SANTA CLARA, Calif.—Facing third-and-4 on the first possession of overtime, Russell Wilson lofted a pass towards J.D. McKissic, who was streaking down the right sideline, and the running back hauled in the catch for a 32-yard gain to put the Seahawks in 49ers territory.
Then Wilson looked behind him and saw the flag, which caused him to briefly drop to a knee in frustration. Instead of a first down, a holding penalty made it third-and-14. The Seahawks were unable to convert and had to punt, then the 49ers drove down the field—in part thanks to a pass interference penalty—setting up the field goal that gave them a 26-23 victory.
In a game where the Seahawks were called for 14 penalties, totaling 148 yards, it was somewhat fitting that overtime turned in part because of two big penalties.
“That was kind of the tale of the day,” Wilson said. “We had too many penalties. We’ve got to be sharper, we’ve got to be cleaner. It’s a disappointing loss, because we felt like we could have played better in that sense… When it comes down to crunch time, we’ve got to be great, we’ve got to be rock solid, and we will be moving forward.”
The penalties were costly in all three phases, whether it was the five holding penalties that helped kill drives, or the two 15-yarders on defense on one 49ers drive that ended in a field goal, or the multiple penalties on special teams that changed field position. All of those penalties made it so the Seahawks lost despite posting a lot of numbers that would usually indicate success.
The Seahawks rushed for 168 yards, they went 9-for-19 on third down while limiting the 49ers to a 3-for-10 conversion rate, and they won the turnover battle, but none of that was enough to overcome the most penalty yards in franchise history.
“This was really a clear game where we hurt ourselves so much with this penalty thing that it took our chances away,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “We ran the football, we converted on third down, we held them on third down, time of possession, so many things—we were plus in the turnover ratio—that’s how we play, but really uncharacteristically, we had 148 yards in penalties, and 10 (penalties) in the second half, which is just crazy, I don’t know how that could happen.
“There was just too much to overcome, so that was a difficult game. This was obviously a really important championship opportunity for us, and there’s huge lessons for our team. We’ve got to make sure we don’t hurt ourselves, and when that happens it’s hard to overcome, and we didn’t today.”
Added receiver Doug Baldwin, “We can’t have 14 penalties. It really comes down to the details, being locked in for four quarters. It’s as simple as that. We had some explosive plays get called back because of penalties. If we eliminate that, we win this game, and I don’t think it’s as close as it was. That’s going to be the biggest lesson, making sure we get the penalty situation cleaned up.
“It’s just a bump in the road. This is nothing that we’re going to overreact to. We’re going to learn from it, move forward and get better.”
As Carroll noted, the Seahawks had a big opportunity on Sunday, namely the ability to clinch a playoff berth, but Carroll and his players were quick to point out that they fell short of that goal because they were sloppy on Sunday—and because of the things the 49ers did well—and not because they were in any way overlooking an opponent that came into the game with a 3-10 record.
“I don’t think any of that is what happened,” Carroll said. “I think we were sloppy with the penalty situation. All of the numbers match up to how we play—the running numbers, the third down numbers were the best we’ve had in quite a while, the defense kept the numbers down, played really well in the second half, so we did a lot of really good things like we normally do. Two of the last three weeks we’ve had four penalties, so 14 today for 148 yards, it’s just really hard to overcome that, and we weren’t able to in a close game.”
Baldwin, who had 77 yards and two touchdowns, said he could see why people watching on TV might wonder about the Seahawks overlooking an opponent, but said emphatically that wasn’t what happened Sunday.
“I know how hard our coaches work, I know how hard these players work, and I can’t take anything away from the 49ers, they played an excellent game tonight,” Baldwin said. “They battled hard, and they fought back—every time we threw a punch, they threw one back at us. So again, I’ve got to give them some credit.”
The Seahawks still have two more games to try to secure a playoff berth, but know they need to play a lot cleaner game when they host the Chiefs and Cardinals in their final two games at CenturyLink Field.
“This is where great players show up, this is where great teams show up, this is where you face a little adversity—there’s going to be adversity, and you’ve got to know how to respond to it,” Wilson said. “So maybe it was a great sense of a lesson learned where we can get better.”
Game action photos from the Seahawks' 26-23 loss to the San Francisco 49ers in Week 15 of the 2018 NFL season.