What it means: The 49ers eliminated the Seahawks from playoff contention while tightening their grip on the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs. This was a gritty, meaningful performance from the 49ers -- and from the Seahawks. Marshawn Lynch ended the 49ers' 36-game streak without allowing a 100-yard rusher and their 15-game streak without allowing a rushing touchdown. Those feats served notice that Seattle is ready to hold up its end in what should be a hotly contested rivalry for years. But the 49ers are the only NFC West team heading to the playoffs this season.
What I liked: Both teams were ready for a hard-nosed, physical fight. Periodic skirmishes interrupted play and neither team was backing down. The offenses fared better than anticipated in the running game. That helped the 49ers get into third-and-short situations frequently. Seattle deserves lots of credit for getting its ground game going against the NFL's top run defense while playing with a line featuring three backups, including journeyman guard Paul McQuistan at left tackle and the little-known Lemuel Jeanpierre at right guard. Niners quarterback Alex Smith recovered from a rough first half to lead San Francisco on a fourth-quarter drive to the winning field goal, keyed by a 41-yard strike to Michael Crabtree. And the 49ers' defense, though unusually vulnerable throughout this game, provided the clinching turnover when Tarvaris Jackson held the ball too long, inviting a fumble-forcing tackle. The 49ers weathered a rough first half without wavering. They opened the second half with a touchdown drive featuring two clutch sideline receptions by tight end Vernon Davis. Smith scrambled effectively. David Akers made 4 of 5 field goals for the 49ers, setting a single-season NFL record for made field goals.
What I didn't like: Both teams suffered critical breakdowns at key moments. Seattle's Chris Clemons jumped offsides to give the 49ers an early first down. Davis and Crabtree dropped passes deep in Seattle territory. The 49ers allowed a blocked punt to set up the go-ahead touchdown for Seattle in the closing minutes. Seattle botched a goal-line situation in the first half and had to settle for a field goal. Both sides could stand to work on their sportsmanship, it appears. Fans chanted for the Seahawks while medical personnel tended to an obviously injured Kyle Williams following a scary collision. Williams took a hard hit from two Seahawks after slipping during a kickoff return. The play resulted in a 15-yard penalty against Seahawks fullback Michael Robinson. As the game was ending, 49ers coaches were heard yelling, "Merry Christmas" as they left for the locker room. I retreated to the area where they were walking and saw offensive coordinator Greg Roman yell, "Merry Christmas" one more time. This was an emotional game for all involved.
Tactical adjustment: The Seahawks, sustained by Lynch's running in recent weeks, came out throwing against the 49ers' top-ranked rush defense. They found rookie Ricardo Lockette for a 44-yard gain up the right sideline, the first career reception for Lockette. They closed the drive with a scoring pass to receiver Doug Baldwin.
Field position battle: The 49ers have led the NFL in average drive start and opponents' average drive start. The Seahawks beat the 49ers at their own field-position game in building a 10-3 halftime lead. They began first-half drives at their own 36.6-yard line on average. The 49ers began their first-half drives at their own 16.3-yard line on average.
Infirmary report: The 49ers lost tight end Delanie Walker to a jaw injury after a frightening collision in the first half. Walker took an inadvertent knee to the head. The impact was hard enough to twist around Walker's helmet and send it flying off his head. Walker then fell over backward, striking his unprotected head on the turf. Walker was down for an extended period before medical personnel drove him off the field on a cart. Walker waved to fans as he left the field. The 49ers' Ahmad Brooks and Justin Smith returned to the game after suffering injuries in the first half.