SEATTLE -- The Seahawks quest for an NFC West title came up one painstaking inch short Sunday night against the San Francisco 49ers.
Jacob Hollister was stopped a yard/foot/inch shy of the goal line by Dre Greenlaw and Fred Warner on a 4-yard pass from Russell Wilson on fourth-and-goal with under 12 seconds left to play to allow the 49ers to hang on for a 26-21 victory that gave them the NFC West crown and the No. 1 seed in the conference entering the postseason.
After being completely over-matched by the 49ers in the first half, the Seahawks did enough to get themselves back into the game and have a chance to win in the closing moments. However, a brutal delay of game penalty taken after a fourth down conversion put Seattle on the 49ers' doorstep backed Seattle up to the 6-yard line instead of the 1-yard line and changed the ensuing course of events. The fourth down pass to Hollister on the same play Seattle used to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in overtime earlier this season resulted in Hollister being dropped onto his backside by Greenlaw.
"It's tough. I ain't going to lie to you. That's tough. I mean, shoot, daggum," right guard D.J. Fluker said. "The thing about it is it just adds more fuel to the fire. We're going to come back, watch the film and get ready for our next opponent."
The next opponent is a return trip to Philadelphia to face the Eagles next Sunday afternoon at 1:40 p.m. PT. The Seahawks won their first meeting on the road against the Eagles this season, 17-9, the last week of November. A win there would against the 9-7 Eagles would potentially set the stage for a third meeting between the Seahawks and 49ers on Saturday, January 11 in Santa Clara.
"We'll see this team (49ers) again in probably two weeks, right?" defensive end Jadeveon Clowney said after the game. "It won't end like that next time. We'll see them again."
In order to make that a reality, the Seahawks need to clean up some more of their play and hope some players returning from injury can help deliver a needed boost to the roster. Here are the takeaways from the final game of the 2019 regular season as the playoffs begin next weekend:
-- Another game management error costs Seahawks greatly with late delay of game penalty.
The delay of game penalty with 22 seconds left to play was a catastrophic blow to the Seahawks' chances to win the NFC West and remain at home next weekend.
And it's not as though the team was any bit close to getting a play off when the penalty occurred.
After a fourth down completion to John Ursua to the 1-yard line gave Seattle a fresh set of downs with the clock ticking inside 30 seconds, Russell Wilson managed to corral the offense together to spike the ball to stop the clock with 22 seconds left to play. The Seahawks were out of timeouts after taking their final two timeouts ahead of their previous third, and fourth down snaps.
Following the spike, the play clock reset to 40 seconds and began to run. George Fant, who had initially been down behind the play after the fourth down completion to Ursua, had scrambled to the line of scrimmage for the spike. However, he then remained hunched over on his knees as the clock continued to tick. The team then attempted to substitute as well to get a running back, Marshawn Lynch, onto the field for the second down play. By the time Fant had managed to collect himself and the substitutions were made, the team was still in the huddle as the clock expired for a penalty.
"We were in no (running backs) the play before and we called the personnel and we just didn't quite get it communicated with the backs," head coach Pete Carroll said. "We were just late. We were late getting in there. We burned the time. We just didn't get it done. We just didn't function cleanly."
Carroll said there may also have been a bit of a collective moment of relaxation that set in as if a time out had been called when the clock was running instead.
"When you kill the clock, sometimes you kind of relax like that's a time out," Carroll said. "We didn't (do that) on the sidelined but it just kind of felt like that's what happened and we didn't get the substitution done properly and we were late with it and there wasn't enough time for us to get the play off.
"We just didn't function well enough. That's me all the way. There's nobody else to turn to. We need to get that done. The mentality of the kill the clock thing, sometimes it happens; we've talked about it numbers of times. But you kind of take a pause like it's a time out, which it wasn't. That may have been a little bit of what happened on the sidelined with the guys running on. Here we are with Marshawn, his first week and all that. It just didn't work out right. I should have got that done better."
Some combination of Fant struggling physically for a short period of time combined with an attempt get Lynch into the game and a collective uncertainty over the situation led to a lack of awareness about the state of the play clock. And with no timeouts remaining, Seattle didn't have a chance to save themselves from the situation.
It's a fine line to walk in regards to the clock as the Seahawks wouldn't want to give time to the 49ers to answer should they score to take the lead. Seattle had managed the clock well up until the third and fourth down plays where they expended their final two time outs. They wanted to assure they got correct calls in place because the chances were dwindling, but it hurt they when they were out of sorts ahead of the delay of game when they couldn't stop the clock one last time.
"It was on everybody. We just weren't organized enough," Hollister said.
-- Travis Homer, Marshawn Lynch do enough to suffice at running back after Chris Carson, C.J. Prosise injuries.
The Seahawks rushing attack was unlikely to reach its previous heights after their top three running backs were lost for the season over the last three weeks. However, Travis Homer and Marshawn Lynch brought enough to the table to give Seattle a fighting chance moving into the postseason.
