Blame could be spread over a variety of areas for what happened Sunday to the 49ers in Seattle.
The game started by San Francisco’s special teams giving up a 73-yard touchdown on a fake punt. It ended with Jimmy Garoppolo’s pass getting batted to the ground while he looked for an open Trent Sherfield in the front of the end zone to tie it with 22 seconds left. Fittingly, it happened near the same goal line Dre Greenlaw made his game-saving stop at the end of the 2019 regular season, spurring the 49ers’ run to the Super Bowl.
Between all that on Sunday was a wild, back-and-forth game typical of San Francisco’s rivalry with the Seahawks. There were big moments, great plays, jarring penalties and an injury that led to ambulance coming on to the field after the opening kick (running back and special teams standout Trenton Cannon suffered a concussion and spent Sunday night in a Seattle hospital, which is good news given how things looked initially).
The 49ers couldn’t overcome a slew of their own mistakes or key plays made by a resurgent Russell Wilson. They dropped to 6-6 with a dispiriting 30-23 loss, dropping to the No. 7 seed in the NFC playoff race and ending their three-game winning streak. The loss came against a familiar opponent that looked like it was coming into Sunday on the verge of collapse after losing six of the last seven.
“We definitely blew it,” Nick Bosa told reporters afterwards. “But we knew it was going to be this type of game whenever we play them. We have to do a much better job of not giving the game away. But we’re still in the mix.”
49ers offense struggles, Kittle stars
The defense was the 49ers’ strongest outfit of the afternoon, but it had its bad moments also. The bigger culprits were the offense and special teams. The season-high 10 penalties didn’t help matters, either.
The offensive struggles begin with Garoppolo, who tossed a pair of bad interceptions over the middle of the field, which is where the majority of his picks tend to come. He was intercepted first by linebacker Bobby Wagner, who attack the line of scrimmage at the start of a play in the first quarter and slid back to cut off a short throw to Sherfield over the middle.
On the second, Garoppolo airmailed George Kittle just as Sherfield was breaking free for a potential big gain a few yards to Kittle’s left. The throw went high and was caught by safety Quandre Diggs. It led to Seattle’s go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter. The 49ers didn’t score in the second half after scoring 17 straight points in the first, when the game felt like it might be a blowout in favor of the gold helmets similar to the recent wins over the Rams or Jaguars. To that point, the Seahawks’ only first down came on the fake punt during the opening possession.
The 49ers won the turnover battle in each game of their three-game winning streak, with Garoppolo’s first-quarter interception against the Vikings being the offense’s only giveaway of that stretch. They turned the ball over three times Sunday, negating their three takeaways from Seattle’s sloppy offense.
“It’s brutal,” Kittle said. “Again, losing sucks.”
Kittle was San Francisco’s best player throughout. He had nine catches for 181 yards and two touchdowns. His performance was needed with the team’s most valuable player, Deebo Samuel, out for the game with a groin injury. It was only the second time all season Kittle eclipsed 100 yards, and his two touchdowns gave him five for the season, tying his career high from 2018 and 2019.
“To have all the opportunities, turnovers, fake punts for touchdowns, and then when give Russell Wilson a chance, he’s going to take advantage of that opportunity,” Kittle said. “We weren’t clean enough on offense. I think our defense played a hell of game. They did about everything they could to keep us in the game and give us an opportunity. And our offense, we didn’t really do anything in the second half, and it’s hard to win in Seattle if you don’t really do anything in the second half.”
Kittle’s first touchdown came a play after 49ers nose tackle D.J. Jones forced a fumble against Adrian Peterson, who was signed during the week amid a slew of injuries at running back for Seattle. Kittle got behind the secondary for a 24-yard score. His second came at the end of the second quarter, the 49ers ran a signature play action misdirection play with Kittle crossing the field.
He caught the pass and received a great block from receiver Jauan Jennings, who gave Kittle an angle up the left sideline. He tip toed and didn’t step out of bounds just after Wagner missed a tackle. That made it 23-14 just inside the 2-minute warning. At that point, it appeared the 49ers would roll. It capped a run of four of five possessions resulting in scoring opportunities, save for Garoppolo’s interception.
49ers defense falters
But then Seattle started to gain steam, which was when the 49ers defense faltered. San Francisco was called for a pair of roughing the passer penalties. One was obvious by Arden Key, who hit Wilson in the face mask with the crown of his helmet. The other was more questionable from recently added defensive end Charles Omenihu, who tackled Wilson as he threw.
The next play was a touchdown to rookie D’Wayne Eskridge, who made quick work of rookie cornerback Deommodore Lenoir, who was playing because Emmanuel Moseley suffered an ankle injury. Lenoir had a rough afternoon, allowing a third-and-14 conversion to wideout D.K. Metcalf, and then a committed a blatant pass interference in the end zone just before Peterson walked in for a 1-yard touchdown run. Lenoir was benched in favor of Dontae Johnson in the second half.
On to the special teams issues.
Here’s a brief recap of the third phase: the 49ers allowed a 73-yard touchdown on a fake punt to Travis Homer, who had a wide open running lane through the right side of San Francisco’s alignment. Robbie Gould missed an extra point after pushing a key field goal right last week that nearly allowed the Vikings to tie the game.
After Kittle’s touchdown just before halftime, DeeJay Dallas returned the kickoff to the 35, shortening the field and allowing the Seahawks to score in just 1:36 of game time (aided by the two roughing the passer penalties).
To open the second half, Travis Benjamin fumbled the kickoff, which indirectly led to a Seahawks safety after the 49ers got a miraculous bounce off the foot of tight end Gerald Everett, which should have been an easy Seattle touchdown. Instead it was an interception to K’Waun Williams. There was also a near disastrous punt return by Brandon Aiyuk, who let a ball bounce and fielded it in traffic near his own goal line.
It was the second straight week 49ers special teams allowed a touchdown in a game that was decided by one score. And fortunately for Gould, neither of his misses over the last two games proved meaningful, though Sunday’s missed extra point would have been if San Francisco scored a touchdown in the final moments. Had he made that extra point, a touchdown would have given the 49ers the lead.
But Garoppolo’s final pass to Sherfield was deflected at the line of scrimmage by 6-foot-7 inch pass rusher Carlos Dunlap. A fitting end to a game the 49ers did not play well enough to win.
But as Bosa said, they’re still in the mix as the No. 7 seed. But this one might hurt the team’s psyche more than the standings. The 49ers are got swept by both the Seahawks and Cardinals in the division this season, and have given away far too many games than they should.
San Francisco still has a 62% chance at making the playoffs, according to FiveThirtyEight, but they have a lot to clean up before they can win any postseason game on the road against a superior team.
This story was reported remotely as The Bee was not on site for the game.