SANTA CLARA, Calif. — This is what the Seahawks had been waiting for from Jadeveon Clowney, and this is what Clowney had been expecting, too.

Clowney, the standout defensive end, had his best game for the Seahawks in their 27-24 overtime victory over the San Francisco 49ers, leading the charge for a defensive line that had been much maligned this season for its lackluster pass rush.

Clowney returned a fumble for a touchdown, forced another fumble, had one sack and five QB hits Monday night.

“It was a breakout game,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “I just think he was so impressive all night long. … He was just penetrating so fast and so furiously. What a fantastic game, you know.”

(Rich Boudet / The Seattle Times)

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The Seahawks (8-2) managed just 15 sacks in their first nine games of the season, and Carroll fielded weekly questions about the ineffective pass rush.

The Seahawks’ defense felt challenged with San Francisco’s top-ranked defense on the other side of the field — and they responded in a big way. Seattle had five sacks and 10 quarterback hits, both season highs, to hand the 49ers their first loss of the season.

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“Yeah, we would’ve liked to have seen (the pass rush) a little earlier, but if we got going now and this is where we kick into high gear — that’s a really good defense, and we looked pretty good too,” Carroll said. “I’m pretty proud of our guys for matching (them). Obviously they stepped up in a great way.”

Jarran Reed’s sack of Jimmy Garoppolo in the second quarter knocked the ball loose, and Clowney scooped it up and scored his second touchdown of the season — the Seahawks’ first score of the game in the second quarter.

Clowney then knocked the ball away from Garoppolo for another takeaway in the third quarter — Poona Ford recovered — to set up a touchdown that gave the Seahawks a 21-10 lead.

“There was so much going on. That was the craziest game of my career, hands down,” Clowney said.

Duane Brown, Seattle’s veteran left tackle, was a teammate of Clowney in Houston, and they’ve remained close. Brown could sense some of Clowney’s frustration the past few weeks, as the former No. 1 overall pick entered Week 10 with just two sacks.

“We got the best from him. He was disruptive all night — disruptive in the run game, disruptive in the passing game,” Brown said. “He’s just a phenomenal talent. And I’m happy for him because as great as he is, sometimes it’s frustrating for a defensive linemen to not have the stats and not have the impact you feel like you could. But he did it tonight. He was definitely a game-changer for us.”

Clowney will be a free agent after this season — remember, when the Seahawks traded for him late in the summer they agreed not to place the franchise tag on him. And his performance Monday night showed he could command top dollar on the free-agent market. This is a question for down the road, sure, but still worth asking now: Can the Seahawks afford to let him go?

“At the end of the day, I don’t want to be outperformed by anybody any week,” Clowney said. “So in my head I want to make it a competition — if it’s against them or against the other guys up front, I’m going to compete to get to the quarterback. And that’s my thing with this team — keep competing no matter what the scoreboard says, and we did that today.”