The importance of the San Francisco Forty-Niners victory over the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday afternoon was much more than just another win in the standings. This was a statement game. Behind an elite defense, and a timely running game, the Niners were able to outlast the Seahawks to improve to 9-4. More important than the game being their ninth win of the season, was the fact that Seattle came into the matchup with a division title in reach. If the Seahawks had won they would have celebrated a division title in front of the team they took it from. Instead the Niners prevented the seemingly inevitable outcome from happening for at least another week.
They did so behind a precise, prepared, and physical defense. The pass rush flexed its muscles early with several pressures and sacks of the agile Russell Wilson. But the true star of the day was the secondary. Wilson often found himself without an open receiver, and despite a few big plays, the Forty-Niners essentially kept him in check. Over the past three games Wilson averaged 276 yards, 2 touchdowns, no interceptions, a 73 percent completion percentage and a passer rating of 141.9. In this game the Niners held him to 199 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception, a 60 percent completion percentage and a passer rating of 82. The defenses 5 pass deflections are further evidence of the excellent coverage.
Barely behind the phenomenal performance of the secondary was the rush defense. The front seven wasn’t able to consistently bring pressure throughout the game, but they were able to hold Marshawn Lynch to 3.6 yards a carry. Lynch has burned the Niners in the past, but they were able to shut him down in this one by consistently keeping players around the line of scrimmage. The Seattle line had a tough time creating space for Lynch to work with and a large part of that was due to the ability of Ahmad Brooks, Patrick Willis, and Navarro Bowman, to find open lanes to point of attack. The down lineman also did a great job of holding their ground and not getting pushed out of position. Without the consistent running game, the one dimensional Seahawks had a hard time getting things going on offense.
On the other side of the ball, the Niners offense had another inconsistent day. The running game had tough time getting things going and the passing game lacked explosive plays. However each unit had their bright spots, Frank Gore took over the game late while Colin Kaepernick led the team’s only touchdown drive. In Michael Crabtree’s second game of the season the passing offense continued to show touches of brilliance. Several drives were built upon big pass plays to Anquan Boldin, and Kaepernick’s touchdown pass to Vernon Davis was a big time catch. But these bright spots were interwoven with three and outs, sacks, and an interception. That was all that was needed though, as Gore broke open the biggest play of the game on a 51 yard run late in the fourth. Before that run he had a solid game, running the ball for 54 yards on 12 attempts. But the play proved to be the most critical one of the game, and Gore’s heroic performance is staked in that carry. There is a reason the Niners won this one behind their running offense, this is a team built to run first and pass later, and the victory today was accomplished using that formula.
In the bigger picture, this victory is a confidence builder for team that may have to go into Seattle during the postseason. The Seahawks are well positioned for home field advantage throughout the playoffs, and if the Niners had lost they would have entered a postseason meeting with Seattle on the road and with a three game losing streak against the team. At least now San Francisco has evened up the series, and they have to like their chances of beating Seattle at any venue. This is a team that thrives off their confidence, and having a victory under their belt will do them a world of good if they are to meet the Seahawks in the postseason.
With the Arizona Cardinals still on their heels, the Niners are going to have to continue to win games in order to make the playoffs. It is an accomplishable goal, and one made easier by this victory, but the final game of the season is at Arizona and the outcome could decide who gets the final playoff spot. The road won’t get any easier from here on out, but this victory over Seattle confirms that the Niners can play with the best of the best in the NFL.