Bobby Wagner's interception, Russell Wilson's touchdowns, Jarran Reed's quarterback hits were all keys to Sunday's big win. Bob Condotta reviews the game in his weekly Final Word.
Afterward, Pete Carroll called it a game that was “a little different than a number of the games we’ve been playing this year.’’
Carroll was referring mostly to the score — 43-16 – a rare blowout after the previous four games were all decided in the final minutes.
But the win over the 49ers was a little different in a lot of other ways, too, featuring both a 1-yard TD pass (the 34th in team history, according to Pro Football Reference, if one fewer than everyone wishes Seattle had), a 98-yard interception return (the longest in team history) as well as a score that had never before happened in the NFL (more on which later).
To wrap it all up, here is my weekly Final Word, reviewing what I thought might happen beforehand and what actually did.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
WHAT I SAID: Seattle QB Russell Wilson and receiver Doug Baldwin vs. 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman.
WHAT HAPPENED: Not as much as everyone may have thought going in. Sherman was targeted once in man coverage, allowing a 21-yard catch and run by Baldwin in the third quarter on which he missed the tackle, and later in zone, on Jaron Brown’s 18-yard TD in the fourth quarter. But Wilson also threw just 17 passes, so he hardly targeted anybody a ton. Wilson made the most of his throws, though, with four touchdowns — the fewest attempts in Seattle history for any QB to throw four touchdowns (the previous low came when Dave Krieg threw four TDs in 21 attempts in a 34-24 win over the Chargers in 1986). “Trying to figure out how Russ could be so efficient in so few throws,’’ Carroll said Monday. “He maximized his opportunities in a big way.’’
WHAT I COULD HAVE SAID: Seahawks front seven against 49ers’ offensive line.
Seattle’s biggest defensive concern coming into the game was a 49ers’ rushing attack that averaged 134.9 yards per game, fifth in the NFL. Seattle held the 49ers to half that, 66 yards on 23 carries, and just 2.9 per attempt, the second-lowest allowed by the Seahawks all year and almost half the 5.3 per carry Seattle was allowing coming in, the worst in the NFL. Seattle improved that number to 5.1, though the Seahawks are still tied for last in the NFL in yards per carry allowed. One real key was the play of rookie Poona Ford, who started at tackle in place of the injured Shamar Stephen. Ford was credited officially with four tackles on 28 snaps, but Carroll said the coach’s review of the film gave him six. Carroll lavished praised on Ford’s ability to run sideline-to-sideline and make tackles. All four of Ford’s official tackles were on running plays, all for gains of three yards or less.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
WHAT I SAID: Chris Carson/Rashaad Penny.
WHAT HAPPENED: Seattle’s running game got back on track, too, rushing for 168 yards and 5.8 per carry (with Carson getting 69 on 13 and Penny 65 on seven) after being held to 75 yards and 2.7 against the Panthers. And they did a lot of that by crossing up the 49ers a little bit and attacking the edges. Seattle thought the 49ers might try to load the box. And indeed, the 49ers contained Seattle on zone read runs by the running backs — Seattle had just 22 yards on 11 zone read runs from the tailbacks, runs that typically go between the tackles — according to Pro Football Focus. But the Seahawks got 131 yards on their 14 other carries by their tailbacks, including a 20-yard run by Penny and a 23-yarder by Carson, each on runs around the end.
WHAT I COULD HAVE SAID: Bobby Wagner.
What Wilson has meant to the offense this season, Wagner has meant to the defense in a year when there has been massive change all around him. Wagner has had to take on added on-field and off-field leadership due to the personnel makeover. But he hasn’t let it impact his play as he may be having his finest season, capped by Sunday’s game when he scored the fourth touchdown of his career. That now ranks 22nd in non-offensive TDs among active NFL players, according to Pro Football Reference. It also makes him tied with Earl Thomas for the most by any player who spent his entire career (so far, anyway) with Seattle, according to PFR, though it’s not a team record quite yet. Dave Brown, who also played for the Steelers and Packers, had five interception returns for touchdowns during his Seahawks career from 1976-85.
WHAT I SAID: Emotions.
