The guard is likely to still change in the NFC West this season.
It just didn't happen as cleanly and neatly as the Seattle Seahawks hoped it would Sunday.
With a chance to clinch the NFC West on the home field of the two-time defending champion 49ers, the Seahawks instead saw the hosts rise up and win 19-17.
San Francisco got the winning points on a 22-yard field goal by Phil Dawson with 26 seconds left after a Frank Gore 51-yard run had gotten the 49ers into scoring position.
That defeat left Seattle at 11-2 for the season, still tied with Denver for the best in the NFL and still holding a two-game lead over the 49ers with three to play.
And it was the bigger picture that the Seahawks preferred to focus on afterward.
"We would have loved to get the win, but it doesn't change anything for us," said cornerback Richard Sherman.
In fact, Seattle still has what is essentially a two-game lead on the field in the NFC since it holds the tiebreaker on the Saints, who at 10-3 are their closest pursuer.
Still, there will be some pressure on the Seahawks now as they head to a game Sunday at the New York Giants to not let one loss become a streak that could make the final two home games even that much more urgent.
"It's really important, as we have throughout regardless of what the game is before, you have to handle it properly and put it in the right perspective and move forward effectively," said coach Pete Carroll. "So we have a big game, big trip coming up going to New York this week and so we'll turn it towards that."
One of the biggest issues Sunday was penalties, as Seattle was flagged nine times for 85 yards, including three on the offense that wiped out first-down gains and effectively killed drives.
Seattle's 104 penalties are the second-most in the NFL to Tampa Bay's 106.
The Seahawks also simply got a little out of position on the run by Gore that set up the 49ers' game-winning field goal. Carroll said the play should have gone for just eight or nine yards.
He said if the Seahawks can accept the hard lessons of the loss the right way then it could be a game that helps the team refocus as it enters the playoffs.
"It's a learning opportunity again," he said. "A reality check, how the littlest of things can determine the outcome of a game."
--Seattle fell to 5-2 on the road this season. It can still set a franchise record for road wins in a season if it defeats the Giants Sunday.
--Seattle's punt coverage unit again allowed no yards and has allowed just 15 return yards for the season. Seattle has not allowed a punt return yard in five games.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Every one of them is going to count in a big fashion. They're all going to make a difference that will call for us to be on it all the way throughout and that should be crucial in helping us stay sharp for playoff time. So they're all going to be hard games and difficult matchups and all that is crucial and we'll do everything we can to get them. But most of all, I want to make sure that our play continues to be out there for us, where we can improve and get better." -- Seahawks coach Pete Carroll on the fact that the loss to the 49ers means Seattle has to win at least two of its last three games to clinch home-field advantage.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--CB Byron Maxwell, in what was his second career start in place of the injured Brandon Browner and suspended Walter Thurmond, had his first career interception near the goal line to kill a 49ers drive in the third quarter. He is likely to remain the starter for a few more weeks with Thurmond suspended for two more and Browner unlikely to return from injury anytime soon.
--TE Luke Willson, a fifth-round pick out of Rice, was a bright spot Sunday with three receptions for 70 yards and his first touchdown on a 39-yard catch and run in the second quarter. The Seahawks drafted Willson hoping he could turn into a downfield threat while he perfects his blocking. The receiving has been there as he has shown steady hands all season and now has 16 catches for 242 yards,
--RB Robert Turbin has handled the bulk of the kickoff return duties the last two games with Percy Harvin sidelined. Turbin got the job after Jermaine Kearse suffered a concussion against Minnesota on Nov. 17, coach Pete Carroll saying they like the idea of a bigger returner and want to give him a chance. Turbin, the backup tailback to Marshawn Lynch, had a 27-yarder en route to 49 yards on two returns overall.
--LB K.J. Wright suffered a broken bone in his foot and will be out 4-6 weeks. Wright has started most of the season at weak-side linebacker. Malcolm Smith, who has started six games this season at weak-side and strong-side linebacker, will take his place. Wright will have surgery Tuesday.
