When Seahawks defensive players got into the locker room at halftime, they knew the 23 points they had allowed, including two big-play touchdowns by George Kittle, wasn't up to their standard.
After some early-season bumps in the road, Seattle's defense has been playing very well for much of the season, including holding five of the last six opponents to 17 or fewer points. The Seahawks had not, in fact, given up more than the 23 points the 49ers had at halftime in an entire game since Week 5.
And coming out of the locker room, Seattle's defense vowed to be better, and played backed that up, shutting the 49ers out in the second half as the Seahawks came back to win 30-23.
"We knew we weren't playing outstanding," said safety Quandre Diggs, who recorded his team-leading fourth interception in the third quarter. "No matter what the offense is doing, no matter what special teams is doing, we've got a standard that we've got to play to, and we weren't doing that. They had 23 points in the first half; that's uncharacteristic of us for the last six or seven weeks. We had to come in and we had to put our foot down."
Of course, for the Seahawks to preserve the lead and a second-half shutout, they needed one final stop in the red zone after the 49ers nearly drove the length of the field for the potential tying score. With the Seahawks trying to protect a 7-point lead—one that should have been bigger if not for a second red zone turnover that kept them from taking a two-score lead—the 49ers were able to march from their own 2-yard line as far as the Seahawks 3-yard line, but as has been the case so often over the years in late-game situations, Seattle's defense was able to come up with the stop it needed to win the game.
After Sidney Jones and Ryan Neal stuffed an Elijah Mitchell run on second-and-goal and 4, Jones had a pass breakup on third down with physical coverage on 49ers receiver Trent Sherfield. That set up fourth-and-goal with the game on the line, and after the Seahawks coverage took away Jimmy Garoppolo's first reads, he tried to hit Sherfield, but Carlos Dunlap II swatted the pass away for a game-clinching stop.
"It was great, man," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said of the goal-line stand. "Really when you play this game there is nothing more thrilling than those opportunities to end the game. We've had a couple—I remember New England (last year)—we've had a bunch over the years, but there is nothing more thrilling than that because everything, every fiber of your body is cranking. Those guys out there will never forget those four plays, and to come through in that way, a couple runs and then an incomplete, and then the ball gets knocked down on fourth down. It was a sensational moment. For our fans, too, they deserve it so much. I'm so glad they got to have the fun of seeing that happen."
Dunlap's pass breakup was his second huge play of the game, following a sack in the end zone for a safety. It was a strong performance for the veteran pass rusher, who has seen his playing time cut back in recent games, including playing only four defensive snaps in last week's loss at Washington. Dunlap's snaps were again limited, but he made the most of his chances.
"For me, given the opportunity to impact the game in those situations, I like my odds and I'm betting with me every time," Dunlap said. "They gave it to us when they were in a safety situation, and they got me in there on that last play as well, so I just had to seize my moment.
"It felt amazing to come through for my teammates, really. They've been looking for me to make these plays all season, I hadn't quite made them… but today I came through. It is as simple as that."
Said Carroll, "It was a great illustration of a guy just hanging tough and believing in this himself, and we believed in him also. Gave him a chance with his matchup today and totally came through and had a big day. The sack for the safety was gorgeous, and then of course the big play at the end knocking the ball up in the air. Huge plays. He was bringing the heat all day long as well."
And while the late-game stop was the most memorable part of the day for Seattle's defense, it was hardly the only thing that unit did well. The Seahawks got interceptions from both Diggs and Bobby Wagner, the 2 points from the Dunlap sack in the end zone, and they allowed a total of seven first downs in the second half, and only two prior to San Francisco's final drive. The Seahawks also played great run defense against a team and a running back that had been putting up huge numbers of late. Elijah Mitchell, who has had rushed for 90 or more yards in four of his last five games, was held to just 66 yards on 22 carries. And as a team, the 49ers, who had more than 150 rushing yards in three straight, including 208 last week, finished with just 71 yards while averaging 2.8 yards per carry.
"That's a real accomplishment," Carroll said. "Those guys have rushed for almost 700 yards in the last three weeks and turned their season around doing that. I saw up there on the board one time it was 61 yards in the fourth quarter. Holy cow. That happened to them one other time. Might have been the start of the season, the Cardinals might have done that to them. This is a team that is fully committed to running the football. They've run it average of 40 times a game for the last three weeks. Our guys took the challenge. (Defensive coordinator) Kenny (Norton Jr.) and (defensive line coach) Clint (Hurtt) and (linebackers coach) Johnny (Glenn), they all get their guys ready to go and the guys went out there and played their tails off to get that done. That's a big deal. That's a big deal. We been holding points down pretty good. Just so disappointed we were 23 early and then they shut them out in the second half. What a great effort by the guys in the second half. Third and fourth quarter, nothing."
The 12s pack out Lumen Field on to watch the Seattle Seahawks take on the San Francisco 49ers on December 5, 2021