Eric Wright celebrates with the game-sealing interception.
In what is very likely to be the last big game at Candlestick Park, the San Francisco 49ers got a modicum of revenge for their Week 2 loss by defeating the Seattle Seahawks 19-17, thanks to some cunning clock management at the back ends of both halves.
At the end of the first half, they drove down the length of the field to score a Vernon Davis touchdown with only six seconds left on the clock, preventing Seattle from having time to launch a counter-attack before halftime.
At the end of the second half, they drained all of Seattle’s timeouts and most of the clock, kicking the go-ahead field goal with only 26 seconds left, leaving Seattle too little time to come from behind.
While the win has some significance when it comes to the division race—it would still take a minor miracle for the 49ers to catch the Seahawks from behind to claim the NFC West—it provided much-needed breathing room in the Wild Card hunt, kept San Francisco with a clear path for the No. 5 seed and perhaps most importantly, gave the 49ers their first win over a likely playoff-bound team this year.
The confidence boost—knowing they can beat Seattle—is important psychologically going into the final playoff push.
Click "Begin Slideshow" to find out who had a good day, and who had a bad day, in San Francisco's most important win of the season so far.
Aldon Smith was in the backfield constantly against the Seahawks.
Aldon Smith continues to pick up just where he left off before his rehab-induced absence.
While he was never actually able to bring Russell Wilson down, he was a disruptive force, crashing through and around the left side of the line and keeping the Seahawks quarterback off-balance.
In the stat sheet, Smith’s only credited with one tackle, helping stuff Marshawn Lynch for no gain on a key second-down play late in the fourth quarter. That helped hold Seattle to only a field goal, giving it a one-point lead rather than a five-point advantage going into San Francisco’s final drive.
That understates his performance, however.
Pro Football Focus (subscription required) credits Smith with four hurries, more than the rest of San Francisco’s defense combined. Aldon and Justin Smith took turns attacking both left tackle Russell Okung and left guard James Carpenter, resulting in constant pressure coming from Wilson’s blindside. It left him uncomfortable, and he was flushed into pressure coming from other places—NaVorro Bowman’s sack came due to pressure from Aldon, for example.
Smith has yet to have a bad day this season. He’s yet to have a day when he hasn’t forced the quarterback to scramble at least once. Win or lose, he’s a consistent pass-rushing force coming from the outside. The 49ers really missed him when he was at rehab, and he’ll be a key leader in the stretch run on this defense.
No one's benefited more from Michael Crabtree's return than Boldin.
For Anquan Boldin, these last few weeks must have felt like San Francisco was finally playing on a regulation-sized field; with the motley crew of receivers the 49ers had trotted out before Michael Crabtree’s return, Boldin was lucky to be only double-covered on any particular play, much less have room to work.
Now, he finds himself with what, by comparison, seems like acres of space, and he keeps producing.
Against the Legion of Boom and their tough secondary, Boldin still managed to have a great day. He was officially targeted eight times, hauling in six passes for 93 yards. While he was never able to catch the ball and turn it upfield, he was able to find just enough space to be a consistent outlet for Colin Kaepernick all day long.
Boldin did the majority of his damage in the middle of the field, between 10 and 19 yards deep. He was 3-of-3 there, crossing underneath the deep safety to sit in space right over the middle.
Overall, Boldin was responsible for five first downs, with a sixth called back by a penalty on Alex Boone. He also had a nine-yard grab on a 1st-and-10 situation as well.
The most hyped battle of the day was between him and Richard Sherman, and while that was mostly a draw overall, Boldin did have his best single play of the day with Sherman in coverage.
On 2nd-and-4 late in the second quarter, with the 49ers attempting to score without leaving any time left on the clock for Seattle, Colin Kaepernick rolled to his right and found Boldin one-on-one with Sherman deep. Boldin improvised, turning up the field as Kaepernick scrambled. Despite Sherman holding him on the play, Boldin was able to come down with an athletic, juggling catch for the first down.
Over the last four games, Boldin has 26 receptions for 341 yards and three touchdowns. As Crabtree and Mario Manningham work back in, he’s getting space, and the veteran is producing.
Wright's first interception in a San Francisco uniform could not have come at a better time.
There was a scary moment in the third quarter, when nickel cornerback Eric Wright took a knee to the side of the helmet.
He stayed down on the turf for several minutes and had to be helped up. He was taken to the sidelines and evaluated for a head injury, listed as questionable to return with a possible concussion. It looked like this game was in doubt, and possibly the Tampa Bay game, as well.
