Three and Out: Statement win; the drive; Gore emerges
Anquan Boldin: “Having Crab back, we had different looks. It was allowing me to go one-on-one with certain guys. That’s why you see a difference.” (AP)
Programming note: Watch Monday’s 49ers press conference with head coach Jim Harbaugh live on CSN Bay Area and streaming live online right here at 12pm
What you need to know: They were in their seats early. And many fans eschewed the traditional early get-away to beat the traffic.
That’s what this rivalry has become.
And rivalry is the correct word because both teams, the 49ers and Seattle Seahawks, have experienced successes and disappointments against each other.
The 49ers, throttled in their two most-recent head-to-head meetings in Seattle, took care of business on Sunday against the NFC West-leading Seahawks with a grind-it-out 19-17 victory in front of the penultimate Candlestick Park crowd of 69,732.
The defense turned in another suffocating effort against the team currently in line to be the top seed in the NFC playoffs. Running back Frank Gore had a 51-yard run on a play offensive coordinator Greg Roman was holding for a special occasion. And kicker Phil Dawson supplied the winning points with a 22-yard field goal with 26 seconds remaining as the 49ers improved to 9-4 with their third straight victory.
Afterward 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh was asked if he enjoys being part of such a fierce rivalry.
“Enjoy it? That’s not the word I would use,” Harbaugh answered. “It feels like you go to the dentist chair and three-and-a-half hours of getting root canal work done. They’re tough. These games are only for the tough.”
And tough games deserve tough words.
Defensive lineman Justin Smith, the ultimate blue-collar worker for the 49ers, delivered a pregame message that inspired his teammates and Harbaugh. The exact wording cannot be repeated here because of its blue nature.
Smith declined to discuss it. And he grumbled a short time later when he was asked a follow-up question.
Otherwise, good vibes filled the 49ers’ locker room on Sunday. It was clear this was not just an ordinary game. This was a statement game from a team that entered with a 1-4 record against teams with winning records.
“It’s fun to win,” 49ers left tackle Joe Staley said. “It’s fun when you have a physical battle, and it definitely was a physical battle. They’re a great defense and, offensively, we knew we had a big challenge in front of us. We kind of expected this kind of game today, and we’re happy to come out with the win.”
The Seahawks (11-2) may have been knocked down a peg, but they essentially hold a two-game lead for home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs with three games remaining.
[RELATED: Sherman expected Seahawks to blow out 49ers]
“We didn’t project it to be this way,” Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman said. “We expected to blow them out, but they got the benefit of a few calls throughout the game and that helps you, especially on third down. We’ll see them again and it will be a different result.”
Sherman, who played at Stanford under Harbaugh, was called for two holding penalties on third downs. Replays showed he clearly grabbed Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin on the plays in question. The first penalty prolonged a drive that ended in a 49ers field goal. The second penalty was declined after Boldin still made a 27-yard reception. The 49ers scored a touchdown to cap that drive.
“It was a terrific football game,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “It was a really taut, tough, both sides of the ball. It was just one of those really cool kind of matchups on this day. Close, where one play could make a difference, and they did a great job to get the win.”
In the end, the 49ers held true to their winning formula of running the ball and stopping the run. Frank Gore gained 110 yards on 17 rushing attempts, while the 49ers held Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch to 72 yards on 20 carries.
Roman art: The play might have looked familiar to Carroll, the defensive-minded head coach of the Seahawks, but the blocking angles were different than any play the 49ers have ever run since Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman arrived on the scene in 2011.
“G-Ro (Roman) had been saving that call in his back pocket, and (he) picked the exact right time to call it,” Harbaugh said.
Trailing 17-16 with 4:20 remaining and the ball on the 49ers’ 31-yard line, Roman put the ball in Gore’s hands on a play called “97 G-Rub.” Left tackle Joe Staley and center Jonathan Goodwin blocked down, while left guard Adam Snyder kicked out. Fullback Bruce Miller, tight end Vance McDonald and right guard Alex Boone got out to make blocks at the second level.
The play took advantage of Seattle’s aggressiveness on defense. Gore cut back and Seattle Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas over-ran the play. Then, Gore made the wise decision to go down inbounds 51-yard later to keep the clock running.
“We’ve never ever run it before since we’ve been here,” Roman said. “And it’s just something we were keeping in the back pocket for the right time. And it’s one of those things, you always question, ‘Should we run it early and pop it early?’ You like to have some stuff in your hip pocket for the right time.”
