COMMENTARY | It may not end up having a major impact on the NFC West race, but the San Francisco 49ers 19-17 victory over the previously 11-1 Seattle Seahawks was their biggest win of a season filled with losses against some of the best teams in the NFL.
By virtue of this win on Sunday, San Francisco prolonged the inevitable, a Seattle Seahawks division championship. It also disabled Seattle's wish to clinch on the 49ers' home turf.
More importantly, San Francisco's two-point win over the team with the best record in the NFL proved to other championship contenders that it wasn't going to go down that easily. That Jim Harbaugh and Co, now at 9-4, are going to have a say when it comes to the NFC championship when all is said and done.
Taking on a team that came into the game winners of seven consecutive, including its last three by a combined score of 108-37, San Francisco proved that it could go up against the best that the NFL has to offer and come away with a win. This is something that the defending conference champions had not done prior to Sunday.
All four of the 49ers losses have come against teams that currently either lead their division or are in a prime position to earn a postseason berth. Their only win against a team that is currently over .500 came against the Arizona Cardinals back in October. In order to prove to themselves as well as skeptics around the football world that they have not taken a step back from last season, the 49ers needed to come out victorious on Sunday. And that's exactly what they did.
As has been the case in every matchup since Harbaugh took over as the 49ers head coach back in 2011, this game had a playoff feel to it. The Candlestick crowd was amped up, tempers boiled over on the field, the zebras attempted to take control with some iffy calls and the hitting rivaled what we saw from some of the best rivalries of yesteryear. In the end, San Francisco beat Seattle at its own game. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, despite pedestrian numbers, picked his spots to make big plays against the best secondary in the NFL. Frank Gore broke off a game-clinching run late in the fourth quarter and San Francisco's defense did a stellar job containing the great Russell Wilson.
No matter what Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman would like you to believe, San Francisco was simply the better team on Sunday. It defeated the Seahawks in nearly every major statistical category, including first downs, time of possession and rushing yards. San Francisco also committed less penalties in a game filled with yellow flags. Overall, the two teams combined for 16 penalties for 155 yards.
Seattle may still be complaining about the officiating, but it went both ways. In the end, San Francisco made the plays it needed in order to come out on top and Seattle didn't. It really is that simple.
Including that huge 51-yard run late in the fourth quarter, Gore put up 110 yards on 17 attempts. Anquan Boldin, who was completely shut down by Sherman back in Week 2, put the physical cornerback on notice throughout the game. He tallied six catches for 93 yards on eight targets and is now on pace to become the first 49ers receiver to reach the 1,000-yard plateau since Terrell Owens back in 2003.
Kaepernick, who has put up 16 total touchdowns and just four interceptions since San Francisco's Week 3 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, made plays when it was needed the most. His eight-yard run, which was similar to what we saw with Alex Smith against the New Orleans Saints back in the 2011 playoffs, was huge late in the game and came on an important third and seven. It enabled the 49ers to run the clock down further and set up Phil Dawson for a chip shot game-winning field goal.
At 9-4, San Francisco currently has nearly the same record that is possessed at this point last season (9-3-1). It also has an outside shot at a division championship, but will need to win out with the Seahawks losing two of their final three games. It goes without saying that the chances of that happening are remote. However, this win was more important for San Francisco's wildcard hopes. Despite losing the tiebreaker, it is now tied with the Carolina Panthers for the No. 5 seed, which could be huge moving forward. After all, the road to the Super Bowl will likely be going through Seattle. If San Francisco finishes with the No. 5 seed, it gains a shot at avoiding Seattle until the NFC Championship game.
This win also made it extremely difficult for the Arizona Cardinals to catch San Francisco for one of the final two playoff spots. The 49ers own a one-game lead with Arizona, has already won in their first head-to-head matchup of the season, and possess a better record within the division. This means that Arizona will have to likely win out and hope that San Francisco loses two of its final three games in order to take over as the No. 6 seed in the playoff race. If that doesn't happen, based solely off current tiebreakers, the 49ers will earn their third consecutive trip to the postseason.
Equally as important in the grand scheme of things, San Francisco went head to head with the best team in the NFL and came out on top. It pulled out a close game against an elite team and is primed for another late-season run. The idea here is to go into January with momentum and see what happens. After all, it's all about how you are playing in the second season, not how you played in September, October or even November. The talent is there and this win proved that San Francisco will not go quietly into the night. For that reason alone, it put Pete Carroll and Co. on notice.
Vincent Frank has been covering the National Football League for three years. He started out writing for Bleacher Report and is currently the head editor at eDraft and a columnist at Pro Football Focus. Vincent co-hosts a weekly radio show called "Football Debate Central" with former NFL player Ryan Riddle and has seen his work featured on CNN, BR and Los Angeles Times, among many other outlets.
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