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The critical defensive series that spurred the 49ers to victory over Seattle

Breaking down the key 4Q series that turned this game

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

It’s an old, miserable story — a close, hard fought game against Seattle. Maybe the Niners are leading, or tied. Late in the 4th quarter, Russell Wilson leads a drive to win the game.

Well, not this time. San Francisco’s rapidly improving defense made several key plays, but no series was more crucial than the one that ended in a field goal for Seattle’s final points.

After the 49ers took a three point lead with 9:51 left in the 4th, Seattle drove from their own 25 to the San Francisco 31 in just over two minutes, entirely on the strength of a shaky roughing the passer call, and a 26-yard pass to Doug Baldwin on 3rd and 7. Seattle had a first down with 7:48 to go, and you just knew what was going to happen.

Except that it didn’t.

On first down, Seattle ran former Niner Mike Davis up the middle. Rookie Marcell Harris reached him two yards behind the line of scrimmage, but the running back broke a leg tackle and picked up five yards.

2nd and 5, at the Niners 26. Davis again, and he rumbled and twisted for eight yards — but it was called back. Holding on #64, left guard JR Sweezy, who clearly held DeForest Buckner at the line of scrimmage and even then barely kept him from making an arm tackle.

You can argue that it was only the Seattle mistake that set them back 18 yards (between the wiped out run and the penalty yards), or whine about penalties like so many Seahawks fans, but that ignores Buckner’s power here. Without the hold, it would have been 3rd and 4 at best, not a first down.

Instead justice was dealt and it was 2nd and 15, at the SF 36. Seattle set up a clever screen to Davis, his third touch in a row, with Sweezy running out in front to lead the way and the downfield CB and safety blocked by large receivers. It could have been a huge gain. Instead, rookie DB Marcell Harris made a great play, sidestepping Sweezy to make an open field tackle. LB Fred Warner positioned himself right behind Harris in case he missed.

Seattle still picked up nine yards, but now it was third and six at the SF 27 — the traditional time for Russell Wilson to find a receiver in the end zone, or scramble for a first down.

Pre-snap, Doug Baldwin motioned in almost all the way to the center, then back out to the slot, presumably to check the coverage. (DJ Reed followed him, indicating man to man.)

Seattle’s offensive line blocked to the right as Wilson rolled out in that direction, apparently planning a quick out to Baldwin right at the 21 for the first down. But Solomon Thomas wrecked that plan, racing and shoving past right guard Ethan Pocic right into Wilson’s path.

Wilson had to pull a 180 and race back to his left, just ahead of Thomas and toward two other rushers he didn’t want to meet: DeForest Buckner, double-teamed four yards behind the line of scrimmage, and Ronald Blair III, who had been hanging back as a bit of a spy for just such an occasion.

Blair III sprinted right at Wilson, maybe not the ideal angle as the spry QB barely outran his lunge en route to the sideline, but his presence removed any thoughts Houdini may have had about throwing the ball. Thomas was one long step behind Wilson in hot pursuit.

On the other hand, there was clear green ahead of the QB all the way to the end zone if he could get around the edge; besides the three DL chasing him, San Francisco had no other players left of the numbers. Wilson probably could have reached the ten yard line untouched.

That didn’t matter, because DeForest Buckner flat outran the QB and took him down at the 30 for a three yard loss, long before he got to the sideline. Anyone who thinks the Niners were tanking should just look at the excitement of the players (and DC Robert Saleh, whose job might have just been saved by that tackle, and was literally falling all over himself).

These four crucial plays netted Seattle a total of one yard, and they had to settle for a field goal to tie. San Francisco had to play a lot of great defense after this point to seal the win, and they did. (More on that later this week).

But this series let the Seahawks know that all those earlier games, all those last minute wins no longer mean a thing. There’s a new defense they’ll have to beat to win against San Francisco. And they’re not off to a good start.