This was a game the 49ers absolutely, positively, no-doubt-about it, had to win.
With a Thanksgiving night showdown with Seattle looming this week, 6-4 San Francisco had to beat a 3-7 Washington team that came in struggling on both offense and defense. The 49ers couldn't stumble in a so-called trap game and let their wild-card playoff hopes slip away.
The 49ers did what they needed, however, getting the victory by a 17-13 score. But it wasn’t as easy as it should have been.
Late in the fourth quarter, the Niners – who hadn’t scored an offensive touchdown in the fourth quarter of a game this season -- trailed 13-10 and found themselves with a fourth-and-1 from their own 34 with 5:28 remaining.
But reliable Frank Gore pounded for 3 yards and a first down, Colin Kaepernick connected with Anquan Boldin for 29 yards on the next play – plus picked up another 15 yards on unnecessary roughness – and the 49ers punched in a go-ahead touchdown on Carlos Hyde’s 4-yard burst three plays later for the 17-13 lead.
The 49ers defense then held – sealed by a Justin Smith sack and forced fumble with 52 seconds remaining -- and San Francisco improved to 7-4. The team’s third straight victory allows the 49ers to keep pace with the Seahawks. Both will have the same record when they meet Thursday night, after Seattle’s 19-3 victory over the NFC West-leading Cardinals in Seattle. Arizona has a two-game lead with five remaining.
Sunday’s game at Levi’s Stadium started in a promising way for the Niners, who took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter on a quick, five-play drive that ended with Kaepernick connecting with Boldin for a 30-yard score. Boldin had a huge day, finishing with nine catches for 137 yards.
But other than a 41-yard field goal by Phil Dawson just before halftime, the 49ers offense wasn’t able to score again until the late fourth-quarter TD by Hyde.
Kaepernick at times wasn’t sharp – he was 20-of-29 for 256 yards and one TD and one interception – and San Francisco coughed up two fumbles. Plus, the 49ers’ field position was horrible all day. Through three quarters, the 49ers were forced to start drives five times from their own 10-yard line or worse.
But San Francisco’s defense again was tough. The Niners sacked Robert Griffin III five times – including two by Aldon Smith, his first of the year – and held Washington to just 213 total yards.