The 49ers would not allow themselves to be embarrassed again.
Their 27-point defeat in Seattle two short weeks ago was clearly erased from memory as San Francisco (4-10) gave the Seahawks (8-6) an overtime battle.
They put an exclamation point on a solid all-around effort with a 26-23 victory, simultaneously getting their first win against Seattle since 2013 and putting a huge dent in the Seahawks’ playoff aspirations.
Kyle Shanahan got the big plays the head coach often talks about — a 97-yard kickoff return touchdown by Richie James Jr. and a 41-yard touchdown catch for the rarely targeted Garrett Celek. Defensively, coordinator Robert Saleh’s unit delivered a huge DeForest Buckner sack late in regulation, and several additional stops of equal importance.
The kick return was the first special teams touchdown for San Francisco this season, and James Jr.’s first career NFL touchdown.
Shanahan appreciated having all three units contribute:
“Whether it was one side of the ball we struggled in, another one stepped it up. Especially special teams, making that play with the kick return, after the way they started the third quarter two weeks ago. I know that felt good for Richie [James Jr.], having the fumbled punt at the end of the second quarter two weeks ago. A lot of guys stepped it up in all three phases. Great team win.”
The only bad thing about those explosive plays is that they both occurred in the first half. San Francisco was unable to reach the end zone after Celek’s touchdown.
The 49ers defense adjusted nicely from the last matchup, forcing Seattle to string long drives together. They did so despite losing Ahkello Witherspoon early in the first quarter, subtracting from a depleted secondary that had already lost Jaquiski Tartt earlier this week.
“Tarvarius Moore came out there, was ready for his moment. I think sometimes you run into situations where a young guy gets picked on out there. He hasn’t played substantially throughout any part of the season. He’s only practiced left corner. To go out at right corner and step up and make those plays…I can’t say enough about the job he did.”
Wide receiver Doug Baldwin was on the receiving end of two first-half touchdowns, but San Francisco still took a 17-13 lead into halftime.
Both offenses found points hard to come by in the second half. The lone touchdown proved the severity of those difficulties.
Chris Carson had to battle through several tacklers and finally lunge to the goal line to score on a fourth and goal from the 1 yard line.
Despite the offense only managing two more field goals, the 49ers defense held firm, forcing the game to go into overtime.
Buckner was a huge reason for that success, racking up team highs in tackles (11) and sacks (2). The sacks gave him 11 on the season, his first double-digit total in his third year.
He was happy to achieve a personal goal, but he was just as proud of his team’s bounce-back performance:
“Everybody wanted to get out there and redeem themselves. From start to finish, everybody gave just a little more. When it got to OT [overtime] it was about who wanted it more. I’m proud of every single one of the guys.”
Seattle won the overtime toss and took the ball, but San Francisco’s defense was there again, giving the ball right back to Nick Mullens and company. This time a field goal would suffice, and Gould obliged, nailing his fourth of the game to give San Francisco a walk-off victory.
Sherman sees a difficult victory like this as a sure sign of growth for this young team:
“They’re [young players] growing with each game, with each opportunity they get. That’s what’s cool to see, us get into an overtime game and guys continue to show up, play disciplined, execute. Finishing! Finishing can be learned.”