The simplest equation goes like this: we have murdered them in both of our home games (winning by a combined 55 points), and just barely lost to them in both of our games in Candlestick the last two years (losing by a combined 9 points). That’s all you really need to know. That, and the next time we play them this season (if we do) will be in Seattle in the playoffs.
As predicted, this loss didn’t really bother me too much. Oh sure, that simmering hate began to boil over as the seconds ticked away on that fateful final 49ers drive, but what did we lose here? The biggest thing we lost would have been that demoralizing feeling that would have come over the 49ers, knowing without a doubt that we’re the better team. Now, they get to live in their fantasy land where a 2-point victory at home is just as good as our 26-point victory in Seattle in Week 2. They think we’re equals. It’s sad, really.
Normally, I get super fired up at these types of games – close contests against hated rivals – but there was a weird calm about me the whole afternoon. I dunno, I was just so SURE that we were going to win that game! Even when Gore ripped off that 51-yard run to put them in field goal range. Even when they converted that 3rd and 7! I still believed that there was some miracle waiting right around the corner.
At the time, I didn’t have much of a problem with our defensive tactics on those last three plays before the field goal, but in retrospect we really should have let them score the touchdown. Hell, just grab the running back and carry him over the goalline if you have to! Best-case scenario, we would’ve had, what, 30 seconds, starting from our own 20 yard line? Instead, we had, like, 25 seconds from our own 16 yard line. That’s, at best, three plays, but all three would have to be sideline outs against a defense that is funnelling everything into the middle of the field. Truth be told, without any time outs in that situation, you’ve got no shot. We would have had to complete that long pass (which was intercepted), kill the clock, and either complete a hail mary or hope the refs flag the defense to give us an untimed down for a field goal. What are the odds of THAT?
So, it was a bit of a shock when they came away with the victory. But, again, I’m not even that mad. We’re still clearly in the driver’s seat for the #1 seed. Nothing has changed: the Seahawks need to win two more games. Next week, we go to the lowly Giants. Then, we’re at home against the Cards & Rams. In reality, after next week, we won’t have to go on the road again until the Super Bowl. How does that sound?
Of course, in order for us to get there, we’re going to have to be better than we were yesterday. There’s a certain agitation level that comes with being Almost Good Enough that you just don’t feel when you KNOW you’re good enough. If I believed the Seahawks were just AS good, or worse, than the 49ers, yesterday’s game would’ve driven me out of my mind. Because when you’re Almost Good Enough, and you’re on the road against a team that’s either as good or better than you, then you know you have to play a flawless (or near-flawless) game to get the victory. The best teams have some margin for error, which is why we were able to play a game like we played yesterday and still had a chance to prevail. If we were the Seahawks of two years ago, we would’ve been blown out. If we were the Seahawks of last year, we still would have lost, but it wouldn’t have felt nearly as close. This year, we know we SHOULD have won, but too many mistakes killed us.
That face mask penalty on Michael Robinson was a crusher. Late in the third quarter, Lynch had just ripped off a 20-yard run, and it was called back, leaving us with 1st and 25. That’s damn near an impossible situation. You might as well just punt right there and save yourself the clock.
Calling the time out while at 1st and 25 … why not just take the delay of game penalty? That time out was WAY more important than saving five yards in a situation where you’re probably just going to punt anyway.
There was a number of defensive holding penalties, but no more important than the one on Richard Sherman in the second quarter, on a third down play, that kept their drive alive and led to a 49er field goal. That’s three points when there should have been none.
The punt block in the first quarter: another three points when there should have been none.
Then, of course, there’s the matter of allowing Frank Gore to run 51 yards. What the hell were we doing on that play?
This was the first time all year where I found myself asking, “Where’s Earl Thomas?” Obviously, I’m not privy to what the scheme was, but I saw pretty much zero impact out of our best defensive player yesterday. I’m sorry, but if you want to be in the discussion for Defensive MVP, or Best Safety In Football, there can’t be games where you’re just lost in the shuffle. Do you think Ed Reed or Troy Polamalu in their primes ever went a game without making an impact? Especially in the spotlight of playing a bitter rival (which, in their cases, would have been games against one another)?
Finally, I’ll just close with what this game hinged on. The 49ers took the lead just before halftime, going up 16-14. The third quarter, both teams put up goose eggs (thanks in large part to Byron Maxwell picking Kaepernick off deep in Seattle territory). More punts were exchanged into the 4th quarter until finally, Golden Tate caught one he could return. And return it he did, to the San Francisco 27 yard line. The Seahawks took over on this drive with a little over 9 minutes left in the game, already in field goal range. At this point, you CANNOT settle for a field goal!
I don’t know if I want to blame the play-calling (we went super-conservative, rushing on 3 of the first 5 plays of that drive before a third down incompletion), the personnel-calling (even when we did throw on this drive, it looked like we were throwing out of jumbo packages, with Kearse as the only receiver on the field), or the execution by the players (how does Lynch only get 5 total yards on three carries this close to the endzone?). Seems to me, we probably could have done a better job by spreading things out and running from a 3-wide, 1-tight end set. At the very least, don’t you ALWAYS want Doug Baldwin on the field on third down?
If the Seahawks score a touchdown on that drive, maybe it doesn’t change anything. Maybe Gore still gets that long run and maybe they dink and dunk their way into the endzone while still taking off all of the clock. Then again, maybe they feel they need to get into a passing mindset, and maybe that long run never happens. And MAYBE the Seahawks are able to get to Kaepernick and force him into a turnover.
Lotta what-ifs. In the end, you just tip your cap and wait. We’ll see this team again. And when we do, the outcome is going to be very different.