Another dominant performance by their defense has the San Francisco 49ers moving closer to securing a first-round bye in the playoffs.
The 49ers will try to avoid a third straight road loss Saturday when they face the Seattle Seahawks, who are looking to keep their faint playoff hopes alive.
Having clinched the NFC West for the first time since 2002, San Francisco (11-3) is trying to finish in one of the top two spots in the conference and earn a first-round bye.
With Green Bay likely to claim the NFC's best record, the 49ers are trying to fend off New Orleans for the No. 2 seed. The Saints host Atlanta on Monday.
The 49ers helped their cause with a 20-3 win over Pittsburgh on Monday. Their defense was as lights out as the stadium itself, giving up only a third-quarter field goal. It was the fifth time this season they've given up fewer than 10 points.
San Francisco continues to be led by a stellar run defense. The 49ers held the Steelers to 84 yards on the ground - the 13th time this year they've allowed fewer than 100 rushing yards.
Even more impressive - San Francisco has yet to give up a rushing touchdown.
Going back to 1932, the fewest rushing touchdowns allowed through an entire season is two - set by the 1934 Detroit Lions, 1968 Dallas Cowboys and 1971 Minnesota Vikings. The 49ers, who are looking to reach 12 wins for the first time since 2001, have already set an NFL record through 14 games.
"It's a big goal to stop the run. You don't set up on your goal board at the beginning of the year to not allow a rushing touchdown for the first 14 games of the season. You want to be good against the run, you want to stop the run," coach Jim Harbaugh said. "Our team has been doing that. Some 30-some games since there's been a 100-yard rusher. That's another benchmark standard that I've read about. Again, it's a credit to the guys that are up front."
San Francisco's defense could be even more formidable with the possible return of four-time Pro Bowl linebacker Patrick Willis, who has missed the last two games with an injured right hamstring. He's second on the team with 93 tackles and leads with four forced fumbles.
As well as their defense is playing, the 49ers' streak of not allowing a rushing touchdown as well as a 36-game stretch of not yielding a 100-yard rusher, could be challenged by Seattle's Marshawn Lynch.
Lynch has rushed for 1,011 yards and 11 touchdowns this season, including five scores in the last three games. He's the first Seattle running back to go over 1,000 yards since Shaun Alexander in 2005.
"Marshawn is running that ball - like I told guys, he's running like he just got out of jail or something," 49ers cornerback Carlos Rogers said. "He's running that ball hard. It's going to be a challenge, and just going into their place is a challenge with the way they're playing."
The 49ers have contained Lynch in three meetings. He has no touchdowns in those games and rushed for just 33 yards on 13 carries in a 33-17 season-opening loss at San Francisco on Sept. 11.
Lynch and the Seahawks (7-7) have plenty of motivation this weekend with a playoff spot still a possibility. However, they need Atlanta and Detroit to lose out and some other games to go their way.
After losing six of eight to open the season, Seattle continued its turnaround with a 38-14 win at Chicago last Sunday. Lynch had two touchdowns despite being held to 42 yards on 20 carries. He ran for 124.7 yards per game in the previous three contests, averaging 5.4 yards per carry.
While the Bears were focusing on Lynch, Tarvaris Jackson completed 19 of 31 passes for 227 yards and one touchdown. He's gone three games without an interception after throwing 12 in the first 10 games.
With Jackson playing better and Lynch running the ball well, Seattle is looking to win four straight for the first time since a five-game winning streak in 2007. While its defense may not be impressive as San Francisco's, it's making some noise recently as well.
The Seahawks have given up 41 points in the last three games, getting four interceptions in two of those games. They've been particularly effective at making halftime adjustments, allowing 17 total second-half points the last three games.
"Most of the time, what happens at halftime is you get back to the things that you intended to do and sometimes didn't show up at the start. Quite often, that's the case - not always," coach Pete Carroll said.
Seattle has won its last two home games against San Francisco, giving up 23 points.
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