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Seahawks-49ers was a beautiful mess that taught us nothing

It was ugly. It was beautiful. It didn’t tip its hand as to the rematch in Week 17.

Seattle Seahawks v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Week 10’s NFC West showdown between the Seahawks and 49ers didn’t make much sense.

A beleaguered defensive line created havoc all night en route to five sacks and a fumble return touchdown. The league’s current MVP favorite threw a back-breaking interception in the red zone in overtime. A rookie kicker, signed off the street as a free agent a week earlier, inspired all sorts of confidence ... then shanked it all away.

The four-plus quarters of the Seahawks’ overtime triumph over the previously undefeated 49ers created its own narratives, then cast them aside in a sloppy mass of chaotic football that will stand as one of 2019’s most memorable games. Seattle won a 27-24 rock fight in Santa Clara, but the end result didn’t do much to dent a Niners team ravaged by injury in advance of its biggest game of the season to date.

It looked like San Francisco would cruise to a statement-making home win after taking an early 10-0 lead against a Seattle team that gained five net yards in the first quarter. The Seahawks, never content to play an easy game regardless of their place on the scoreboard, roared back in very Seahawks fashion. By the time Jason Myers’ 42-yard field goal cleared the goalposts to end the game in overtime, the win probability chart the two teams left behind looked like a seismograph atop a tectonic shift:

Nothing really went as planned Monday. And it’s probably not going to give us much insight on the next time these two teams play in Week 17. Here’s why.

The Seahawks couldn’t hold on to the damn ball

Seattle had fumbled 13 times in nine games leading up to Week 10 — a 1.4 fumble per contest rate. San Francisco had forced 13 fumbles in eight games in the same span (1.6 per contest). On a typical day, even against a solid defense like the Niners’, the Seahawks might be expected to put the ball on the turf one or two times.

On Monday, the Seahawks did it five times — including twice on one play. A Russell Wilson fumble ended up in the hands of offensive lineman Germain Ifedi, then ended up in the hands of DeForest Buckner. Buckner returned it 12 yards for a touchdown that kicked off the Niners’ fourth-quarter comeback from an 11-point deficit.

That wasn’t the only slip-up that cost the Seahawks points. One DK Metcalf fumble at the goal line cost Seattle an important scoring opportunity at the end of the second half. While Jadeveon Clowney’s fumble return touchdown helped level that advantage, that lack of ball security is typically damning for an offense. Teams with four or more turnovers in a game are 42-326-1 in regular season games since 2010.

Wilson setting up an Ifedi fumble wasn’t even his biggest miscue. The MVP frontrunner doubled his interception total for the season when he underthrew a potential game-ending touchdown pass to Jacob Hollister by a matter of inches. That allowed Dre Greenlaw to make what could have been the biggest play of the night:

It didn’t pay off. Instead, Greenlaw watched his offense drive only 20 yards on the ensuing possession and fail to generate the points that would have ensured a 9-0 start for San Francisco.

The Niners’ passing game couldn’t keep up

One of the biggest questions about San Francisco’s rise to the top of the NFC was what the team was capable of in situations where it was forced to throw the ball. An 8-0 start left few opportunities for Jimmy Garoppolo to practice his two-minute drill. On Monday, he’d have to do so without All-Pro tight end George Kittle.

Kittle, sidelined by a pair of lower leg injuries Monday, had 25 more targets than the next-closest player on the 49ers roster. His sure-handed presence in the middle of the field was sorely missed. The club’s aerial offense flopped without him — and several other key players:

Jimmy Garoppolo’s first 8 games vs. his Seahawks performance

Jimmy Garoppolo Cmp% Yds/gm TD Int Rate Sk Y/A AY/A Fmb
Jimmy Garoppolo Cmp% Yds/gm TD Int Rate Sk Y/A AY/A Fmb
First 8 games 70.8 225.75 13 7 100.6 12 7.99 7.75 5
vs. Seattle in Week 10 52.2 248 1 1 66.2 5 5.39 4.85 2

Emmanuel Sanders, extremely not-washed at age 32 (he had 112 receiving yards in his first game with the Niners), left the game after two big catches due to a rib injury. Marquise Goodwin and Dante Pettis, two players who started the season atop the San Francisco WR depth chart, dropped multiple passes and finished the game with zero receptions. This left the keys to the passing game in the hands of rookie Deebo Samuel, WR4 Kendrick Bourne, and backup tight end Ross Dwelley.

The team also dealt with injuries that chipped away at its offensive line. Tackle Mike McGlinchey was limited in practice through the week with a knee malady, and that rust was evident throughout the night. The 49ers were also without starting center Weston Richburg, who left the game early with a hand injury. That left Ben Garland to flail hopelessly at blown assignments in his place:

Garoppolo, a tick off with both his accuracy and his timing, couldn’t overcome those mounting handicaps. While he put his team in position to win the game late, he was lucky to escape with just one interception Monday night.

Still, this all almost worked out!

A rookie kicker, subbing in for a Pro Bowler, nearly saved the day

Robbie Gould had been a constant positive in the San Francisco kicking game the past two seasons. He made 96 percent of his field goals between 2017 and 2018, the highest rate in the league. However, he’d been uncharacteristically inaccurate through the first half of 2019 — his seven misses were more than he’d had the past three seasons combined — and was unavailable for the 49ers’ biggest game of the year (so far) thanks to a quadriceps injury.

Enter Chase McLaughlin, who signed with San Francisco just four days earlier. McLaughlin, just one of six active alumni from the University of Illinois, had been discarded by the Bills, Vikings, and Chargers earlier this year. While he’d made 13 of his 16 kicks as a fill-in for Michael Badgley in Los Angeles, he was far from a sure bet.

So, because this game was weird in every phase of the game, he went out and drilled field goals from 43, 39, and 47 yards — the last of which tied the game at 24-all with just one second left in the fourth quarter. This was an epic effort from a young kicker with plenty to prove. And with one last kick, he’d undo much of the confidence he’d inspired through the first 60 minutes of the game.

Greenlaw’s interception and Garoppolo’s ensuing 20-yard drive gave McLaughlin the chance to up his hero bonafides with one more long kick. Instead, his potential game-winner wound up here:

That tunnel is past the corner of the end zone. McLaughlin missed his desired landing spot by roughly 40 yards. That’s bad! Three drives later, Seahawk kicker Jason Myers pushed a 42-yard kick through the uprights to win the game.

The first installment of Seahawks-49ers answered some questions about what each team is capable of against top-notch competition from within their own division. Seattle is up to the challenge of plugging up San Francisco’s potent rush game and forcing Garoppolo to beat them. The Niners proved they can frustrate Wilson into a below-average game behind their crushing defensive front.

But much of the game turned on outlier trends and plays that probably won’t happen when these teams meet again. San Francisco can take solace in the returns of Kittle, Gould, and full-strength efforts from Sanders, Richburg, and McGlinchey (among others). Seattle knows it probably won’t triple its fumble rate in a single game again. The tablet will be wiped clean when these sides meet again in Week 17.

If it’s anything like the first showdown between these two, it’ll probably find a way to get weird anyway.