SAN FRANCISCO -- As players dispersed onto the field Sunday afternoon after a physical battle that cemented this as one of the NFL's finest rivalries, many San Francisco 49ers had a message for the Seattle Seahawks.
“We told them on the field that we will see them again,” San Francisco guard Alex Boone said after his 49ers won 19-17 on Phil Dawson's 22-yard field goal with 26 seconds remaining. “We said, 'See you up there.' And it's going to be another battle."
Did the Seahawks agree with the 49ers' plans for a future meeting?
“Yes, they said, ‘See you again,'" Boone said.
Yes, the 49ers and the Seahawks both have business to do before a potential postseason meeting, but the players are on to something. These two teams are on a collision course for the playoffs.
So the 49ers have about a month to figure out how to win in Seattle.
There is no doubt that San Francisco's win Sunday was important and impressive.
But whether the 49ers won or lost Sunday, what truly matters is whether they can win in Seattle, where it is tough for any team to beat the Seahawks. And at 11-2, Seattle is on pace to have the home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.
The 49ers know this: In losses at Seattle last December and in Week 2 this season, they were outscored by a combined 71-16 margin. However, if these teams meet again, the 49ers will focus on the success they had Sunday.
They 49ers were the better team and deserved to win on Sunday. They made more plays.
“The way they've beaten us the last two times up in their place, this kind of felt like a must-win for us,” San Francisco left tackle Joe Staley said.
This type of victory has been a long time coming for the 49ers, who are now 9-4. Entering the day, they were 1-4 against teams with winning records and 7-0 against teams with losing records or .500 records. Last month, when the 49ers went from 6-2 to 6-4, they lost to Carolina and to New Orleans by a total of four points. They could have easily won both games.
Had this game gone Seattle's way and ended in a one-point loss for the 49ers, that would have stuck with San Francisco heading into the postseason. The 49ers now know they can beat a good team and get out of a close game with a win.
Perhaps that's why the San Francisco locker room was so raucous afterward. It was, by far, the most boisterous this group has been after a win this season.
“We knew this was going down to the last second,” Boone said. “They just had to stay calm and get it done.”
The 49ers had started talking about this game as soon as the St. Louis game was over last week. That's unusual. But the 49ers have been looking forward to the chance of redemption since they were crushed in Seattle in September. Boone had said the 49ers couldn't “overthink” the matchup. Tight end Vernon Davis said the 49ers couldn't be “overwhelmed” by the task.
Throughout the week, San Francisco appeared relaxed and focused. It paid off Sunday.
The Seahawks took a 17-16 lead with 6:25 to go. Memories of the losses to the Panthers and Saints came rushing back.
However, the 49ers, who were held scoreless in the second half to that point, embarked on a long drive -- fueled by a 51-yard run by Frank Gore -- to set up Dawson's game winner.
While the team reveled in the win, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh was clearly drained. He was asked whether he enjoys this rivalry.
"'Enjoy' is not the word I'd use,” Harbaugh said. “It's like going to dentist's chair and getting three hours of root canal … this is only for the tough.”
San Francisco is definitely tough. Once again, the 49ers' defense played at a high level. Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson was harassed all game and never got comfortable. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Wilson was just 2-of-8 on passes 10 yards or longer.
“They might have a better record than us,” San Francisco safety Donte Whitner said. “But when playoff time comes, you have to look out for the 49ers.”
The 49ers are on pace to be the sixth and final seed in the playoffs. They hold a one-game lead in the chase. San Francisco will play at Tampa Bay in Week 15, then close Candlestick Park against Atlanta on a Monday night before traveling to Arizona for what could be a playoffs-or-bust game.
Although the 49ers are not certain to make the playoffs, another date with Seattle seems inevitable.