SAN FRANCISCO – Rematch, anyone?
The NFC West heavyweight bout featuring the 49ers and Seattle Seahawks lived up to expectations Sunday at Candlestick Park. Now, the only question is whether the division rivals will find a way to meet again during the playoffs.
The 49ers made a strong statement in a taut, tense defensive struggle with a 19-17 victory over the Seahawks in a game that had a distinct postseason feel to it.
With the loss, Seattle (11-2) still has a two-game lead in the division over San Francisco (9-4) with only three games remaining.
Golden Tate’s 38-yard return set up Steven Hauschka’s 31-yard field goal for the first points of the second half. The kick gave Seattle a 17-16 lead with 6:20 remaining in the fourth quarter.
But on the ensuing 49ers possession, Frank Gore busted free for a 51-yard gain to the Seattle 18-yard line. Colin Kaepernick also gained 8 yards on a third-and-7 quarterback sweep to set up Phil Dawson's game-winning 22-yard field goal with 26 seconds remaining. The 49ers recorded their fifth consecutive victory over the Seahawks at Candlestick Park.
The 49ers did not take full advantage of their scoring opportunities in the first half, as they settled for three Dawson field goals before finally breaking the seal on the end zone.
Colin Kaepernick engineered an impressive nine-play, 72-yard touchdown drive just before the end of the half to enter the locker room with a 16-14 lead.
Faced with a third-and-goal from the 8, Kaepernick drilled a throw to Vernon Davis near the goal line against the tight coverage of linebacker Bobby Wagner. Davis hauled it in for his 10th touchdown reception of the season.
The Seahawks made the most of their two first-half scores. While the 49ers were settling for field goals, Seattle was getting the ball into the end zone.
Marshawn Lynch capped the Seahawks’ first scoring drive with an 11-yard touchdown run for a 7-6 lead. After Phil Dawson gave the 49ers a two-point lead with his club-record 19th consecutive field goal – this one from 52 yards – the Seahawks struck quickly.
Rookie tight end Luke Willson outran the single coverage of linebacker Patrick Willis for a 39-yard touchdown pass from Russell Wilson to give the Seahawks a 14-9 lead with 3:47 remaining in the first half.
The game featured two of the more promising young quarterbacks in the league. Kaepernick and Wilson figure to face each other twice a season – at least – for a while as their respective team leaders.
Kaepernick completed 15 of 29 pass attempts for 175 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
His interception in the middle of the third quarter was costly.
He underthrew a pass intended for Michael Crabtree, allowing Byron Maxwell to come up with the interception near the goal line. The 49ers were at the 20-yard line and in easy range for Dawson.
Wilson completed 15 of his 25 attempts for 199 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
Swinging a big bat: Former 49ers special-teamer Chris Maragos had a big play in the first quarter for the Seahawks after Kassim Osgood blocked Seattle punter Jon Ryan’s punt. Maragos chased the ball down near the sideline and battled the ball forward to the Seattle 34.
While Maragos was called for an “illegal bat,” the 49ers did not gain from the episode. Due to a loophole in the NFL rules, if the 49ers had accepted the penalty, fourth down would have been replayed and the Seahawks would have punted again.
Instead of taking over at the 17-yard line, where the penalty occurred, the 49ers had the ball at the Seattle 34. The 49ers failed to pick up a first down, and they settled for Dawson’s 48-yard field goal and a 6-0 lead.
Cranking up the rush: The 49ers’ defense set the tone early in getting after Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson. NaVorro Bowman and Ray McDonald had third-down sacks of Wilson in the first quarter. Justin Smith had another sack that was nullified by a delay-of-game penalty.
This ‘n’ that: Cornerback Eric Wright sustained a head injury in the third quarter when he was struck in the back of his helmet by a knee. He went to the locker room for further observation but returned to action a short time later, and intercepted Russell Wilson's desperation heave down the field as Seattle tried to get in field goal range in the closing seconds.
Left tackle Joe Staley made the start after returning to practice Thursday with a knee injury that kept him out of most of last week’s game against the St. Louis Rams. Staley generally played well, but was beaten for by Chris Clemons for an 11-yard sack early in the fourth quarter.
The 49ers suited up four wide receivers, which is typical for them this season. Rookie wide receiver Quinton Patton was a healthy scratch. And Osgood was the No. 4 wideout because of his special-teams contributions. . .
Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman was twice called for defensive holding in the first half. His first infraction, against Crabtree, gave the 49ers a first down. Later, his holding penalty was declined after Anquan Boldin came up with a 27-yard reception on the same play. . .
The 49ers used more designed Kaepernick runs, and the Seahawks did a good job of defending those plays. Linebacker Bobby Wagner made a touchdown-saving tackle of Kaepernick on a run play in the first quarter when he tripped up Kaepernick at the Seattle 5. The 49ers settled for a field goal. In the third quarter, linebacker Malcolm Smith stopped Kaepernick for a 7-yard loss on a third-and-2 play near midfield.