SANTA CLARA, Calif. – If maybe you were hoping the Seahawks would come out Sunday and do some of the things they haven’t all season – such as start fast – all quarterback Russell Wilson wanted as the second half began was for them to be who they’ve always been.
“We’ve got to know who we are,’’ Wilson said he told his teammates in the third quarter. “Continue to know who we are.’’
And in finally pulling away from the 49ers in a 24-13 victory on a rainy, windy day, the Seahawks pretty much were what they have been all season.
They looked stagnant on offense early – Wilson throwing an interception into the wind on the game’s first play. They were ahead 7-3 at halftime only because of a Bobby Wagner interception that set up a 16-yard touchdown drive.
Only, calling it an interception hardly does it justice as Wagner stole the ball out of the hands of San Francisco receiver Trent Taylor as each fell to the ground. Wagner ran into the end zone for a hoped-for touchdown, but officials ruled he was down at the 16.
“I have never seen an interception like that,’’ marveled fellow linebacker K.J. Wright.
Had he not seen it Sunday, Seattle might well have trailed at halftime against a team that has now lost 24 of 27 games since the start of the 2016 season.
“Luckily we’ve got a really good defense that keeps us in the game early so things don’t get too out of control,’’ said receiver Doug Baldwin, noting it’s a pattern that has come to define the 2017 season.
The Seahawks then used one of their most reliable combinations – a Wilson-to-Baldwin pass – to get jump-started offensively. The two connected on a 23-yard pass to convert third-and-9 midway through the third quarter during a quick touchdown drive that re-established control for Seattle.
“That was really the spark in this game,’’ coach Pete Carroll said.
And throughout the game, their defense gave up little, holding the 49ers to just 205 yards until a final 75-yard drive resulted in a touchdown on the final play of the game on a pass from Jimmy Garappolo, who made his 49ers debut with 1:07 to go.
In essence, relying on what has become the winning formula for the 2017 Seahawks, one that doesn’t figure to change now with just five games left.
“We continue to have our struggles in the first half,’’ said Baldwin. “I don’t know what it is. Maybe we have to calm our jitters down and maybe we are overly excited. But once we find our groove obviously we are able to continue and play well.’’
Seattle, in fact, led just 7-6 with 8:23 left in the third quarter when Wilson and Baldwin hooked up on their third-and-9 play that seemed to turn the game for good. Eddie Lacy had been stopped for just a 1-yard run on the previous play, which followed a Wilson incomplete pass. That left the crowd, which looked to be about half of the announced attendance of 70,134, cheering as it rarely had all day.
Baldwin, who had just one catch for 2 yards to that point, found an opening as Wilson scrambled, then reached and dived to control the pass for a first down that seemed to finally indicate to both teams that things would, indeed, unfold as everyone expected.
“That was really the momentum-starter for us,’’ said Wilson, who four plays later hit tight end Nick Vannett for a 17-yard touchdown that put Seattle ahead 14-6 and capped a 71-yard drive after Seattle had gained just 129 yards in the first half.
“Just doing my job,’’ said Baldwin. “I’m just playing. I’m just reacting to what the defense is giving me. So, in the moment, I’m not thinking that ‘Oh, it’s a big catch.’ I’m just thinking we’ve got to continue to move the ball down field.’’
After the defense forced a three-and-out, another big Baldwin play on third down led to another long touchdown drive.
On a third-and-8 from the San Francisco 20, Wilson underthrew a pass to Baldwin in the end zone. Baldwin reached back over 49ers cornerback Dontae Johnson to draw a pass interference that gave Seattle a first down at the 1. Two plays later, Wilson hit Jimmy Graham for a 1-yard touchdown pass to help make it 21-6 and ended the suspense for good.
Baldwin seemed almost more enthused about the penalty he drew than the pass he caught.
“You know in those situations when the ball is underthrown, you’ve only got a couple of options – you either try to make a play on the ball and see what happens or you put yourself in a situation where you can lend itself into seeing if the refs will make a call,’’ Baldwin said. “I couldn’t get the ball, so I figured I would try to make a play in a way that we could get the penalty.’’
“A very savvy play,’’ Carroll said of a move that ultimately sewed up a victory that improved Seattle to 7-4 and kept the Seahawks a game behind Los Angeles in the NFC West. Seattle plays host to the Rams on Dec. 17 and already have a win over them.
And while there were other contributors – Tanner McEvoy had two well-timed catches for 31 yards and J.D. McKissic provided a nice spark both running and receiving, to name two – it was ultimately a victory in which the Seahawks mostly relied on the same players who have been the face of the franchise for so many years now.
Those who have made them “Who we are,’’ in Wilson’s words, and those who figure to continue to determine what they will become the rest of the season.
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