--C Max Unger suffered a strained pectoral muscle against the 49ers but has a chance to be back for the Giants game Sunday.
--S Jeron Johnson, the backup at free safety and a key special teams player, pulled his hamstring. Coach Pete Carroll said it was not the same injury as an earlier pulled hamstring that he suffered in the first game of the season and that cost him almost a month.
--WR Percy Harvin was inactive for a second straight week as he continues to battle a sore hip. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said this will be a big week to see if Harvin can get healthy and play against the Giants Sunday. As of Monday, there was no specific word on Harvin other than a hope that he could practice this week and is day-to-day.
--CB Brandon Browner remains out with a groin injury while the team also waits to see if he is going to be suspended by the NFL for violating the league's substance abuse policy. Even if he is not suspended he is unlikely to play for another few weeks. However, if he is not suspended, the team may decide to keep him on the active roster and hope he can return at some point. Browner tried to practice last Wednesday but was unable to practice on Thursday or Friday, indicating he is not ready to return anytime soon.
REPORT CARD VS. 49ERS
PASSING OFFENSE: C-plus -- Russell Wilson was solid early, completing eight of 11 passes in the first half for 144 yards and a touchdown. But he was just 7-14 in the second half for 55 yards, no touchdowns and an interception as he often either had no one open or little time to throw. The 49ers generally got the better of the line of scrimmage, and this was one time the receiving corps really seemed to miss Percy Harvin and Sidney Rice. Seattle's longest pass in the second half was 14 yards.
RUSHING OFFENSE: C -- As Seattle coach Pete Carroll said later, the Seahawks blocking was OK, not great. That held true in the running game where the Seahawks struggled to find yards, finishing with just 86 yards on 23 carries overall, with a long run of 11. Seattle had only one run of longer than eight yards all day. Marshawn Lynch toughed out 72 yards on 20 carries, but often had nowhere to go. Wilson barely tried to run, held to two yards on one carry.
PASS DEFENSE: B-plus - Mostly a solid day here as the Seahawks held Colin Kaepernick to 175 yards and a rating of 67.5. That included Byron Maxwell's interception near the end zone to stop a drive in the third quarter. However, the Seahawks had two costly penalties in the secondary that kept alive San Francisco drives. And the Seahawks weren't able to put the clamps on Anquan Boldin in this game as they did in Seattle, when he had just one catch. Sunday, he had six receptions for a game-high 93 yards.
RUSH DEFENSE: B-minus -- The Seahawks knew they would have to hold the 49ers running game to get the win. For much of the day they were able to do just that until Frank Gore ripped off a 51-yarder late in the fourth quarter to set up the game-winning field goal. That allowed San Francisco to finish with 163 yards, the third-highest total given up this season by the Seahawks. Gore finished with 110 yards on 17 carries. He had just 59 on 16 carries otherwise. But the Seahawks knew that part of San Francisco's strategy is to stay committed to the running game long enough to finally get a game-breaking play. That happened Sunday. Seattle played the second half without linebacker K.J. Wright, its third-leading tackler, out 4-6 weeks with a broken bone in his foot.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-minus - Seattle's special teams. Usually rock solid, had one big breakdown -- a blocked punt that led to a 49ers field goal in the first half. And while the coverage units were fine, Seattle didn't really switch the field much in the return game other than a 38-yard punt return by Golden Tate that set up a field goal in the fourth quarter. Seattle tried to sneak Tate back to get a big return in the final minute, but he was stopped at the 16.
COACHING: B -- Given that the Seahawks were playing the defending division champs on the road and on a short week, it's hard to fault the loss too much. Still, some of what Seattle has gotten away with all season -- specifically, penalties -- helped do in the Seahawks Sunday in a game that was theirs for the taking. The team often minimizes the impact of penalties, noting that they are winning games anyway.
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