Seahawks book a berth in the postseason

Posted Dec 23, 2012

The playoff-bound Seahawks scored early and often on a rain-drenched Sunday night at CenturyLink Field to pull off a 42-13 victory over the NFC West-leading 49ers and make sure this season will have a postseason.

On a night when the Seahawks knew they could afford to do almost nothing wrong, they found ways to do almost everything right.

Playing the NFC West-leading San Francisco 49ers on national TV, and with a playoff berth hanging in the balance, the Seahawks put together an all-three-phases effort on Sunday night at CenturyLink Field that turned into a 42-13 rout of a victory and at least the No. 5-seed in the conference playoffs.

Russell Wilson, playing nothing like the rookie quarterback that he is, passed for four touchdowns while completing 15 of 21 passes and tormenting the 49ers’ No. 2-ranked defense with his mobility. Marshawn Lynch ran for 111 yards and scored two touchdowns, one rushing and another receiving. The combination of Wilson’s arm and Lynch’s legs allowed the Seahawks to convert 11 of 13 third-down situations as they put together touchdown drives that consumed 8½, almost eight and more than 6½ minutes.

An aggressive, physical Seahawks defense held the kept the 49ers out of the end zone until the final two minutes of the game and limited them to three conversions in 11 attempts.

But the play that slapped an exclamation point on the Seahawks’ latest impressive performance was a blocked field by defensive end Red Bryant that cornerback Richard Sherman returned 90 yards for a touchdown that made it 21-0 just as the second quarter was getting underway.

“Whenever we get a blocked field goal, especially if I get a block, there’s guys behind the scenes who are making it possible,” said Bryant, who rattled through a list of teammates that included Heath Farwell, Chris Clemons, Alan Branch, Brandon Mebane. “All those guys, they make it possible for me to get through there.”

But it was Bryant’s fully extended, right-arm-all-the-way-up, effort that prevented David Akers’ 21-yard attempt from getting past the line of scrimmage.

“Richard Sherman. Richard Sherman. Richard Sherman,” Bryant said. “He picked it up and took it to the house. Big momentum swing. After that, we stuck a fork in them.”

It was a play that exemplified this game, and this season.

Asked if he thought the Seahawks could beat the 49ers so thoroughly, so convincingly, Bryant actually bristled a bit before offering, “I knew anybody we play, when we go into the game, and we’re right and we play offense, defense and special teams, this is what we expect.

“Not trying to be cocky, but we work hard, extremely hard. We prepare just as hard as anybody else in the league. And when we’re on our stuff, this is the outcome you get. So I’m not surprised. We expected to win.”

This most-impressive win made for the Seahawks’ 10th victory of the season – their fourth in a row, which is their longest winning streak since they won five consecutive games late in the 2007 season; and their sixth in the past seven games.

And, their latest blowout. In the past three weeks, the Seahawks have outscored the Arizona Cardinals, Buffalo Bills and 49ers 150-30. But while the Cardinals aren’t very good and the Bills aren’t much better, the 49ers came into this game already having won 10 games and allowing a league-low average of 15.6 points.

Now, the Seahawks can overtake the 49ers for the division title, if they beat the St. Louis Rams next Sunday and the 49ers lose to the Cardinals. Impossible? That’s what most would have conceded if you had told them the Seahawks would put up 42 on the 49ers.

“This is a terrific win for us because of the respect we have for this club,” coach Pete Carroll said. “These guys have been winning like crazy the last couple of years. … I take a lot of pride in the fact that we played like that against this team and these coaches.

“The thing has been happening, it’s been coming together. We’re getting better, and you can just feel it and see it. And it’s coming to life for us.”

On this rainy Sunday evening, things fell apart for a 49ers team that had beaten the Patriots 41-34 in New England last Sunday night. It began when Pro Bowl defensive lineman Justin Smith was declared inactive because of an elbow injury he got against the Patriots. It continued when tight end Vernon Davis when got with a concussion in the first quarter after taking a huge hit from strong safety Kam Chancellor. It continued when wide receiver Mario Manningham went out with a knee injury on a play where he fumbled the ball away to the Seahawks.

So instead of clinching the division title, the 49ers left wondering what had hit them.

“It’s a gut-check,” 49ers cornerback Carlos Rogers said. “To be behind like that is uncharacteristic of this team. But we have been behind before, not to that extend. You’ve got to dig down, can’t give up, got to try and find a way to make plays, try to get yourself back in it, try to turn the momentum around.

“We didn’t do that.”

Because the Seahawks would not allow it.

They drove to touchdowns on their first two possessions – a 24-yard run by Lynch and Wilson’s 9-yard pass to Lynch. The 49ers drove to the Seahawks’ 3-yard line, only to have Sherman breakup Colin Kaepernick’s third-down pass to Michael Crabtree in the end zone to setup Bryant’s block that led to Sherman’s long scoring return.

“Big Red blocked it and it just happened to bounce to me,” Sherman said. “It was a lucky bounce, it bounced right toward me. I just wanted to make sure I secured the ball and then run as fast as I could. Luckily, nobody caught me.”

Things continued to bounce the Seahawks way, as Wilson’s 6-yard TD pass to tight end Anthony McCoy capped a 13-play, 60-yard drive that consumed almost 8½ minutes of the second quarter.

The 49ers drove to the Seahawks’ 32-yard line on their first possession of the second half, only to have linebacker Leroy Hill force the Manningham fumble that Chancellor recovered to setup Wilson’s 4-yard TD pass to Doug Baldwin that capped a 15-play, 68-yard drive that consumed 6:43. The 49ers drove to the Seahawks’ 3-yard line on their next possession, only to have Sherman intercept a pass in the end zone and the Seahawks then went 80 yards in 12 plays – and burned almost eight minutes off the clock – to Wilson’s 6-yard TD pass to Baldwin.

“If you’re going to throw the ball late, I’m going to bait him into the every time,” Sherman said of the interception – his seventh of the season. “He tried to throw late across his body and you don’t do that against our defense.”

All of it made for one impressive victory for the Seahawks.

“If you had told me this would be the outcome, I wouldn’t have believed it,” Sherman said. “I would say you’re making this up, you’re talking about the Bears back in the day or something crazy like that.”

This one was indeed crazy, but no one was making anything up. The Seahawks avenged their Week 7 loss to the 49ers in San Francisco, and then some.

“It showed how talented we are,” Wilson said after passing for a career-high four TDs. “And how prepared we are for the rest of the season. There’s nothing I can say about where we’re going. All I know is what we have next.

“Obviously, it’s a special win to win on national television against a very good football team. To be able to do that in the fashion that we did is pretty special.”