Football is a game of inches and never was that more true than tonight.
It came down to the final play, because of course it did. All season long, the San Francisco 49ers have won close games in a variety of ways, and tonight was no different, as the 49ers claimed the NFC West and the #1 seed in the NFC heading into the playoffs.
“We worked for this the whole year,” said head coach Kyle Shanahan. “The goal going in was just to get into the tournament. To get in there with the number one seed is very good…I know we are much happier that we can stay home now and that your two games away from the big one. We are going to enjoy this bye week. I’m very proud of the guys. We have had to win a lot of different ways this year. I feel like we have done it every way possible and then we find a new way to do it. I wish it would have not been that close at the end. It doesn’t matter now. I’m pumped how they finished it.”
Don’t Forget About Dre
With 2:27 left in the game and the 49ers leading 26-21, Seahawks’ quarterback Russell Wilson was doing Russell Wilson things as he led his team down the field, poised to break the 49ers’ hearts once again. Except this time, he couldn’t, partly due to an odd delay of game penalty on 2nd and 1, and very large partly to rookie LB Dre Greenlaw.
On 4th and 5 with 0:12 left in the fourth, Wilson passed to tight end Jacob Hollister, who was stopped at the one-yard line by Greenlaw. It was an incredible play. It was immediately under review and 49ers’ fans everywhere had flashbacks to the Falcons’ game two weeks ago.
“I probably had the best or second-best view,” said cornerback Richard Sherman. “I saw his elbow down and the ball in the opposite, so I knew that if he wasn’t down, it was a fumble, but I saw his elbow down. The ball wasn’t across so I thought it was done.”
This time, the call stood, and the 49ers win.
“I just knew that I had my foot on the goal line,” Greenlaw said after the game. “I knew that they that had to get..in the end zone…in order to win the game. I just made sure that I kept my feet on the goal line, just played lateral to down hill, just…made a tackle that my coaches and teammates would be proud of…just thankful to be able to make a play.”
Greenlaw also had a huge play in the 49ers’ Week 10 loss to the Seahawks, when he intercepted Russell Wilson in overtime. He has gotten the game ball for both games.
“It’s awesome,” Greenlaw said. “I really still don’t even understand what it means…If I can run and hit and get a game ball for it, then thank God.”
— Tracy Sandler (@49ersfangirl) December 30, 2019
All in all, Greenlaw finished the game with 13 tackles and one tackle for a loss. And, of course, the most important tackle of the season.
Rookie Nick Bosa finished the evening with six tackles, three quarterback hits, and 11 pressures, giving him 69 pressures on the season, which per Pro Football Focus is the most by a rookie.
Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers’ Offense
Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers’ offense were able to come up big when they needed to (other than late in the fourth but bygones). Garoppolo finished the day 18-of-22 for 285 yards and a passer rating of 118.8 As always, he was poised under pressure.
“Jimmy has two different feelings,” said wide receiver Deebo Samuel. “I was over there about to have a heart attack.”
“He responded and the whole offense did,” said Shanahan. “It wasn’t just the pass game or just the run game. I thought both did pretty well. They kept us out of a number of third downs. Our guys stepped it up when they had to.”
The 49ers were 4-of-8 on third downs. They had six rushing and 12 passing first downs.
Shanahan called another impressive game.
Raheem Mostert had 10 carries for 57 yards and two rushing touchdowns.
Samuel had five receptions for 102 yards and 30-yard TD run.
“Deebo has been the man all year,” Shanahan said. “I have been so impressed with how tough he has played. The moment does not scare him. He has been real banged up the second half of the season. I know he was banged up all week. And for him to come out there today to do the stuff he does in the run and pass game…Deebo is a stud.”
Tight end George Kittle had seven receptions for 86 yards, finishing the regular season with 1,053 receiving yards. And, of course, there’s his blocking.
“You can’t say enough about Jimmy G and the O-line and the backs that we have,”
said Sherman. “Kittle, obviously. Our receivers, everybody was making big plays out there and giving us a chance to win this game. That’s what it takes, it takes a full group effort. You can hand out game balls to 15 people today for the efforts they put in.”
They’ve Come A Long Way, Baby
The 49ers are 3-2 in their last five games, and the score of those games have been a 20-17 loss to the Ravens, a 48-46 victory over the Saints, a 29-22 loss to the Falcons, a 34-31 victory over the Rams, and tonight’s 26-21 win.
Tonight they were on the road in one of the loudest stadiums in the league, against one of the best quarterbacks in the league, with a lot at stake. But they didn’t falter. They didn’t fold. They played until the last play and won.
“It’s just that we are resilient,” said quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. “I think over the last two years, if we were put in this situation, it wouldn’t always turn out the best for us. I think thin year, we’ve had a couple of tough ones, but for the majority of them – just guys mentally tough, sticking with it the whole time. It’s really paid off for us.”
The 49ers had not won in Seattle since 2011, had not won the NFC West since 2012, and have had some pretty dismal seasons the last several years. For left tackle Joe Staley, the 49ers’ longest-tenured player, tonight was emotional.
“It just kind of hit me like a wave,” said Staley. “It was just being part of this franchise for so long, playing here and not winning. Having a game here where everything was on the line for the regular season title. It just felt good.”
But, it’s not over yet. There are miles to go before Miami.
“Enjoyment has not part in this week,” Sherman said. “It’s about getting better, it’s about you still being in the season. This is a four-week or five-week season left, and you’re to have to earn every other game. You get a chance to heal your body, but we need to work and we’re still at work.”
It’s a sentiment shared by Shanahan.
“…It feels good to get where we’re at. Our goal was to get in the playoffs, it feels much better with being the one seed. By now everyone knows there is only one team that is happy at the end of year. I know we’re going to be happy tonight. Then we are going to get back to work and figure out how to recover this week, take care of our bodies. I will put a schedule together on the plane. I had not thought of anything past tonight. So I will get that together on the plane. We will get ready for whoever we have to play a week from now.”
The 49ers will play the first-ever playoff game at Levi’s Stadium on January 11 at 1:35 pm PST. And it may just be against the Seahawks if they beat Philadelphia and the Saints beat the Vikings.