Steve Young often says that he hated settling for field goals when he played, because to him that means you were three points closer to losing. He has a point, but when you have a defense like the Jim Harbaugh era 49ers do, three points can go a long way. San Francisco's 19-17 win over Seattle in Week 14 marked the fourth win in six tries for Harbaugh against the Seahawks. Believe it or not, in those four wins the Niners have scored a total of four offensive touchdowns (one in each game). Here is what 49ers fans are talking about after Week 14.
This was a great win for the 49ers so I don't want to spend too much time on the negative, however, Roman has to be addressed. The best analogy I can come up with is he looks like a person who has a high end sports car, but is afraid to drive over 30 mph because he might dent it.
I say this because his conservative approach almost cost the team this game as he once again looks afraid to (or may just not be able to) utilize his talent correctly. It's maddening to see a quarterback with the skills of Kaepernick play with handcuffs on. He's turned an athlete the likes of which the NFL has never seen into a drop back passer who is averaging 191 yards passing a game. What can he do differently? Take the 3rd and 1 play in the first quarter from Seattle's 5 yard line. He could have run his quarterback, used a play fake, rolled him out...anything to think outside of the box. Instead, he gave to ball to Bruce Miller, who was stopped. The 49ers had to settle for three points.
Maybe the team feels like they can win with a conservative approach during the season and then open it up in the playoffs. They did that last year by keeping the read option under wraps down the stretch. That remains to be seen, but the reality of the situation is the 49ers are invested in Kaepernick. If Greg Roman can't utilize his talents, Harbaugh may want to think long and hard this offseason about someone else who can.
Back to the future
This game felt a lot like 2011 and with good reason. In Week 1 of that year, the 49ers had a 19-17 lead late in the 4th quarter before Ted Ginn broke the game open with a kickoff and punt return for touchdowns. In Week 16, the 49ers beat the Seahawks 19-17 on Christmas eve with the help of a fourth quarter David Aker's field goal. In each of those games, San Francisco moved the ball but could only get one touchdown. The offense settled for four field goals, put up 19 points, and the defense kept Seattle in check. Sound familiar?
You can't say enough about how well the 49er defense has played since Week 3 and they more than did their part on Sunday. NaVorro Bowman set the tone early when he sacked Russell Wilson for an eight-yard loss, knocking the football out of bounds in the process. San Francisco did a tremendous job containing Wilson, who was 15-of-25 for 199 yards. He was only 7-of-14 for 55 yards in the second half. Even more impressive is they kept Wilson in the pocket and didn't allow him to extend drives with his legs. His two yards rushing was the lowest total in his career. If the defense continues this type of play, the 49ers can beat anyone on any given day.
Quietly, Mr. Dawson is Mr. Reliable
Phil Dawson had his best game as a 49er, drilling four field goals including the game winner. He has now made 20 consecutive kicks which broke Joe Nedney's franchise record of 18. Dawson is now 23-of-26 on the season. The only kicks he has missed have all been from long range (48, 53, 71). As good as David Akers was in 2011, he was equally as bad in 2012. It's comforting to once again have a kicker that can be relied upon week in and week out.
Seahawks style of play finally catching up to them?
It's no secret that the Seahawks play physical football that is sometimes borderline legal. Richard Sherman is a perfect example of that. He uses his arms and grabs receivers, often holding them in process. Seattle gets away with this for the most part but it may have finally caught up with them. The Seahawks were called for nine penalties in the game, some of which helped the 49ers extend drives. Sherman went as far as to say that the officials were the reason his team lost.
"We expected to blow them out but they got the benefit of a few calls tonight throughout the game and that helps you especially on 3rd down, we will see them again and it will be different result."When asked if Michael Crabtree's presence made a difference, Sherman was just as defiant.
"It didn't make a difference. It didn't make a difference at all...The penalties, that is what made the difference today."
But seriously, is Crabtree helping?
Is Crabtree 100 percent? No (and it's obvious he was laboring a little at times), but Crabtree at 70 percent is far better than anyone else the 49ers have at wide receiver. His presence is opening up more for Anquan Boldin, who has 15 catches and 191 yards in the two games since Crabtree has returned. Vernon Davis will also benefit from having Crabs around (when the 49ers remember he's on the field). He caught his 11th touchdown pass of the season, which is only two behind his career high of 13. His 51 career touchdown receptions puts him eigth all time in NFL history amongst tight ends.
Season defining drives
While the 49er offense was frustrating for much of the game, they put together two huge season defining drives when they needed to. Each of the drives came at the end of the half and each answered a Seahawks' score.
In the second quarter, Seattle had taken a 14-9 lead with 3:20 remaining in the half. While the 49ers were going to get the ball back to start the third quarter, it was imperative to get some momentum back. Kaepernick responded with his best drive of the game, going 5-of-6 with 69 yards and the touchdown throw to Davis. It was the quarterbacks finest moment of the day, as he was 10-of-23 for 106 yards and an interception separate of that drive. It was no coincidence that the 49ers best sequence of plays throwing the football were the ones in which they involved Vernon Davis. He had his only two catches of the game on the drive but was only targeted one other time in the game.
The second statement making drive may have saved their season all together. Highlighted by a 51 yard Frank Gore run, the 49ers went on a 10 play march that took 5:43 off the clock. San Francisco ran the ball on nine of the ten plays and took the conservative approach in the red zone, making sure they were able to get three points. While that type of play calling was frustrating for most of the day, it was the right call at the end of the game. The Seahawks got the ball back with about 20 seconds and no timeouts, which made it very difficult to answer back. It was a defining moment because if the 49ers did not answer the bell, the whole season may have been lost.
The 49ers will travel to Tampa Bay to face off with a Buccaneers team that has won four out of it's last five games. As hot as they have been, the Bucs are no match for the 49ers and this should be a very winnable matchup. There is some risk of a let down after the big win, but if the 49ers have any real Super Bowl aspirations, they can't stumble in games like this.