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Held at Bay
SAN FRANCISCO – Welcome to the new NFC West.
Finesse? Forget about it. This has become a division where big-boy pads are a prerequisite and the faint of heart need not apply. The Seahawks’ 13-6 loss to the defending division champion San Francisco 49ers in Thursday night’s nationally televised game at Candlestick Park was a down-and-dirty dogfight from start to finish – which is the way things have gone for the four NFC West teams this season, and it appears nothing will change as the season progresses. “We found ourselves in the midst of a real slugfest here tonight,” said coach Pete Carroll, who grew up in the Bay Area and used to coach for the 49ers.
“I don’t think that’s a real surprise that it could have gone that way and it did. We had two good defenses playing and two teams committed to run the football. “That’s what this division has become.”
There was only one touchdown scored in the game that featured the league’s No. 1- and No. 4-ranked defenses in the 49ers and Seahawks. Other than Alex Smith’s 12-yard pass to tight end Delanie Walker on the 49ers’ first possession of the second half, there was a whole lot of kicking going on.
Steven Hauschka supplied all the Seahawks’ points with field goals of 52 and 35 yards – on their first two possessions of the game. David Akers, last seasons’ NFC Pro Bowl kicker, countered with field goals of 38 yards (in the first quarter) and 28 yards (in the fourth quarter).
While the loss dropped the Seahawks to 4-3, and prevented them from winning three in a row of the first time in two-plus seasons under Carroll, the 49ers moved to 5-2 and took over sole possession of first place in the West.
Three of the Seahawks’ losses have come to their division opponents, all on the road. But they will have rematches at CenturyLink Field against the 49ers (Dec. 23), Arizona Cardinals (Dec. 9) and St. Louis Rams (Dec. 30).
But first, there will be a long weekend to ponder all the plays that were close but just not close enough in this oh-so-close loss to the 49ers before the players return on Monday to begin preparing for their Oct. 28 game against the Lions in Detroit. “I’m not disappointed at all,” rookie quarterback Russell Wilson said. “There’s a lot of season left and I’m confident in where we can go.”
As for this game, the Seahawks allowed the 49ers to rush for 175 yards – including 131 on just 16 carries by old nemesis Frank Gore. They had been allowing an average of 70 rushing yards.
“I’m not pleased with the way we played on defense, because we allowed them to run the ball,” Carroll said. “That’s stuff that shouldn’t happen.”
That was never more apparent than on the 10-play, 86-yard drive to the game’s only TD, and featured seven first downs. Gore caught a drive-opening 10-yard pass. And had runs of 6, 11 and 3 yards, sandwiched around a 12-yard reception. Then there was another run of 3 yards, just before scoring pass.
“They just had us off balance with the run and pass, and on the play-action we just weren’t on our responsibilities like we usually are,” said strongside linebacker K.J. Wright said, who shared game-high honors with nine tackles, including two for losses.
“We usually don’t allow long drives like that. We just have to find a way to be more on it and just stop what they like to do.”
Wright and fellow linebackers Leroy Hill (nine) and Bobby Wagner (eight) combined for 26 tackles. But, like the rest of the defense, they were simply on the field too long on an unseasonably warm evening by the Bay (80 degrees at kickoff).
On offense, the two scoring drives to open the game seemed like a distant memory in the second half, when Wilson was just 3 of 10 for 19 yards. Overall, he was 9 of 23 for 122 yards – after throwing for three touchdowns in Sunday’s upset of the New England Patriots and also leading two second-half scoring drives the week before in the win over the Panthers in Carolina.
But against the 49ers, his receivers also dropped four or five passes.
“Drops really did make a difference in this game,” Carroll said. “When it’s that close one play makes a huge difference. And it did tonight.”
Other than Marshawn Lynch, who rushed for 103 yards, there was no consistency to the Seahawks’ offense.
What was the difference after those opening field-goal drives?
“They realized some of the things we were trying to do – trying to run the ball, trying to go with play-action pass,” wide receiver Ben Obomanu said. “Those first two drives are always cat-and-mouse. The preparation is always one thing and then you go on the field and see something else. So they just made some adjustments on their end.
“We were still searching for those one or two big plays late in the game that we had the last couple weeks and we just couldn’t get that big play that we needed.”
In the end, it wasn’t just one of those games; it was a game very typical of what you can expect when two NFC West teams get together.
“There were plays in this game that we’ll always want to know: What would happen if we make that play or make that play?” Carroll said. “It was so close.”