Sweep of Seahawks revive 49ers' slim playoff hopes
December 15, 2006 at 11:07 AM • 0 commentsDavid Bonilla
Hold the boat a second! After 14 games in the 2006 season, the 49ers are still mathematically in the playoff hunt? Wait, you mean they are still in the hunt to win the NFC West? With a team record of 6-8, this seems a bit unbelievable. Just last week, when the underdog Packers came into San Francisco and beat up on the 49ers, everyone threw the team's slim playoff hopes into the bay and watched it sink. It's amazing how things can change after just four days and a shocking 24-14 win over Seattle, the second time the team has upset the Seahawks this season.
Going into their final three games, it seemed like only a matter of time before the Seahawks clinched the division leaving the 49ers watching the playoffs from the comfort of their homes. Even while watching the first half of Thursday's game, you wanted to crawl under a rock and hide from embarrassment. For the second straight week, the team looked uninspired. Maybe it was the rain storm that preceded the game and hit during parts of the first half. Maybe it was the 70 mph winds blowing through the city. Whatever the reason, the team looked off. 49ers running back Frank Gore was not running hard. Quarterback Alex Smith was overthrowing and underthrowing his receivers. In fact, if not for the defense's impressive performance, the team would not have still been in the game at halftime. Despite Seattle's lead in every statistical category that mattered, the 49ers went into halftime trailing 7-3.
Key plays of the game
Things did not look much better going into the third quarter. However, one play woke up the 49ers offense. With 30 seconds left in the third quarter, Alex Smith threw a high and deep 54-yard pass along the sideline to wide receiver Arnaz Battle who was pushed out by Seahawks cornerback Kelly Herndon. This was the first sign of life that we had seen all night from the 49ers offense. From this point, Alex Smith woke up and started to look like the quarterback that everyone had hoped for when he was drafted #1 overall in the 2005 NFL Draft. That play put the team at the Seattle 33-yard line.
In the fourth quarter, the offense continued to slowly move down the field on a drive that originally started at the San Francisco 10-yard line and ended with an Alex Smith 8-yard touchdown pass to tight end Vernon Davis.
Davis' ridiculous and unnecessary endzone celebration resulted in a penalty against San Francisco forcing them to kickoff from the 15-yard line. Because of this, kicker Joe Nedney was only able to get the ball to the 36-yard line where Nate Burleson returned the ball 28 yards. Seattle moved the ball from the San Francisco 36-yard line to the 27. From there, on 4th and 1, Seattle fullback Mack Strong rushed the ball and was met at the line of scrimmage by linebacker Manny Lawson and defensive end Melvin Oliver for no gain and a turnover on downs.
Leading 10-7, the 49ers marched down the field to the Seattle 15-yard line where Smith received a delay of game penalty pushing the offense back 5 yards. On the very next play with 4:09 left on the clock, Smith threw a 20-yard pass to Frank Gore who made a jumping catch and ran into the endzone.
Seattle's next drive quickly ended when cornerback Shawntae Spencer intercepted a Matt Hasselbeck pass intended for Nate Burleson at the San Francisco 14-yard line.
From there, running back Frank Gore took over for the 49ers, rushing on every one of the next 5 plays. During those 5 plays, he rushed for 68 yards including a 40 yard run. It looked like San Francisco would eventually seal the deal on this drive with at least a field goal. However, with 1:49 on the clock and with the Seattle defense expecting a run, Alex Smith scrambled to his left and ran 18 yards into the endzone putting the 49ers up 24-7.
The score would end 24-14 after a meaningless Seahawks touchdown with 18 seconds left in the game.
Kudos to Nolan
Nolan must be commended for keeping Smith in the game despite his extremely poor play in the first half. Tired of criticism from fans and players like Vernon Davis, in the second half, Smith looked like a man out to prove something.
Nolan also made a gutsy call on 4th and 5 in the second quarter. In a punt formation, the ball was snapped directly to running back Michael Robinson who ran to the right for 33 yards. The continuation of this drive would eventually lead to the 49ers' only score of the first half, a field goal by Joe Nedney.
Gore takes over the rushing lead
Ok, so no other teams outside of San Francisco and Seattle have played yet during week 15, but for now, Frank Gore is the NFL's rushing leader. He jumped past Kansas City's Larry Johnson and now has 1,491 yards. Johnson has 1,432 yards. After burning the Seattle Seahawks for 212 yards during week 11 in San Francisco, the Seahawks were focusing on Gore. During the first half of the game, Gore only had 34 yards rushing. However, once Alex Smith got more comfortable and opened up the passing game, Frank Gore was no longer a target and he finished the game with 144 yards.
49ers slim playoff hopes
For those still hanging on to the team's shot to make the playoffs, here is what has to happen. The 49ers will need to win the division to make the playoffs because it is unlikely that an 8-8 team will make it and there are three teams battling for the two wildcard spots. Those three teams are each 7-6 with three games left to play. To win the division, the 49ers will need to beat Arizona at home on Christmas Eve and then travel to Denver and beat the Broncos, who are struggling. Then they will need some help from a couple of other teams. San Diego will need to beat the Seahawks in Seattle, which will likely happen. However, they will need some major help from Tampa Bay, Seattle's final regular season opponent. The good thing is that the Seahawks and Buccaneers will play in Tampa Bay, which may help the Buccaneers a bit.
An NFC West trend
San Francisco has swept a different NFC West team during each of the past three seasons. In 2004, the team's only two wins came against the Arizona Cardinals. In 2005, two of the team's four wins came against the St. Louis Rams. This season, the team has swept Seattle twice and with a win next week against the Cardinals, they will have beaten each NFC West opponent at least once. This year's sweep is much bigger. In 2004 and 2005, Arizona and St. Louis were not very good football clubs. While Seattle is not the team that everyone predicted them to be, they are still the division leaders and the defending NFC champions. The wins against Seattle are a big step for this young San Francisco football team. Hopefully it is a step that can be improved upon next season.
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