Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFL Nation [Print without images]

Sunday, December 12, 2010
Rapid Reaction: 49ers 40, Seahawks 21

By Mike Sando

SAN FRANCISCO -- Thoughts on the San Francisco 49ers' blowout victory against the Seattle Seahawks at Candlestick Park in Week 14:

What it means: The 49ers pulled within one game of NFC West division leaders Seattle and St. Louis, keeping alive their hopes for a division title. Alex Smith reemerged as a viable quarterback for the 49ers, at least for this game. The 49ers (5-8) could pull into a first-place tie by beating San Diego on Thursday night, but only if the Seahawks and Rams lose in Week 15. Both fell to 6-7 Sunday. Seattle faces a tough game at home against Atlanta. St. Louis faces a tough game at home against Kansas City.

What I liked: Alex Smith and tight end Vernon Davis picked up where they left off before a shoulder injury sidelined Smith against Carolina. Davis had caught a touchdown pass in four consecutive games before Smith's injury. Davis caught only one scoring pass while Troy Smith was the quarterback. But with Alex Smith back in the lineup Sunday, Davis caught a 42-yard scoring pass on the 49ers' opening drive. He sustained the drive with a 22-yard reception on third-and-10. Smith has thrown a high percentage of his career scoring passes to Davis. They work well together.

What I didn't like: Seattle's defense missed far too many tackles in the open field. Rookie safety Earl Thomas missed one at the Seattle 47 during Brian Westbrook's 62-yard touchdown reception on a short pass. Cornerback Marcus Trufant missed one that would have prevented 49ers receiver Josh Morgan from reaching the end zone for another touchdown. Speaking of missed tackles, was that 49ers Pro Bowler Patrick Willis on the wrong end of a collision with Marshawn Lynch? Yes, it was, but I had to watch the replay to make sure. I do not recall seeing Willis get crumpled like that. Lynch also dismissed 49ers cornerback Shawntae Spencer with a casually delivered -- but brutally effective -- stiffarm near the 49ers' sideline.

Hero: Alex Smith. He rode to the rescue after the 49ers had lost two of three games.

Goat: This wasn't the first time Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck has struggled badly without top receiver Mike Williams available to him. It might have been his ugliest performance of the season, however. Hasselbeck, who finished with four interceptions, mysteriously threw an end-zone pick to a well-covered Brandon Stokley. Other times, it appeared Hasselbeck threw where he wanted receivers to be instead of where they actually were -- at great cost to the offense. One example: Hasselbeck threw behind tight end Chris Baker over the middle, leading to a pick. Baker and Hasselbeck both appeared mystified by the development.

Hindsight: Why did the 49ers switch from Troy Smith to Alex Smith at quarterback? That was the big question all week. Alex Smith provided a convincing answer with three first-half touchdown passes during a dominating performance. San Francisco turned four turnovers into 20 points in building a 40-14 lead through three quarters.

Injurie(s) of note: Seattle's top receiving threats, Williams and Ben Obomanu, did not play. Injuries made both inactive. The team lost receiver Deon Butler to an injury late in the game.

Tomorrow's Talker: Will the 49ers parlay their blowout victory into a division title? If they did, what would it mean for coach Mike Singletary?

Critical Call: Let's address the critical non-call first. Niners cornerback Shawntae Spencer appeared to prevent Seattle's Deon Butler from getting to a deep ball on a fourth-and-4 play late in the second quarter. The 49ers took over and quickly scored a touchdown on Brian Westbrook's 62-yard catch-and-run, stretching their lead to 27-7. Let's address the critical call next. I'm not sure why Seattle would opt for such a high-risk play from the San Francisco 32 when trailing 20-7 with 3:10 left in the first half. This was an all-or-nothing gamble and it backfired, helping the 49ers break open the game.

Trending: When the Seahawks lose, they really lose. Their previous defeats came by the following margins, in order: 17, 17, 30, 34, 15 and 18 points.

What's next: The Seahawks return home to face the 11-2 Atlanta Falcons. The 49ers visit the 7-6 Chargers in San Diego.