SAN FRANCISCO -- The San Francisco 49ers got it done, winning 19-17 over the Seattle Seahawks in archaic Candlestick Park. If you think it made a statement or caused the Seahawks to shiver with fear, think again.
San Francisco was the better team on this day, but the best team lost.
The home team, playing in front a frenzied crowd in a game it had to have against its archrival to stay in good playoff position, won it with a field goal in the final minute.
“Penalties killed us today,” Seattle defensive lineman Michael Bennett said. “But you can’t make too much of it. This is a tournament, one game at a time, and the ultimate goal is the Super Bowl.”
The Seahawks still firmly believe they are on the right path to get there. Losing a close one to the 49ers didn’t place any doubts in their heads. And there’s no way the 49ers walked away from this one and honestly said to themselves, “Oh yeah, we’re better than they are.”
The Seahawks, now 11-2 and still needing only one victory in the final three games to clinch the NFC West crown, walked away firmly believing they’re the better team, despite the slight hiccup Sunday.
And they’re right. San Francisco (9-4) did nothing more than hold serve, barely, thanks to some sloppy play by the team that had beaten them by a combined score of 71-16 in the previous two meetings.
All this game proved is that Seattle can’t have nine penalties for 85 yards and get a punt blocked, and still beat a strong team on the road.
“It was a terrific, hard-fought football game, just a slugfest,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. “It was one of those types of games where one play can make a big difference. But we couldn’t get out of our own way with the penalties. That dictated the flow of the game.”
Seattle entered the game with a seven-game winning streak. They now have lost twice this season, by a total of eight points.
“We should have won it,” Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson said. “The penalties really hurt us offensively and got us off schedule. We play so physical that sometimes those calls are going to go against us. But we have to eliminate that.”
Neither team led by more than six points Sunday. The lead changed hands six times. Seattle led 17-16 before a 51-yard run by Frank Gore gave the 49ers the field position they needed to set up a winning field goal, a 22-yarder by Phil Dawson with 26 seconds to go.
“We fought hard all the way, but they got the big run at the end that gashed us,” Seattle free safety Earl Thomas said. “We didn’t take care of the little things today, and when that happens, anyone can beat you. We just were not disciplined enough against a good team. But you can’t let a game like this one define you, and it doesn’t.”
In the locker room afterward, the Seahawks kept saying the same thing over and over.
“All our goals are still in front of us,” defensive end Red Bryant said, a nine-word statement that was the theme of the moment. “It was a great game to be in and you have to give them credit. They made the plays to win the game, but we can handle it. We’ll lick our wounds and be just fine.”
In other words, no big deal. The 49ers won it. A soft “congratulations” came from the Seahawks, but with a look in their eyes that said, “Now, catch us if you can.”
“It’s good to get this out of the way now,” Seattle receiver Doug Baldwin said. “We knew it would be a hard-fought battle because they are a good football team. But it’s really about us taking care of our business now. That’s all that matters.”
Cornerback Richard Sherman, who was called for defensive holding twice (one of which was declined), sat at his locker without the least bit of concern.
“This doesn’t change anything for us,” Sherman said. “They got some fortunate penalty calls and that was the difference. It happens sometimes. When you lose like that it’s hard to be upset.
Maybe the worst news of the day for Seattle was that linebacker K.J. Wright suffered a broken foot, an injury that Carroll said likely would sideline him at least six weeks.
And guess what his teammates were thinking? That Wright could return for the Super Bowl.
“The season wasn’t going to end today, one way or the other,” Carroll said. “Everything is still out there for us.”
Unless the Seahawks have a total collapse in the final three games, including the last two at home against Arizona and St. Louis, they are going to have home-field advantage in the playoffs. Seattle has won 14 in a row at CenturyLink Field.
Had the Seahawks come to Candlestick and stunk up the place, as New Orleans did last week at Seattle, maybe they would have some concerns. That didn’t happen. Aside from the penalties, they played pretty well in a tough environment. The defense gave up one touchdown. Wilson completed 15 of 25 passes for 199 yards and one touchdown. His only interception was a desperation deep throw at the end of the game.
This was like one hitless game in a season in which your slugger has a .350 average and 30 homers.
“We’re still in great position,” Wilson said. “There’s no panic. We just need to stay positive.”
Keeping a positive attitude is not a problem for this team.
“You can’t win them all,” Wilson said. “The goal is winning the last one.”