Three plays later, Roman called a quarterback sweep for Colin Kaepernick on a third-and-7 play. It was the same situation and play call that Roman called for Alex Smith in the NFC divisional playoff against New Orleans two years ago that resulted in Smith’s 28-yard touchdown run. Coincidentally – or not – that memorable game was recognized Sunday as the No. 2 all-time 49ers moment at Candlestick Park.
“Did that remind you of anything?” Roman asked afterward. “Matter of fact, I thought there’d be some irony there if we did the same shift and everything.”
Kaepernick gained 8 yards, and the 49ers were able to burn nearly three more minutes before sending out Dawson for his game-winning field goal.
Cleared for takeoff: Veteran cornerback Eric Wright, who grew up near Candlestick Park in the Hunters Point district of San Francisco, made his first big contribution to his hometown team with an interception of a Russell Wilson pass at the San Francisco 20-yard line in the closing seconds.
“I was just trying to keep everything in front of me,” Wright said. “They needed a lot of yards, and only had a little bit of time to get them, so we weren’t trying to give them anything cheap.”
Near the end of the third quarter, it did not appear as if Wright would be available. He sustained a head injury when he went low to take on blocker Zach Miller. Wright’s helmet struck Miller’s knee. Wright remained on the ground for a couple of minutes before he went to the locker room to get evaluated. Rookie Darryl Morris took over as the 49ers’ third cornerback until Wright returned to action a short time later.
“I got shooken up a little bit, and just had to get cleared by the doctors to come back,” Wright said. “They had to check it out to make sure everything was OK. I was good to go.”
Quick-hitters: Kassim Osgood was active ahead of rookie Quinton Patton as the No. 4 wide receiver because of his play on special teams. The decision paid off when Osgod got past blockers Malcolm Smith and Chris Maragos to block Jon Ryan’s punt in the first quarter.
Due to a loophole in the rules, the Seahawks benefited greatly when Maragos illegally batted the ball forward from the Seattle 17-yard line to the 34. If the 49ers had accepted the penalty, the Seahawks would have punted again. The 49ers took over at the 34 and ended up settling for Dawson’s 48-yard field goal. . .
Dawson made all four of his field-goal attempts. He set the club record with 20 consecutive made field goals. Joe Nedney held the previous record of 18 straight made kicks from November 2006 to September 2007.
“Dawson works on the days he doesn’t have to,” 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman said. “That’s what makes players great. He was perfect. We needed him. The game came down to him, and he stepped up.” . . .
With all the pregame talk about the young quarterbacks, Wilson and Kaepernick, this game was not about them. Wilson completed 15 of 25 passes for 199 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Kaepernick completed 15 of 29 attempts for 175 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
Kaepernick’s one touchdown was an 8-yard dart to tight end Vernon Davis – his 11th scoring reception of the season -- to cap an impressive two-minute drill at the end of the first half. His interception was an underthrown ball for Michael Crabtree at the goal line that allowed Byron Maxwell to thwart a prime scoring opportunity in the third quarter . . .
The return of Crabtree, who had four catches for 40 yards, has proved to be beneficial for wide receiver Anquan Boldin. He had six catches for 93 yards after being held to one reception for 7 yards in the Week 2 meeting against Seattle. Last week, Boldin had nine catches for 98 yards against St. Louis.
“In the first game, they roamed a lot of coverage,” Boldin said. “Having Crab back, we had different looks. It was allowing me to go one-on-one with certain guys. That’s why you see a difference.”
Boldin came the 30th player in NFL history to amass 11,000 yards receiving. He ranks 29th all-time with 11,080 yards.
Quote of the day: “I think we showed championship effort. Everybody around the country knows who the 49ers are now. But that was a championship football game in a playoff atmosphere.” --49ers safety Donte Whitner
Looking ahead: Whitner said he anticipates seeing the Seahawks again in the NFC playoffs. But Harbaugh took a different approach. “We anticipate the Tampa Bay Buccaneers,” Harbaugh said. “Each game is the most important game of the year for us right now. And we’ll take it one game at a time.” The 49ers, who hold a one-game lead for the sixth and final wild-card spot, return to action Sunday against the Buccaneers, who’ve won four of their past five games, including a 27-6 win over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.