SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Maybe Seahawks fans had begun to bail on their team Sunday as a futile first quarter merged into the second, with Seattle seemingly outclassed in every way by the San Francisco 49ers during a game left tackle Duane Brown later admitted was “a must-win.”
The 49ers ran up and down the field, gaining 167 yards in the first quarter, and Seattle’s offense began the game with five consecutive three-and-outs, held to minus-7 yards through the first 25 minutes.
There was little reason to think at that point that Seattle wasn’t going to limp home with the first three-game losing streak of quarterback Russell Wilson’s career and a three-game deficit in the NFC West standings.
But coach Pete Carroll and players insisted that on the sideline, faith was never lost.
“It was so hard early,” Carroll said. “We just stayed the course and stayed with it, and we really kind of recaptured the chance at this game when you just didn’t think there was any way. It just didn’t look like it was going to happen.”
And finally, the Seahawks turned words into action, “flipping the script,” as Wilson put it, to dominate the second half and pull away for a 28-21 win at Levi’s Stadium.
And as cornerback Sidney Jones, who got his first start when Carroll decided to shake up the secondary, said: “1-3 sounds way worse than 2-2.”
Indeed, at 1-3 the four days leading to Thursday’s home game against the Los Angeles Rams would have been dominated by questions about where this season was headed.
Now, the Seahawks can move into second place in the West entering the weekend by beating LA.
Maybe more important: “We just got our swagger back,” safety Jamal Adams said.
Adams clarified that didn’t mean to say the swagger was gone, only that the Seahawks needed some reinforcement after losses to Tennessee and Minnesota, which put them last in the NFL in yards allowed per game.
“Obviously when you drop some games guys’ heads are down,” Adams said. “Guys might feel like it’s their fault or whatnot. But at the end of the day we’re in this together as a team.”
And it took a team effort Sunday.
Though the offense flailed early, with no gain of longer than five yards on its first 15 plays and three sacks allowed, the defense hung tough. After allowing a touchdown drive to open the game, the defense got an interception, forced a field-goal attempt that was missed by 49er punter Mitch Wishnowsky (kicking for injured Robbie Gould) and a punt.
And that the score was just 7-0 despite the early offensive futility was key, Brown said.
“We never really got out of the ballgame, so nobody every got too discouraged,” Brown said.
Late in the second quarter, Wilson approached offensive coordinator Shane Waldron with the idea to start going up-tempo more.
Seattle didn’t run a no-huddle play on its first five drives but threw some in the rest of the way. It began with a six-play, 80-yard march that got the Seahawks on the scoreboard with a 10-yard pass from Wilson to DK Metcalf with 1:54 left in the second quarter.
“Let’s just change it up,” Wilson said of the decision to start going more up-tempo. “Let’s not huddle anymore, and let’s just move.”
Carroll praised Wilson for making it work, as going up-tempo puts more responsibility on the quarterback to set blocking up front and change plays if needed.
“He put us in the best positions,” Carroll said.
Certainly, something clicked, as the 49ers did not record a sack after the first five possessions.
The also game began to change when San Francisco quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo went to the sideline because of a calf injury that he suffered on the first series, with rookie Trey Lance – the No. 3 overall pick of the 2021 NFL draft – forced into his most significant action.
The 49ers gained just 28 yards on the first seven plays of the second half.
The game changed for good in a 56-second span during the third quarter.
First, following a 49ers three-and-out, Wilson led the Seahawks on a 66-yard drive that he punctuated with a 16-yard TD run to the corner of the end zone, his longest run of the season.
San Francisco’s Trenton Cannon then fumbled the kickoff, with Seattle recovering at the 14-yard line.
Two plays later Wilson spun out of sack attempts by blitzing cornerback Dontae Johnson and defensive end Nick Bosa to somehow find Freddie Swain open in the end zone for a 13-yard TD pass.
“That’s as good as you can get,” Carroll said of the play.
And just like that, Seattle led 21-7.
The 49ers responded with a 76-yard TD on the following series when a busted coverage allowed Deebo Samuel to break wide open down the sideline.
Carroll called the play “a big error” and hinted that it was the responsibility of Jones, the former Husky who was making his first start at left cornerback in place of Tre Flowers, with D.J. Reed moving from the left side to the right.
But other than that mistake, the Seahawks secondary played as well as it has all season. Quandre Diggs had Seattle’s first interception of the season in the first quarter, and Seattle finished with nine pass defenses after entering the game with just five this season.
Carroll said of the secondary that it felt like “we were around the ball a lot.”
And after the Samuel TD, Seattle responded with another long drive and an Alex Collins TD that put the Seahawks back in control.
Seattle needed to recover a final onside kick with 1:20 left to secure the win, one that looked odd in the stats – the 49ers outgained Seattle 457-234 and had 23 first downs to Seattle’s 14.
But the 49ers also had two turnovers, eight penalties for 78 yards and a decided disadvantage in special teams.
And to Carroll, it was the complete game Seattle had been missing the previous two weeks, losses that he said may have been “a wake-up call.”
Carroll said Sunday’s win was “just one step.’’ But given the stakes of the game, it could turn out to be as big as any Seattle will take this season.
“I’m just so proud of these guys,” Carroll said. “The way they hung in there and came back and put the game back in order.”
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