49ers build big lead then hold off Seahawks

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- The San Francisco 49ers are one win away
from reclaiming the NFC West, though you couldn't see it in their
somber faces after they nearly let another victory slip away.

Question on the Seahawks: Are they lacking playmakers on defense or are guys simply underachieving?
I think they're underachieving on defense. On offense, they've invested a lot in some guys who aren't ready to carry the team. There are questions at quarterback, and I'm not sure Alexander is the type of running back who's physical enough to get the job done in between the guards. A West Coast offense also needs a tight end who can produce in between the hash marks.

Question on the 49ers: Do you think they're capable of establishing some consistency heading into the playoffs?
I don't think so. The 49ers have the personnel to be dominant, but they're not. The defense has great speed on the outside, and the offense has weapons (notably Terrell Owens). But they allow opponents to hang around. And that won't help a team establish consistency.

Eric Allen played cornerback for 14 NFL seasons with the Eagles, Saints and Raiders.

Garrison Hearst rushed for 124 yards and a career-high three
touchdowns, and Jimmy Williams returned a punt 89 yards for a score
as the 49ers snapped their first two-game losing streak in two
years with a 31-24 win over Seattle on Sunday.

The 49ers (8-4) took a three-game lead in the division, which
they can win for the first time since 1997 with another victory and
a loss by St. Louis (5-7) in the final four games.

But it was hard to find anybody who was excited about division
titles and playoff glory at Candlestick Park. The Niners were
uniformly glum about their fourth-quarter collapse, which only
ended when Matt Hasselbeck's pass was intercepted by Rashad Holman
in San Francisco territory with 1:23 left.

"I want to see better things out of this offense,'' said Jeff Garcia, who passed for just 164 yards following two early
interceptions. "We all want to be better. Today was frustrating,
because I don't see the progress being made on a daily basis.''

Despite an inconsistent offense and a young, injury-plagued
defense, San Francisco swept the season series from the Seahawks.
The Niners won the division rivals' first meeting since Terrell Owens' infamous pen-in-the-sock stunt seven weeks earlier in San
Francisco's 28-21 win at Seattle.

The 49ers took a 31-10 lead on Hearst's third score early in the
fourth quarter. But Hasselbeck had 311 of his 427 yards passing in
the second half, and he rallied the Seahawks to two scores,
including a 3-yard TD pass to Darrell Jackson with 1:57 left.

Orlando Huff recovered an onside kick, and the Seahawks reached
the San Francisco 43. Hasselbeck threw his next pass directly to
Holman, and the backup safety, playing because of widespread
injuries in the secondary, made his second career interception.

"They might feel bad about letting us in it, but we feel bad
about letting them get so far out ahead,'' said Hasselbeck, who was
30-of-55 in another strong game. "We were out of this game, and
this place emptied out. I know if I had played better, we could
have got it done.''

Until the late fireworks, this game belonged to Hearst. Kevan Barlow was out with a sprained knee, leaving Hearst to carry both
halves of the load in their usual tailback tandem.

Against the NFL's worst rushing defense, Hearst handled his 31
carries exceptionally well -- and was undoubtedly grateful to focus
on football instead of the controversy caused by his anti-gay
remarks earlier this season.

"Just being in the game for the whole time felt great,'' Hearst
said. "No matter what it looked like, we won the game. ... (The
touchdowns) were easy. Those were big holes.''

On the way to his highest rushing total of the season, Hearst
got a 5-yard TD and a pair of 1-yard scores.

Owens caught five passes for 45 yards this time, never getting
close to the end zone until the final minutes. None of the Seahawks
took any revenge for his autograph celebration.

Jackson caught two TD passes for the Seahawks (4-8), whose
playoff chances in coach Mike Holmgren's fourth season are all but
dead. But he was hurried by countless blitzes and victimized by
several drops early on. Koren Robinson had the worst butterfingers,
though he also caught a late TD pass.

"We were too sloppy. That was the bottom line,'' Holmgren said.
"You could mess with the numbers any way you want, and we'd come
out with a good chance to win this thing. Given our state of
affairs with an unusual number of new people, I choose to see the
glass half-full.''

The Niners' offense got going in the second quarter when Hearst
scored to cap a 14-play drive. After the Seahawks stalled, Williams
sliced through them for a long punt return, bursting past punter
Jeff Feagles and two more Seahawks at midfield before jogging into
the end zone.

Jackson caught a 32-yard TD pass, his first of the season, in
the third quarter. But he fumbled at the San Francisco 6 following
another long reception -- just one of several costly mistakes by the
Seahawks' mercurial passing game.

Game notes
Hearst was the first San Francisco running back to score
three touchdowns in a game since Ricky Watters in 1992. ... Seattle
unsuccessfully challenged Jackson's key fumble. When referee Tom
White explained the call to Jackson, the receiver turned and spiked
his helmet on the ground. ... In the third quarter, Niners safety
Tony Parrish deflected a pass into the air to himself and returned
the interception inside the 5 to set up Hearst's second TD.


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