Niners running back Frank Gore rushed for a TD to help his team improve to 12-3. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
The 49ers knew that Saturday’s game in Seattle would be a challenge.
Coming off a physical victory Monday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Niners had just four days to prepare and recover for the Seahawks, who have been on a roll and play in one of the loudest stadiums in the NFL.
Said Niners guard Adam Snyder, “It’s a tough stadium to play in. We have to be on top of our game.”
As it turned out, the 49ers indeed found themselves in trouble, trailing in the fourth quarter before making several big plays to rally for a 19-17 victory that puts them in the driver’s seat for the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs.
At 12-3, the 49ers can clinch the No. 2 seed if the Saints (11-3) lose on “Monday Night Football” against the Atlanta Falcons, or with a win next Sunday in the regular-season finale at St. Louis (because the 49ers have the tiebreaker edge over the Saints if both finish with the same records).
After Seattle went ahead 17-16 with 6:47 to play on Marshawn Lynch’s 4-yard TD run, the Niners responded immediately.
Alex Smith connected with Michael Crabtree on a long pass down the sideline for 41 yards to the Seahawks 28. Following three short runs to get to the 21, David Akers kicked his fourth field goal of the day from 39 yards to give San Francisco a 19-17 lead.
Then, on the ensuing possession, after Seattle had moved from its own 19 to its 48, 49ers linebacker Larry Grant – playing for the sidelined Patrick Willis – chased down Seattle quarterback Tarvaris Jackson from behind and stripped the ball away with a right-hand chop, sending it bouncing toward the Niners secondary where Donte Whitner recovered it at the 49ers’ 36-yard line with 1:07 left.
Seattle was forced to use its three timeouts before the 49ers punted, then watched the clock tick away as it went four-and-out. San Francisco’s Smith took a knee with 13 seconds left to secure the win.
It was a big win for the NFC West champions, and a record-setting day for Akers, who broke the NFL record for field goals in a season with his 37th, a 44-yarder that gave his team a 16-10 lead. He extended the record to 38 with his game-winner. Rookie pass-rusher Aldon Smith had a fourth-quarter sack of Jackson to give him 14, just one-half sack short of the record set by the Titans’ Jevon Kearse in 1999.
However, two Niners defensive streaks came to an end. Lynch’s TD run for Seattle was the first rushing score allowed by San Francisco this season, and Lynch’s 107-yard rushing day was the first time an opposing back had rushed for 100 or more yards in 37 games.
For the 49ers, Alex Smith again played efficiently, not throwing an interception while completing 14-of-26 passes for 179 yards. The running game also picked up, with Frank Gore (83), rookie Kendall Hunter (73) and even Smith (22) helping the team to 178 yards on the ground.