The 49ers scraped out a 26-21 win over the division-rival Seattle Seahawks thanks to a game-saving goal-line stand by rookie linebacker Dre Greenlaw. The win not only gave San Francisco its first win in Seattle since 2011, it gave the 49ers their first NFC Title and first-round bye since 2012.
The 49ers will have some time to bask in glory before preparing for their first playoff game since 2014. San Francisco will hold home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs and will host either the six-seed Minnesota Vikings (10-6), five-seed Seahawks (11-5) or the four-seed NFC East Champion Philadelphia Eagles (9-7) on Saturday, Jan. 11 at 1:35 p.m. in the Divisional Round.
Seattle’s Minute-Long Debacle
Things looked extremely bleak for San Francisco when Russell Wilson converted a fourth-and-10 with an 11-yard pass to John Ursua to get the Seahawks to the one-yard line. Mayhem ensued as Seattle hurried injured left tackle George Fant to the line and spiked the ball. The spike seemingly set up running back Marshawn Lynch to be a hero, but the Seahawks took too long to get the play off and were penalized for a delay-of-game.
The catastrophic error gave the 49ers five extra yards of breathing room, and eliminated Lynch from the game. After two incompletions, one of which could have been pass-interference, the Seahawks once again faced a fourth down, this time from the five yard line with 12 seconds left.
Wilson dropped back and hit tight end Jacob Hollister before the goal-line, but he was met by Greenlaw on the one-yard line. If Greenlaw was pushed back even an inch, Hollister would have found the end zone, but he stood his ground and stopped the Seahawk short of the line.
As celebration ensued, questions about Seattle’s clock-management arose. If it weren’t for the delay-of-game, the Seahawks would have most likely utilized Lynch to power through (or over) for the win. Fortunately for the 49ers, Greenlaw stayed strong and they earned their first win in Seattle since 2011.
Offensive Playmakers Shine
Coming into week 17, San Francisco’s offense had the fourth most yards per game in the NFL, and head coach Kyle Shanahan is a major reason why.
Shanahan has masterfully balanced his play-action offense with deceiving formations to free up his elite play-makers. Sunday against Seattle, Shanahan was at his best. Wide receiver Deebo Samuel and tight end George Kittle were able to find gaping holes to gash the Seattle defense, and running back Raheem Mostert thrived in the red zone.
Kittle (seven catches for 86 yards) and Samuel (five catches for 102 yards) caught all their targets and combined for 66% of the 49ers’ passing attack and 40 rushing yards. In Samuel’s two games against Seattle, Samuel has 214 receiving yards on 13 catches and a rushing touchdown.
Another play-maker that took advantage of Shanahan’s creativity was Kyle Juszczyk. The fullback, who was shut out by Seattle in the week 10 matchup, had just one catch, but it was a big one. Having just surrendered a Seattle touchdown to drop their lead to 13-7, the 49ers were in need of a big play to silence the crowd. While some coaches would turn to their star receiver or tight end, Shanahan drew on up for his fullback.
Lined up in the slot, Juszczyk ran a go-route past Mychal Kendricks, for a huge 49-yard gain. Four plays later, the 49ers scored to take a 19-7 lead.
Mostert Needs the Ball More
If there is one knock on Shanahan’s offensive game plan, it was Mostert’s lack of involvement in the first half. Mostert had just four rushes for 26 yards in the opening-half while splitting carries with Matt Breida and Tevin Coleman.
In the second-half, Mostert was much more involved, carrying the ball six times for 31 yards and two touchdowns. The lack of carries might be a product of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo’s success, but it seems like Shanahan refuses to hand the keys completely over to Mostert.
In five less attempts, Mostert has 182 more rushing yards than Coleman. He has also been extremely successful at finding the end zone. He has rushing touchdowns in six-straight games, and 13 (including receiving) touchdowns over that stretch.
Although Coleman and Breida have been productive at times this season, Mostert has the hottest hands heading into the postseason. He deserves a greater deal of carries moving forward. If he gets them, the 49ers should reap the benefits.
First-Half Defensive Dominance Erased by Second-Half Struggles
After a few poor performances, albeit against some of the league’s best offenses, the San Francisco defense was able to rebound in Seattle with one of its best games of the season. The 49ers took advantage of the depleted Seattle offense, holding Seattle to just 79 yards in a scoreless first half. Wilson struggled to create anything of value, recording a dismal 45 passing yards in the first 30 minutes.
Yet, with all the dominance by San Francisco, the Seahawks still had a great chance to erase a lot of pain before the half. Momentum was shifting in Seattle’s favor with a 44-yard drive to put them in field goal range. Rather than take the three on fourth down, however, Seattle head coach Pete Carroll elected to keep his offense on the field.
Needing just one yard to extend the drive, Lynch received the hand-off, but was immediately stuffed by Nick Bosa for the turnover-on-downs. Whereas the first-half was all 49ers, the second was completely Seattle. The Seahawks’ offense became dynamic out of nowhere, exposing the 49ers’ lack of pass rush and cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon.
Had the 49ers not benched Witherspoon and turned to Emmanuel Moseley, they might have lost the game. Moseley saved the game with 55 seconds left when he deflected a potential game-winning touchdown pass to D.K. Metcalf. Seattle torched San Francisco for three touchdowns and 269 yards. If they reached 270, the Seahawks would have won the division, but Greenlaw’s heroics temporarily eased a lot of nerves toward this leaky San Francisco defense.
49ers End Decade on a High-Note
The Seahawk-49er rivalry has been rather one-sided this decade, especially in Seattle. Heading into Sunday, the 49ers were 1-9 at CenturyLink Field. Although it’s been a rather dominant decade by Seattle, a lot of pain was erased when Greenlaw stopped Hollister inches short of a touchdown.
The final drive had the making of a classic Seattle game-winner. The Seahawks trailed the entire game, but Wilson had the ball with a chance to win the game and the division.
Despite all the history of Wilson’s fourth quarter heroics (32 career game-winning drives according to Pro Football Reference), he was unable to get that last yard. Garoppolo becomes the first 49ers’ quarterback to win in Seattle since Alex Smith, while Shanahan is the first head coach to do so since Jim Harbaugh.