SEATTLE - DECEMBER 24: Running back Marshawn Lynch #24 of the Seattle Seahawks celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers at CenturyLink Field on December 24, 2011 in Seattle, Washington. The 49ers defeated the Seahawks 19-17. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Two numbers stood out to me in this one - 14 and 36.
The Seahawks went into yesterday's game as slight one point underdogs against an 11-3 team that had recently dispatched the mighty Steelers 20-3 five days earlier. The fact that Vegas made the spread so small can be one of two things, an indication that San Francisco has yet to arrive and has yet to capture the nation's confidence, or an indication that the Seahawks are no longer looked at as pushovers, that their tough defense and steady offense is finally getting some respect. I like to think it's the latter but I'm probably a little biased.
Regardless, if we're talking about numbers in Seattle's rather heartbreaking 19-17 loss to the 49ers, two numbers shine out like a beacon of hope for Seahawks fans - 14 and 36.
14 is the number of consecutive games this season, also known every single game this season, that the Niners previously held their opponents out of the endzone on the ground, an NFL record and one that likely will never be surpassed. The 14 straight games without giving up a rushing touchdown is truly, truly remarkable and impressive when taken into context of some of the teams San Francisco has faced and this 49er defense is one to be praised and respected.
They've played some of the top rushing teams in the league this season and kept many of the league's elite backs from hitting paydirt. Philadelphia and LeSean McCoy in Week 4 in Philly, -Shady was held to 18 yards rushing on 9 carries. McCoy is now second in the NFL in rushing yards with 1309 and a 4.8 yard per carry average. Baltimore and Ray RIce - though the Ravens won the game, Rice had but 59 yards on 21 carries, a 2.8 ypc. Rice is 5th in the NFL in rushing. Pittsburgh and Rashard Mendenhall - held to 64 yards on 15 carries.
14 straight games without allowing an NFL running back into the endzone. In addition to that, through 14 games, San Francisco hadn't allowed a single running back over 100 yards rushing all season. In fact, they hadn't allowed a running back over 100 last season either. Or even into the 2009 season.
Which brings me to my second number - 36. The Niners previously held a a streak of 36 games without allowing an opposing running back over 100 yards. San Francisco's badass run defense is far and away the most tangible part of their identity and they have been shutting down teams for a long time.
Marshawn Lynch ran for 107 yards and scored a touchdown on the ground on Saturday to snap both streaks.
If we're talking numbers in reference to yesterday's game, 14 and 36 are the ones I'm most excited about.
Also notable in regards to the success Seattle is having on the ground - the number 15 - the amount of players Seattle has on injured reserve. Three-fifths - the fraction of Seahawks starting linemen that were benchwarmers to start the season. Seven out of eight - the number of games Seattle has rushed for over 100 yards in the last couple months. These aren't trivial, obscure statistics, they're meaningful representations of the change in identity we're witnessing with the Seattle Seahawks and yesterday's game in that regard was the proof we all needed to see that this rushing attack is no fluke.
Marshawn Lynch rushed for 107 yards on 21 attempts, an average of 5.1 yards per carry. The Seahawks, as a team, finished for 126 yards on 27 attempts for 4.7 yards per carry. No long, breakaway runs to boost this average. The longest rush was for 18 yards so they got their 126 on steady, consistent, downhill running on a team that was giving up 75.1 yards per game on the ground.
I know I am being fairly overdramatic about all this but after a loss when you're looking for silver linings, the rushing success the Seahawks had is encouraging, especially considering the injuries on the line and at the wide receiver position.
As for the rest of the offense, Golden Tate led the Seahawks in targets (6) and receptions with 3 for 16 yards. Ben Obomanu had two for 20 yards, and Doug Baldwin and Deon Butler each added two catches as well. Ricardo Lockette, recently activated to the 53-man roster and playing in his first NFL game, had a big 44-yard reception on the Seahawks opening drive of the game.
In total, the Seahawks finished with 267 yards of offense, 126 on the ground and 141 through the air (net). Tarvaris Jackson had a rough night, finishing 15 of 28 for 163 yards and one touchdown. He had a very untimely fumble on a scramble with just over a minute left as the Seahawks were driving to put themselves in field goal range, trailing 19-17 at the time. He was sacked three times, losing 22 costly yards.
The Hawks lost the time of possession battle 27:06 to 32:54. They were outrushed 178 to 126. Alex Smith threw for 179 yards. Frank Gore ran for 83 yards and rookie Kendall Hunter had an impressive game with 73 yards on the ground. Michael Crabtree continued to lead the way for the 49ers in receiving, catching five passes for 85 yards.
It was said prior to Saturday that this game might come down to Tarvaris Jackson vs Alex Smith and each quarterback's ability to limit turnovers and manage the game. Smith, though not overly impressive himself, outplayed Jackson in this one and didn't turn the ball over. He extended drives with some key third down completions and scrambles and ultimately got his team a win by a narrow margin. All in all, though ugly, this was a great game and a great indicator of how future matchups in this rivalry are likely to play out.
The Seahawks have owned the NFC West of late, winning the division in five of the last seven years, with the '08 and '09 campaigns yielded to the Cardinals. The 49ers prevailed this season, but this game felt like a Seattle reminder that the Seahawks are not going anywhere. It gives you the feeling that the (re?)-emerging Seahawks-49ers rivalry is going to be smashmouth, chippy, emotional, and tight for the foreseeable future and it's exciting to know now that the NFC West is back in the national conversation.