Homer accounted for 92 yards from scrimmage in his first start in place of the injured trip. Homer rushed for 62 yards on 10 carries and caught five passes for 30 yards, including several critical first downs late in the game.
"He played great tonight," Carroll said. "He was so aggressive. What a tough kid he is. That's all he's ever shown us. He just did what he always does. I thought he looked great tonight.
Lynch rushed for 34 yards on 12 carries and scored on a 1-yard leaping touchdown in the fourth quarter in his first action since returning to the team on Monday.
"I thought he did incredible," Carroll said. "I thought he was incredible just to be out there. He played hard and tough and he came out OK. There was a play during the week, the goal line play, the play he scored on, and we were not in pads on the day and he looked like he was going to leap over the top and I don't know if he heard me but I said "don't tease me.' Because I've always wanted to see him go over the top. Sure enough, he had his chance and he did it. I was thrilled to see that happen. I thought that was a thrilling touchdown, a thrilling moment for everybody."
Carroll said Lynch ended up with about the number of touches they foresaw getting him in his first action since last October with the Oakland Raiders.
"It felt good, man. At the end of the day, I play to win, so, s---, it is what it is," Lynch said of scoring a touchdown in his first game back.
Homer, Lynch and Robert Turbin, who did not get any offensive snaps during the game, are unlikely to provide the production that Carson and Penny primarily produced throughout the season. But they might be able to do just enough to keep a battered offense afloat as the playoffs get rolling next weekend.
-- The defense really, really, really needs Quandre Diggs back as soon as possible.
The difference between what the Seahawks' defense can accomplish with and without Quandre Diggs on the field is a chasm as wide as the Grand Canyon.
Lano Hill has not been a particularly adequate replacement over the last two weeks with Diggs sidelined with a high-ankle sprain. Carroll said after the game Sunday night that Diggs has a good chance of returning for next Sunday's playoff game against the Eagles.
"He has a really good chance to make it back next week but he still has to prove it, he has to do it," Carroll said. "He's a really good ball player. We miss him when he's not out there. We'll keep our fingers crossed that he can get back. He couldn't quite get there (tonight). He's running though. Can he get full speed, full speed change of direction and stuff like that. We won't know until probably late in the week."
The defense made a marked improvement at midseason when Diggs took over at free safety after his hamstring injury healed. His first start came against the 49ers in November and the defense played its best ball with Diggs in the lineup. Seattle forced 12 turnovers in five games with Diggs in the lineup and saw its pass rush become more effective in tandem as well.
"We've got to create turnovers," linebacker Bobby Wagner said. "That's something we've been able to do all year. We have to create turnovers."
Seattle forced 12 turnovers in five games with Diggs in the lineup and saw its pass rush become more effective in tandem as well.
A week ago, Hill was unable to cut the angle off on Kenyan Drake as he broke an 80-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. He missed chances at a few tackles and didn't make any significantly impactful plays despite accumulating six tackles. The most significant safety play of the night actually came from Marquise Blair making a big hit on Deebo Samuel on a slant that caused a fumble and forced a 49ers field goal attempt. Blair was in as a part of the team's dime package.
The leap in performance from Hill, Blair and Tedric Thompson to Diggs has been significant. They'll need him back in the lineup if they hope to make a deep postseason run.
-- An ongoing problem of digging a hole that must be overcome rears its head again against Seattle.
Yes, the Seahawks were an inch away from winning the NFC West. But there was plenty of reason to believe that chance would never have been so readily within reach given the way the team played in the first half Sunday night.
Seattle was absolutely controlled on both sides of the ball by the 49ers. They were out-gained 222-79 in total yardage at the break as Jimmy Garoppolo completed his first nine passes for the game for 122 yards with little hindrance from the Seahawks' defense. The 49ers scored on five of their first seven possessions with only one punt and the end of the first half stunting their efforts. The score could have been, perhaps should have been, far more lopsided than the 13-0 halftime margin appeared.
The Seahawks' offense had managed just one drive in the half that gained more than a single first down. That drive came to a halt at the 49ers' 31-yard line when Lynch was stuffed on a fourth-and-1 carry with 45 seconds left in the second quarter.
In order to have a chance to win, the Seahawks had to score touchdowns on four consecutive possessions in the second half. They came just one inch shy of accomplishing that task, but nothing less would have gotten the job accomplished. That is a hole the team has found itself in far too often. And with the injuries they're trying to overcome, it's a hole they may not have the ability to climb out of should they find themselves in one again in the coming week(s).
Photo Credit: SEATTLE, WA - DECEMBER 29: Tight end Jacob Hollister #48 of the Seattle Seahawks is stopped just short of the goal line by linebacker Dre Greenlaw #57 and linebacker Fred Warner #54 of the San Francisco 49ers in the fourth quarter at CenturyLink Field on December 29, 2019 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)