The Seahawks, which their ex-superstar Richard Sherman called “middle-of-the-road,” just roared into the fast lane in the NFC’s playoff race.
Russell Wilson set his season high with four touchdown passes—within his first 10 completions. Two were to Jaron Brown. All were away from Sherman, now a San Francisco instead of Seattle cornerback.
Linebacker Bobby Wagner was his All-Pro best. He blitzed and battered the 49ers offense with a 2017 practice-squad quarterback trying to throw without two top wide receivers, and trying to run with their lead running back Matt Breida out with an ankle injury. Then Wagner picked off Nick Mullens and returned the interception 98 yards for a touchdown that ensured Sherman’s return to Seattle went all the way of his former team, not his.
The Seahawks led 20-0 early en route to their third consecutive victory, 43-16 Sunday at CenturyLink Field.
Wilson completed 11 of 17 passes for 185 yards with scoring throws also to Tyler Lockett and Doug Baldwin, who also had a a 21-yard catch and run against Sherman when Sherman missed the tackle.
That’s how Seattle (7-5) moved into the fifth of sixth playoff seeds in the NFC thanks to Minnesota (6-5-1) losing at New England.
The Seahawks host the Vikings next, on Monday Dec. 10. Three of Seattle’s final four games are at home. The lone road one is at the 49ers, Dec. 16.
Wilson’s first six passes Sunday went OK for Seattle: Four completions, three for touchdowns. All were away from Sherman.
The first score was the most memorable. And honorable.
Nine of Seattle’s first 12 plays were runs. That continued the trend the Seahawks learned two months ago is their only way to be able to pass protect later in games against more-honest defenses, and thus the only way to win. The 12th play was Wilson’s touchdown pass of 4 yards to Jaron Brown, on the right side of San Francisco’s defense opposite Sherman.
Then the Seahawks’ wide receivers continued their season of creative end-zone celebrations. They ran from the left side where Brown scored to the right side of the south end zone. At the same spot on CenturyLink Field where Sherman tipped a Colin Kaepernick pass to Seahawks teammate Malcolm Smith to beat the 49ers in the January 2014 NFC title game and send Seattle to Super Bowl 48, these Seahawks re-enacted Sherman’s play. Baldwin played the role of Sherman. He tipped ball lofted by Brown to David Moore, who was playing Smith.
The fans in that end one immediately recognized the tribute. They roared.
Wilson’s second touchdown throw of the half came after Chris Carson’s 15-yard run jump-started Seattle’s next drive, early in the second quarter. Wilson stepped to avoid rushing 49ers and threw across the field to Tyler Lockett running right to left on a diagonal past Smith, the Seahawks’ MVP of Super Bowl 48 Sherman’s tip got them to. That 52-yard score extended Lockett’s career high with his ninth touchdown reception, his third in four game. Seattle led 13-0.
Shaquill Griffin kept it that way.
Seattle’s left cornerback, Sherman’s replacement on the Seahawks’ defense, prevented a touchdown in the red zone on San Francisco’s next possession. Griffin deftly stayed with San Francisco’s slot wide receiver on his double move inside on a slant and outside toward the end-zone pylon. Mullens checked down his pass near the line instead to former University of Washington receiver Dante Pettis for 8 yards instead of a touchdown.
Two plays later, Wagner ripped the ball from 49ers rookie running back Jeff Wilson, who was playing more because starter Matt Breida was limited by an ankle injury from early in the game. Wagner’s fumble recovery at the Seattle 14 kept the Seahawks’ ahead 13-0.
Pettis later had two touchdown catches as San Francisco tried to rally in the second half.
Wilson’s third touchdown pass of the half was on a simple, 1-yard out route by Baldwin on third and goal late in the second quarter. That made it 20-0.