Wright said after the game, via Andrew Pentis of 49ers.com,
Throughout the course of the game you can get dinged up a little bit, get shaken up, you fight through it and continue to build your role and help the team out. That’s all I was trying to do. I just had to get cleared by the doctors to come back. They had to check it out and make sure everything was OK. I was good to go and went back out there and played.
And play he did.
Because of the injury, Wright only ended up playing 17 snaps over the course of the game, but one of those snaps was the last play of the game for Seattle, when Wright took advantage of Jermaine Kearse falling down to intercept Seattle’s last gasp.
Does fifth-string cornerback Darryl Morris, pressed into action due to injuries to Wright and Tarell Brown, make that play, or does Seattle get another chance to pull off some last-second magic?
Fortunately for the 49ers, they'll never have to know.
Brooks got no traction in the backfield against Seattle.
For the second time in two weeks, Ahmad Brooks failed to generate any quarterback pressures whatsoever. It ended up resulting in what Pro Football Focus has graded as Brooks’ worst game all year long.
To be fair, it came against a tough Seattle squad, with both Breno Giacomini and J.R. Sweezy doing a great job of keeping Russell Wilson’s right side clear. The two combined to only allow one quarterback hurry all day, compared the four allowed on the other side of the line.
Brooks often found himself wrapping up plays after they had already gained significant yardage—making tackles after six- and eight-yard gains on the ground, or after passes up the middle had already picked up a first down. Rushes to his side of the field ended up resulting in 71 yards on 16 carries, a 4.4 yard-per-rush clip.
That’s not all Brooks’ fault, but he didn’t exactly step up to stop it, either—rushes the other way were much, much less effective.
He did have one tipped pass on the day, knocking a Russell Wilson pass to the ground on a 1st-and-25 late in the third quarter, but that was about it. It was a quiet day for someone expected to have a much larger impact, considering how beastly he was when Aldon Smith was out.
Bad days happen to good players, so he just has to brush himself off and get ready for Tampa Bay and Bobby Rainey next week.
Willis struggled defending tight end Luke Willson.
Willis didn’t have any quarterback pressures, but the main reason for the negative rating was his job in coverage.
Willis dropped into coverage 27 times, and he ended up giving up four receptions for 85 yards and a touchdown. Luke Willson, a fifth-round rookie tight end, exploited Willis’ coverage the most, including on a 39-yard touchdown reception to give Seattle the lead in the second quarter. Willis also gave up receptions to Zach Miller and Golden Tate on the day.
It was an uncharacteristic performance; coming into the game, Football Outsiders ranked the 49ers third in the league in defending passes to tight ends, in large part thanks to the performance of their safeties and linebackers. Willis himself, even with the poor game, is ranked as the third-best 49er in terms of pass coverage by Pro Football Focus, so this is not an ongoing problem.
Nor did the Seahawks do something special to exploit Willis in coverage that other teams can emulate, exposing a heretofore unknown weakness.
It’s just a bad game—they happen. No long term cause for concern, and if you’re going to have a bad game, best to have it in a victory. Willis will be fine from here on out.
Boone found himself on the wrong side of a number of penalty calls.
Sunday’s game was full of penalties. Together, the teams combined for 16 penalties for 155 yards. It was a tough, physical game, and so the flags were flying.
Alex Boone found himself on the wrong side of the yellow flag twice.
The first was a relatively meaningless false start penalty towards the end of the second half—the 49ers still had two minutes left and a timeout, so the difference between 52 and 57 yards to head for the end zone wasn’t a huge deal. It was wiped out by the very next play, anyway.
His second penalty, however, could have cost San Francisco dearly.
It was the fourth quarter, with just over 10 minutes left in the game. San Francisco was up two points, and was facing a 3rd-and-7 from its own 30-yard line. Colin Kaepernick found Anquan Boldin on the right side of the field, and he was able to scamper for 15 yards and a huge first down...
...or he would have, had Boone not been flagged for illegal use of hands, bringing the play back.
It negated the key third-down conversion and severely hurt the 49ers' chances of winning the game. According to the Advanced NFL Stats win probability calculator, had Boldin’s catch stood, the 49ers would be sitting pretty, with a 71 percent chance of victory. The penalty knocked them all the way down to a 55 percent chance, a 16-point swing.
If you prefer tangible results to mathematical ones, the next play after the penalty was a nine-yard sack, bringing out the punt unit. Andy Lee’s punt was then returned 38 yards, bringing Seattle into field-goal range, eventually allowing the Seahawks to take the lead.
Had San Francisco not engineered the drive to win the game, Boone’s penalties would be a very big reason why Seattle would be celebrating an NFC West championship in Candlestick Park.