The San Francisco 49ers emerged victorious Saturday afternoon in a game that was about as physical and chippy as could be expected. I had the good fortune (of sorts) of being able to attend the game at CenturyLink Field and it was a bit difficult at times to fully understand what was happening. At the same time, it was a lot easier to see a lot of the pushing and shoving that might have been overlooked at times by the cameras.
I keep wanting to say this was an "ugly" game, but I don't know if that is the right word. I do think the 49ers struggled at times and played well at times. It wasn't so much ugly as just plain tough. I questioned enough of the offensive play-calling that I found myself shaking my head at times.
Some of the "bad" news, if you will, from the game was the end of the two impressive rushing streaks. The 49ers had not given up a 100-yard rushing performance by a running back since Ryan Grant in 2009, and had not given up a rushing since Steven Jackson in week 16 of last season. Unfortunately both streaks were snapped on Saturday as Marshawn Lynch went into #BeastMode once again.
Lynch was looking sharp early, finding some holes and piling up over 90 yards by the end of the first half. With a close game, he was going to get plenty of carries in the second half. There were even times I found myself questioning why Seattle was throwing on first down deep in their own territory. They couldn't run Lynch every play, but he was having enough success that I was surprised he did not rush more frequently.
The rushing touchdown was a bit more disheartening, in part because the 49ers had put up a huge effort earlier in the game. In the second quarter, the Seahawks had first and goal at the 49ers 7-yard line. Lynch rushed for four yards to the 49ers three yard line, and then rushed a second time just shy of the end zone. The play was reviewed as Lynch tried to use his forward momentum to get the ball into the end zone. It seemed to take forever before the officials finally upheld the call on the field.
That 2nd and 3 stop was great, but the next play was just as big. After taking the snap, Tarvaris Jackson found himself amidst a broken play. I'm guessing some of the Seahawks thought a whistle blew but I could not tell from the stands. Anybody know? Either way, Jackson did a good job rolling out to try and run the ball in, but Carlos Rogers made an excellent tackle to keep Jackson out of the end zone.
The eventual rushing touchdown was disappointing because it came on a crazy sequence that saw Andy Lee have a punt blocked. The Seahawks were set up at the 49ers four yard line and punched it in on the first play. I'm struggling to find replays of the touchdown run as Lynch looked like he might have gone out of bounds. At the end of the day however, the streak is over.
Streaks aside, I was concerned about Lynch in part because he has been as hot as any running back the last six weeks. He might not be the "best" running back in the NFL, but he has been one of the best lately and he showed why on Saturday. He averaged 5.1 yards per carry and I only recall maybe one instance of him losing even just a yard. Right now he might be playing some of the most physical football at the running back position. He's a free agent after this season, so maybe that has something to do with it.
Just maybe, the 49ers had to sacrifice their record streaks for the sake of a win that some would describe as gritty, some would describe as ugly, and others would simply describe as a win. The 49ers improved to 12-3 and as we celebrate Christmas, I can't imagine many 49ers fans expected to wake up on Christmas Day with a 12-3 team closing in on the number two seed. It's Festivus miracle!
It is worth noting that the 49ers still have a chance to set the record for fewest touchdowns in an NFL season. The previous record is two, although I believe the two or three instances of that took place in a shorter schedule. Either way, if the 49ers wrap up the 2011 NFL season having given up a single rushing touchdown, that is pretty impressive.