The 49ers were coming off one of their best, most complete games in years, after their victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 11.
They came into Seattle with a new identity and a new attitude. It was their last chance, it was the 11th hour.
It looked good in the beginning, the team was moving the ball, and despite some hiccups, they scored a touchdown to go up 7–0. Immediately after, the defense collapsed the pocket on third down, and sacked Matt Hasselbeck. They were going to get the ball back, with momentum on their side, as well as field position.
Everything was looking identical to the Jacksonville game, except now they were in a stadium which few NFL teams find easy to take control over, especially in the first half.
Wow, things really looked like they were changing for the 49ers. The playoff horizon was no longer a mirage, it was becoming more visible off in the distance.
After catching the punt, Arnaz Battle was ready to set the team up with rare momentum in Seattle.
We can have some more
At this point, a team which was on the cusp of something great, a team that was on the verge of taking control of one of the most hostile stadiums in professional sports, decided that they would indulge themselves a little.
After Arnaz Battle caught the punt, instead of gaining a few yards and getting ready to take control of the game, they let it go.
The 49ers instead, decided that this was the time to gamble with their season. Instead of taking control, they attempted a difficult punt return reverse hand-off with two inexperienced punt return men.
Like many gambles, this particular play ended up as a disaster; a fumble, that bounced around and placed Seattle with the ball, deep in 49ers territory.
The sleeping giant of a stadium then came alive. The uplifted Seattle team scored the game-tying touchdown and wrestled away control of the 49ers precious momentum.
It was like watching from the third-person, a man who had been homeless for years, win the lottery, only to walk straight into a local casino in an attempt to double his money.
Even if it WORKED, you have to ask yourself, was it worth it?
To win a million, only to risk going back sleeping in the streets because you wanted TWO million?
For a team desperate to come out of its shell and take control of a stadium where momentum is everything, the 49ers found gold, but gambled it all away.
Bruises on the fruit
Despite the questionable coaching decisions, despite the questionable officiating, the 49ers still had enough talent to come away with a comfortable win.
It was the eleventh hour, and Alex Smith was set free to lead the team to two beautiful touchdown passes.
However, despite coming out of his shell for the second time in Seattle, his weapon's were too dull and rusty to help him win this battle.
Alex Smith's targets could not keep pace. Both TE's Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker, dropped well thrown touchdown passes.
WR's Josh Morgan, Michael Crabtree, and Brandon Jones let slip several other opportunities.
Frank Gore's ill-timed fumble was another big momentum swing. He refused to go down as his leg was being grabbed from the ground, which allowed a defender to hit the ball out from behind where Gore could not see him coming.
However, dropping passes and fumbling is something that can be mostly attributed to luck or circumstance. It may or may not be something that can be easily corrected. Sometimes there will be drops or fumbles and sometimes there won't be.
But the preventable errors, are the ones that leave the 49ers shaking their head.
The 49ers had a preventable error in the second half that cost them just as dearly as the punt return did in the first half.
After a defensive stop in the third quarter, Arnaz Battle, catching the ball at the 10 yard line, returned a punt to the 40 yard line. It looked like the 49ers had set themselves up with some good field position and had a chance to take back momentum, and get out of Seattle with a win.
However, Mark Roman took it upon himself to create another special teams disaster, by blocking a player in the back.
Why did he raise his arms up to block a player who clearly had his back turned?!
There are plenty of “blocking in the back” penalties that are ticky-tack and questionable, but this one was not. It was obvious; and since Arnaz Battle was already past the Seattle player when it happened, it was obviously pointless.
After the play, the 49ers committed a false start penalty that put them back around the 4 yard line. So from the 40 back to the four, there they were. At that point, all the 49ers offense was able to do, was run the ball to clear some space for the punter.
Just like the first half special teams disaster, this play set the tone and changed the momentum of the second half, and just like the first half play, it was completely pointless and unnecessary; because although its hard to avoid a “block in the back” penalty, it's easy to avoid purposely pushing a man in the back who is right in front of you.
Tender age in bloom
I haven't even covered half of the poor decisions, calls, and officiating that hurt the 49ers in Seattle. There was an immense amount of foot shooting going on by the 49ers players, coaches and officials.
Yet despite all of that, despite the fact that the 49ers shot themselves so many times, despite nine passes dropped, despite three huge momentum swings, despite some very questionable officiating, they STILL almost pulled out the victory on the road.
Two or three years ago, if they made this many mistakes in Seattle, they would have been clobbered someth'n ugly, and blown out by halftime.
But this was different, this game felt as if the 49ers were the ones that should be providing the blowout.
Over the last six years, the 49ers usually make the trip to Seattle, hoping to take advantage of Seattle's mistakes and hang around till the end. This time, there was a role reversal.
Seattle took advantage of the 49ers mistakes and held on to a win they didn't really earn.
Throughout the entire game, it felt like it was the 49ers' game to lose. The 49ers were the team that had the swagger and control for most of the game.
Despite the blunders and mistakes, Alex Smith had another career day. Vernon Davis had great numbers on paper, and made several big plays. Patrick Willis had arguably his best game of the year, and played like a man possessed.
It was really ashamed that the 49ers crippled themselves in such a manner. In the end, the bloody stumps hobbled them too much, to earn a victory. The 49ers looked like the more talented group, who shot themselves in the foot, and gave a prideful team in a very hostile environment too many gifts.
Don't like moral victories? Too bad. Because this loss was another huge moral victory. Ugly, but beautiful. Sad, yet inspiring.
The 49ers talent has finally bloomed. Its up to the coaching staff to feed it better soil and water. It should be fun to watch as they grow together.
I'm sure the 49ers are singing a different tune right now, and not thinking there is much positive to take away from their season finalizing loss.
But they know not what it means, they know not what it means when I say yyeeeaaaahhhhh.