Seahawks rookie Deon Butler made the grab of the game, a 32-yard reception in the final 20 seconds to set Seattle up to win.
Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck’s shoulder was sore, Seattle’s offense was running as cold as the weather and the Seahawks saw the game slipping through their fingers.
Or at least through Deion Branch’s fingers.
But not one minute after Branch let a critical third-down pass carom off his hands, Seattle got a second chance, getting the ball back near midfield with 21 seconds remaining. Hasselbeck threw a pass just as perfect as the one to Branch. This time, to rookie Deon Butler for a 32-yard completion. Two plays later, Olindo Mare made a 30-yard field goal for the win.
In a season overflowing with missed opportunities, the Seahawks seized the moment, beating San Francisco 20-17 on the game’s final play. Seattle won consecutive games for the first time this year.
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“What partly has hurt us is not making those moment of truth plays,” Hasselbeck said. “We’ve missed some. I missed some. We all missed some.
“We made the moment of truth play there at the end.”
That moment decided a game that was close — the score was tied three times — though it wasn’t all that exciting. At least not unless you like punts. There were 19 of those, and neither team scored for one stretch that spanned more than 30 minutes.
But Seattle’s quarterback showed the late-game grit that is impossible to fake. Hasselbeck completed 11 of 12 passes for 89 yards in the final quarter. Not bad considering he spent a good 15 minutes getting his throwing shoulder iced after the game, the result of a third-quarter tackle that left him on the turf following a third-down play.
“I just needed a minute,” Hasselbeck said.
He’s earned that and then some.
And in the fourth quarter of a game that was as close as football comes to soccer given all the kicks, Hasselbeck got back up and rallied the Seahawks to a pair of field goals in the final 6 minutes.
“It’s no surprise,” coach Jim Mora said. “I’m a Matt Hasselbeck fan. I think that he excels in crunch time. I think he shows his toughness every time he goes out there.”
Hasselbeck was the difference in this game. 49ers quarterback Alex Smith may have thrown for 310 yards and a couple first-half touchdowns, but four of his final five passes fell incomplete and he was unable to move San Francisco when it mattered most, going three-and-out on the 49ers’ final possession.
After Branch’s drop, San Francisco had the ball at its own 11 with 51 seconds left. Three plays, 7 yards and 30 seconds later, the 49ers were punting the ball back to Seattle.
Hasselbeck stood tall despite being sacked five times. He had Seattle’s longest run of the day, a 23-yard scramble in the third quarter, and when Seattle’s offense stalled — as it did often Sunday — he applied the jumper cables.
In the first quarter, the Seahawks had nearly as many points (seven) as net yards on offense (16). They had as many first downs (one) as turnovers (one). The Seahawks net passing total in the first quarter: -4 yards.
Hasselbeck came out and completed the first seven passes he attempted in the second quarter, piloting a drive that ended with Justin Forsett’s 8-yard touchdown catch.
San Francisco responded quickly with a 42-yard pass to tight end Vernon Davis, followed immediately by a 22-yard touchdown pass to Josh Morgan with 7:40 left in the half. Neither team would score for the next 31 minutes as the next 12 possessions resulted in punts.
“A lot of three-and-outs,” Hasselbeck said. “Frustrating, a lot of missed opportunities. You can’t explain it, but every time you looked up at the scoreboard … we were always in it.”
In the end they won it, pulling out a nail-biter in this season known for blow outs. Sunday’s game was only the second time all year Seattle played a game decided by fewer than 10 points.
“One of the things that impressed me about our football team today is the way we hung in there in the last minute,” Mora said.
No one showed that resolve more than Hasselbeck.
Danny O’Neil: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org