To the disliked Seattle Seahawks it was a must win playoff game do or die. To the San Francisco 49ers it was all about playing to secure better seeding and to experience the true nature of a desperate team struggling to stay within contention. This was a slugfest of enormous proportions in that both teams laid it all out on the playing field and via the sidelines pumping up teammates to fight the good fight to the bitter end, which we did in victory 19-17.
The classic playoff fight carried right over and into the fourth quarter with but minutes to spare with the Seattle Seahawks driving under quarterback Tarvaris Jackson to get within field goal range and secure a victory. Jackson on third down and three scrambled out of the pocket paying only an eyeball moment with 49er linebacker Larry Grant. Grant caught up with Jackson from behind and delivered the tomahawk chop from behind.
The ensuing result was the ball being knocked loose and players scrambling to redeem the football for their very lives, as 49er safety Donte Whitner fell on the ball at our own 36-yard line with just 1:07 left to play. The 12th man at Century Link Field was in full bloom on this drive with the Seattle Seahawks as they practically willed the offense to within ear-splitting field goal range.
But it was not meant to be as it is now history with the silence of what could've been the Seattle Seahawks for once can look up at us high above the division looking back down on a relevant and tough opponent that was not easy to take down. We had so many opportunities in this game and some controversial officiating at times that made 49er fans hair curl on end.
In the end on this 2011 Christmas Eve special on Saturday we were given the best gift anyone could ever want under ones Christmas tree a San Francisco 49er 12th victory to further our quest to be the unequivocal second seed in the NFC. With the New Orleans Saints still in hot pursuit for our seeding the victory was one well fought for in that we need to win out to put a period on the seeding in securing the coveted first round bye.
Alex Smith was recognized yet again by head coach Jim Harbaugh for his perseverance and ability to extend impossible plays into possible ones, with the example of the botched snap from under center that had potentially disastrous results written all over it and recovered it and proceeded ahead with a three-yard gain. Still statistically he lags woefully behind the NFL's elite quarterbacks in Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees, thus the perception is that we are unable to compete against such a foe that is so prolific in their high percentage completions to attempt ratios and 300-plus yard games or more that usually secure victories.
The stigma of being just a, "game manager," and according to Jim when one talks about the comparisons as, "low-hanging fruit," suggests that winning the game is all that really matters. No one needs to be a scientist in recognizing that we are winning games on the cleats of our number one defense. Thus our offense has never had to overachieve to win the game, just maintain an even keel and steer the ship towards victory.
Is that enough though as we look ahead at the playoffs and see who our potential opponents will be? Outside of the miracle 41-yard throw to Michael Crabtree to help keep a crucial offensive drive going, Alex was merely asked to hand off the ball to grind out enough yards to make field goals relative. Shouldn't we always be playing to make touchdowns and shouldn't we be increasing passing repetitions to help Alex become a more complete and confident quarterback who sometimes is able to carry a game here and there?
The concern is still there in that we have to be able to increase our third down completion percentage with critical passing plays that we are confident enough to call more often. In this game we completed 3-out-of-14 for a 21% ratio. Not nearly enough to be relevant as a playoff offense. The best attribute I can give this offense and Alex Smith is that they are exceptional in clutch time situations, but how long and how far can we push that bar? Putting points on the board via touchdowns is still our Achilles heel.
Two records by the 2011 San Francisco 49ers defense were broken by the Seattle Seahawks with them allowing Seahawk running back Marshawn Lynch 107 total running yards and a rushing touchdown to boot. The 36-game streak of not allowing a 100-yard rusher and 15-game streak on not allowing a rushing touchdown was eliminated, but our defense in the end mattered again when it needed to be.
So far we can't contest what Jim Harbaugh and his coaching staff have brought to this team. The state of the union in regards to our team is at the highest point we've ever seen it. Our defense has turned into the best in the entire league in every statistical category. Our offense continues to try and find its own identity but manages to stay in the game and our special teams are far better then special they are elite. Securing our last regular season victory over St. Louis is a must to keep the Saints at bay. Concerns that improvisation must turn into execution remain as I look forward into this playoff picture. The red zone can't be a Bermuda Triangle for our offense, it must find a way to get in.
Sources of Information: Mercury News.com, SF Gate.com, Inside Bay Area.com, NFL.com and my own personal analysis and opinion.
Best Christmas Gift 49er Style
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