NFC West: 2012 Week 16 Rapid Reaction
December, 23, 2012
By Mike Sando | ESPN.com
SEATTLE -- Thoughts on the Seattle Seahawks' 42-13 victory over the San Francisco 49ers at CenturyLink Field in Week 16:
What it means: The Seahawks improved their record to 10-5 and secured a playoff berth while establishing themselves as arguably the hottest team in the NFL. Their quarterback, Russell Wilson, strengthened his credentials as a candidate for offensive rookie of the year. The 49ers can still claim the NFC West title with a home victory over Arizona in Week 17, but securing a first-round bye appears less likely. That could be a concern for San Francisco given injuries affecting key players Justin Smith (elbow), Vernon Davis (concussion) and Mario Manningham (knee).
Playoff picture: Green Bay can secure the second seed in the NFC and a first-round playoff bye with a victory over Minnesota in Week 17. Seattle appears likely to become the fifth seed, but if the Seahawks beat St. Louis and the 49ers lose at home to the Cardinals, the Seahawks would get a home game as the third seed. I'll post the official scenarios once I get them. Check out ESPN's Playoff Machine for potential outcomes.
What I liked: Seattle's physical play on both sides of the ball and on special teams stood out from the beginning. Guard J.R. Sweezy, a surprise starter at right guard, took out Pro Bowl linebacker Patrick Willis at the knees to help spring Marshawn Lynch's 24-yard touchdown run. Left tackle Russell Okung drove back the 49ers' Aldon Smith to spring Lynch on another run. Safety Kam Chancellor put big hits on Davis, Bruce Miller and Frank Gore to set the tone. And when Red Bryant blocked a David Akers field-goal try to set up Richard Sherman's fumble return for a touchdown, the Seahawks were on their way.
Seattle receivers Doug Baldwin and Sidney Rice made difficult catches in this game. That was a huge change from when the 49ers claimed a 13-6 victory over the Seahawks in Week 7. That was one of the main reasons Seattle jumped to an early lead.
For San Francisco, Willis' acrobatic interception of a pass out of Robert Turbin's hands gave the 49ers a chance to stem the Seahawks' momentum.
The 49ers also did a good job maintaining their pass coverage down the field when Wilson scrambled to buy time. Wilson took sacks for a short loss and gained small amounts in situations in which lesser defenses have allowed the quarterback to complete passes down the field. Wilson's serpentine scramble for a 6-yard gain was impressive, but Seattle still had to punt on the next play. That was a victory for the 49ers' defense.
Michael Crabtree beat Sherman for a 35-yard gain early in the third quarter.
What I didn't like: Officials called a couple 15-yard penalties on plays that appeared to be big hits, not dirty ones. Chancellor's big hit for Seattle knocked Davis from the game. Officials flagged Chancellor, but nothing about the hit appeared outside the rules. Later, officials flagged the 49ers' Chris Culliver for hitting Baldwin while safety Dashon Goldson was putting a WWE-style body slam on the wideout. This play appeared consistent with what we've come to expect when these teams battle it out.
Later in the game, the 49res lost Manningham after Seahawks linebacker Leroy Hill hit Manningham low. Years ago, that type of hit might have sparked a brawl. But with current rules discouraging players from hitting high, that type of play could become more common.
The 49ers have proven they can win in hostile environments. Victories at Green Bay, New Orleans and New England provide all the evidence anyone should need. Still, there have been some game-management issues that could be concerning. Fumbled snaps were the issue at New England. This week, the 49ers wasted timeouts and took delay penalties while trying to operate amid deafening noise. Some of those issues are understandable, but the 49ers should expect better on that front.
San Francisco, despite having rushed for 175 yards against Seattle in the previous meeting, went three-and-out with three passes on its first drive. Rainy conditions seemed to make this an ideal time to test a Seattle defense that had allowed a league-worst 5.3 yards per carry from Week 7 through Week 15. The score was out of hand before the 49ers had a chance to establish anything on the ground. Of course, having Gore cough up the football when Chancellor took him down hard might have suggested this was going to be a tough night for the 49ers regardless.
QB comparison: Wilson, ranked second in NFL passer rating and first in Total QBR since Week 6, continued his recent run of efficient play. His four scoring passes more than offset the one pick he threw on a pass off his receiver's hands. Kaepernick struggled with crowd noise and wasn't as accurate or sharp as he had been recently. He threw a pick in the end zone and was fortunate Seattle could not hold onto another pass thrown into coverage. Wilson was much more purposeful than Kaepernick in the way he moved to buy time and avoid sacks.
Third-down domination: The Seahawks converted 11 of 12 times (92 percent) on third down against the 49ers. They scored four touchdowns on four possessions in the red zone. Seattle's defense held the 49ers to 3-of-11 (27 percent) on third down and one touchdown on four red zone possessions.
Stuck on 19.5: Aldon Smith still needs 3.5 sacks to break Michael Strahan's single-season record since 1982, when sacks became an official stat. Smith went without a sack against the Seahawks, leaving him at 19.5 for the season. He faces an Arizona defense that has improved its pass protection despite allowing three sacks to Chicago's Julius Peppers on Sunday.
Lynch does it again: Lynch topped 100 yards rushing for his third consecutive game against the 49ers.
Another block: Bryant's blocked field goal was his fourth over the past two seasons. He has also blocked an extra-point attempt during that time.
Davis concussed: The 49ers announced with 10:19 remaining in the second quarter that Davis would not return to the game. Davis plays nearly all the offensive snaps when healthy. He hasn't been a big factor as a receiver lately, but they valued him for his blocking and for the attention he drew as a big receiver with speed. Garrett Celek took snaps in the two-tight-end sets once Davis departed.
Brown shaken up: The 49ers lost starting cornerback Tarell Brown to injury with 9:17 remaining in the second quarter. Brown was injured while Wilson scrambled for a short gain. He was down on the ground for several minutes as trainers tended to him. Medical staff helped Brown off the field. Brown was able to return a short time later.
Ironman streak ends: 49ers defensive end Justin Smith was named inactive with an elbow injury, ending his streak of starts at 185 regular-season games. That was the longest active streak for a defensive lineman in the NFL. Ricky Jean Francois started in place of Smith at right defensive end.
What's next: The 49ers are home against Arizona. The Seahawks are home against St. Louis.