End of an Era: How the 49ers Finally Beat the Seahawks
Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann
The last time the 49ers beat the Seahawks, Phil Dawson kicked a go-ahead field goal with 26 seconds left on the clock in Week 14 of 2013. To put that in perspective, Kyle Shanahan was still working for his dad, Mike, as the offensive coordinator of the Washington Redskins, current Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston had yet to win the Heisman Trophy at Florida State University and QB Josh McCown won the NFC Offensive Player of the Week for the Chicago Bears. The 49ers alone have had four different head coaches, six different quarterbacks and have had a top ten draft pick of their own three times. So, how did the 49ers snap their ten-game losing streak against the hated division rival?
Nick Mullens Plays Lights Out
QB Nick Mullens may have had statistically better games against the Oakland Raiders and during the first matchup with the Seahawks, however, Sunday’s performance was the best game of his young career. Mullens was not perfect but did not turn the ball over and hung tough against a ferocious pass rush to make key throws. Despite a pair of missed opportunities to tight end George Kittle, Mullens made some magnificent throws. He dropped an absolute dime of a pass into wide receiver Dante Pettis’s outstretched arms during a fourth quarter drive that resulted in a field goal. Vocal leader and cornerback Richard Sherman had high praise for Mullens, “I’d say he’s playing like a top half quarterback in this league. You’ve got guys that are out there right now that are not playing better football than Nick Mullens. He could be a starter for a lot of teams in this football league.” The love from Sherman was well deserved after the young quarterback’s signature win.
Richard Sherman Gets His Revenge (And the Game Ball)
On March 9, the Seahawks continued to dismantle the famed “Legion of Boom” when they released Richard Sherman. Less than 48 hours later, he inked a three-year deal with the 49ers. Sherman has never been one to shy away from his feelings about this rivalry, regardless of which sideline he is on. Before the Week 13 matchup, Sherman called the Seahawks a “middle of the road” team and his former teammates did not appreciate that sentiment. Seattle took it out on the 49ers with a 43-16 drubbing at Century Link Field. This time around, Sherman led an inspired defense and was once again a shutdown corner as QB Russell Wilson did not target him once. His physicality was felt in the run game, as well. Seattle RB Chris Carson was knocked out of the game after a brutal, yet legal, hit. Following the win, head coach Kyle Shanahan gave Sherman the “obvious” game ball. “He’s done an awesome job for us, and we’re so pumped to have him on our side – and I know this means a lot to him,” Shanahan said.
Defensive lineman DeForest Buckner registered sacks number 10 and 11 on the season Sunday, becoming the first 49ers’ player since Aldon Smith to have double digits in the category. His two-game stat line against the Seahawks stands at 18 total tackles, six tackles for a loss, five QB hits and four sacks. Buckner’s ability to dominate lower competition has been evident all season long and helped slow Seattle’s league leading rushing attack. His second sack was particularly impressive after he chased down Wilson from behind, a play that not many defensive tackles can make. Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh was so pumped up by the play that he nearly hurt himself jumping onto Buckner.
49ers Limit Mistakes
The 49ers’ turnover differential is one of the most talked about reason behind their 4-10 record. While they did lose the turnover battle due to a fumble lost by RB Jeff Wilson Jr., they were able to play disciplined football. The 49ers were penalized eight times for 66 yards and the Seahawks were penalized 14 times for 148 yards. Many of Seattle’s penalties either resulted in negated first downs for their offense or first downs for San Francisco. In their first meeting, Seattle chunk plays gashed the 49ers, leading to the insurmountable deficit. On Sunday, the Seattle offense managed only one play longer than 30 yards and mustered just one play of more than 20 yards in the fourth quarter. Week in and week out, the 49ers seem to shoot themselves in the foot and during this battle; on Sunday, they managed to avoid doing that.
The Mad Scientist Delivers
Kyle Shanahan is known as one of the best play callers in the league. His offense is dynamic and predicated around confusing opposing defenses. This was never more evident than on Sunday when his play calls had players running wide open all throughout Seattle’s secondary. TE Garret Celek was schemed wide open for a 41-yard touchdown catch-and-run while Kittle added 35 yards after a catch of his own. Shanahan was able to call a very well-balanced game with 29 pass plays and 26 rushing attempts. When the offense is executing the game plan, Shanahan is the best offensive playcaller in the business.
Richie James Jr. Redeems Himself
Following a pair of fumbles in recent weeks, rookie WR Richie James Jr. had his punt return duties stripped away and given to WR Trent Taylor, but when the Seahawks jumped out to a 6-0 after WR Doug Baldwin’s first touchdown catch, it was James who took the ensuing kickoff 97 yards to the house. The play sparked the 49ers and swung momentum in a pivotal way; the Seahawks would never again have the lead. This was the first special-teams touchdown for the 49ers since the 2011 season opener against, ironically, the Seattle Seahawks.
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