half. But the 49ers battled back, first on Frank Gore’s 4-yard TD run in the third quarter to tie the score and then two Akers’ field goals to take a 16-10 lead.
This one had the feel of a playoff game, in a playoff atmosphere.
“Absolutely,” 49ers quarterback Alex Smith said. “We know what was on the line. You hear all the talk coming out all week. They were playing for their playoff lives and as you can see they threw everything at us.
“This is about as hostile an environment as it gets, I think. It’s a tough place to play. I don’t think we’ve won here for a few years. It’s always going to be tough, especially when there’s something on the line for both teams.”
A win over the Cardinals in Arizona next Sunday would leave the Seahawks with their first non-losing record since 2007, but making plans for the offseason rather than the postseason.
But this season, and especially the way the Seahawks have played in the second half, is far from a total loss. With as many young players as they have not only playing, but making plays, they’re future looks so bright Santa needs to deliver shades to each and every one of them.
“It’s tough to look at it right now, but at the same time the truth of the matter is that’s a 12-win team, they’re going to the playoffs, thye're one of the best teams in the league,” Robinson said. “But we felt like we should have won. Obviously we didn’t. Today wasn’t our day.
“But it’s definitely a springboard that we can use going into the next game and next season, that we can play with the elite teams in the National Football League.”