WHAT HAPPENED: I figured maybe the return of Sherman would make for an intense moment or two. But it really didn’t during the game — it would have been easy for a fan oblivious to that storyline to have barely noticed he played. Not that there weren’t a few moments of heated feelings. Notably, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan was called for a personal foul in the third quarter for arguing with the officials. More odd, Shanahan explained to reporters Monday that he was mad because officials didn’t allow linebacker Fred Warner time to retrieve his shoe and put it back on. According to Shanahan, Wilson had picked it up and thrown it further down field. An immediate review of the film was inconclusive, but hopefully the All-22 will solve the riddle once and for all.
WHAT I COULD HAVE SAID: Special teams.
Special teams are always something of an X-factor. But Seattle won it in a big way Sunday, recovering a fumbled punt that led to one touchdown, then seeing Tyler Lockett return the opening kickoff the second half 84 yards to set up another while puner Michael Dickson averaged 49.8 yards on four punts.
WILD CARD PLAYER WHO COULD SURPRISE
WHAT I SAID: Running back J.D. McKissic.
WHAT HAPPENED: Not much at all as McKissic played just two snaps and did not have a carry, though he did have one pass thrown his way in the fourth quarter, which was a little off-target with Wilson under pressure and fell incomplete. McKissic, though, did play 17 special teams snaps and his ability to play that many means none of the other tailbacks had to play any.
WHAT I COULD HAVE SAID: WR Jaron Brown.
Brown had been pretty invisible lately with just two catches for 15 yards since Sept. 23 before Sunday. But he broke out in a big way against the 49ers with three catches for 67 yards and two touchdowns. Brown has just 11 receptions this season but five have gone for TDs, which is not only tied for second on the team (Lockett has nine and David Moore five) but more than the likes of Julio Jones, JuJu Smith-Schuster. Desean Jackson, Amari Cooper, Brandin Cooks, Golden Tate and Jordy Nelson.
WHAT I SAID: 5-11 (Seattle’s interceptions on offense and defense prior to Sunday’s game)
14-2 (San Francisco’s interceptions on offense and defense prior to Sunday’s game).
WHAT HAPPENED: Turnovers were again a really big deal for both teams as Seattle didn’t lose any while gaining three. That means the 49ers are now at minus-20 for the season, worst in the NFL, while the Seahawks are plus-11, tied for second. Only one was an interception, but that was a really big one. More to the point, Wilson has thrown just two interceptions in the last 10 games while tossing 24 touchdowns. His touchdown percentage of 8.9 is second in the NFL while his interception percentage of 1.5 is tied for fifth, each on pace to tie or better career highs. Wilson has 29 TDs — already his third-most — and five interceptions. His career low is seven in 2014.
WHAT I COULD HAVE SAID: 15.
That was the number of quarterback hits for the Seahawks a season high — Seattle had 56 in 11 games before Sunday with a high of 10 against the Raiders. Granted, the fact that the 49ers threw it 48 times 71 plays meant there were a lot of potential QB hits to go around. But the Seahawks at least were able to get to Nick Mullens some, with the hits forcing some missed throws and also resulting in six sacks. Jarran Reed led the way with six quarterback hits — more than half the 11 he had for the season coming into the game — while Wagner had two on a few of Seattle’s well-timed blitzes. The Seahawks didn’t necessarily blitz a ton more than usual — 13 out of 53 pass plays, according to PFF, 24.5 percent compared to Seattle’s season average of 21.6. But the Seahawks made those pay off.
THE FINAL WORD
WHAT I SAID: Seahawks 31, 49ers 13.
WHAT HAPPENED: I got right that it would be decisive. Wagner’s interception ultimately put it into laugher territory. The final score also marked the ninth straight year the Seahawks have won a game by a score that had never before occurred in NFL history. “Awesome,’’ Carroll said, before then noting it would not have been possible had Sebastian Janikowski missed the final PAT. “That’s ridiculous. I don’t know how that happens. … Did you really think SeaBass tried to kick the ball and make it with that last one? If you look back, he kicked it right-footed (actually, he didn’t, just in case that needs to be clarified. Instead, Carroll said real culprit is that the hold was a little off). Bizarrely, it was not the first time Carroll had coached in a game with a 43-16 score. When at USC in 2003 the Trojans beat Washington State by that same score (insert Twilight Zone music here).