Seahawks 'inch' their way to Philly
SEATTLE — Jacob Hollister came awfully close to becoming the latest folk hero in Seahawk country.
An inch or two, maybe.
That's how close Hollister was to scoring what would likely have been the game-winning touchdown Sunday night at CenturyLink Field, a victory that would have given Seattle the NFC West Division championship and a No. 3 seed in the NFL playoffs.
But the 6-4, 245-pound tight end from Bend's Mountain View High was stopped just short of the goal line with 12 seconds remaining, and San Francisco pulled out a 26-21 win that catapulted the 49ers to the NFC West title and a No. 1 playoff seed.
"I don't know if we could ask for much more drama," said coach Pete Carroll, whose Seahawks, a No. 5 seed, will travel to Philadelphia to face the Eagles in a 1:40 p.m. PST wild-card round playoff game next Sunday.
Carroll wasn't speaking about only Hollister's near-heroics. The Seahawks (11-5) appeared down and out when the 49ers (13-3) scored a touchdown on a 13-yard run by Raheem Mostert for a 26-14 lead with 5:51 remaining.
The Seahawks showed resilience, moving quickly downfield and scoring on a 14-yard pass from Russell Wilson to DK Metcalf to close to within 26-21 with 3:36 left. They forced a punt and took the ball at their 27 with 2:27 to go, then drove for what the C-Link denizens hoped would be the winning touchdown.
Almost. On second-and-10 from the San Francisco 12 with 51 seconds to play, Wilson targeted Hollister, who was draped by 49ers linebacker Fred Warner — it appeared to be interference — as he tried to catch a pass that fell incomplete. No flag was thrown.
"I'll have to watch it again," said Hollister, who caught four passes for 25 yards. "I know he was holding on to me."
Speaking to a pool reporter, NFL senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron said a review of the play was done at the league's New York headquarters.
"We didn't see enough to stop the game, but we did review it," Riveron said. "We saw nothing that rises to the level of a foul."
On fourth-and-10 with 42 seconds remaining, Wilson found rookie John Ursua for his first catch of the season, a first down at the San Francisco 1. Wilson spiked the ball to stop the clock with 22 seconds left. But as the Seahawks — who had no timeouts left — tried to change personnel for the next play, they were called for delay of game. Carroll took the bullet for that.
"We were in 'no backs' the play before, and we called the personnel and didn't quite get it communicated with the backs," Carroll said. "We were just late getting in there. We just didn't function cleanly.
"We didn't get the substitution done properly and get the play in. We screwed that up. It's me all the way. I have to get it done."
Was the next play call a run for Marshawn Lynch, signed on Monday in light of injuries to running backs Chris Carson, C.J. Prosise and Rashaad Penny?
"You'll never know," Carroll said wryly.
It was suggested by a reporter that, with Lynch being away from the game for a year and a half, it would have been storybook for the former Seahawk great to score the winning touchdown.
"Yes, it would have been," Carroll allowed. "It was pretty storybook as it was."
The game wasn't over.
"It was a hectic moment," Wilson said, "but we had several plays after that."
Seattle still had the ball, second-and-goal at the 6, with 22 seconds remaining. After a pair of incompletions, Wilson threw the fourth-down pass to Hollister that came tantalizing close to a touchdown.
"It was fourth down, so I had to try to get in," said Hollister, who has 37 receptions this season. "I just didn't get it done. I was close."
The Seahawks were that close to their fifth division title in Carroll's 10-year run as coach. It came after an inept first-half performance after which Seattle was fortunate to trail only 13-0 at intermission.
"What we have grown to understand about our team, we're never out," said Carroll, whose team has pulled out 10 of its 11 wins by a touchdown or less this season. "We didn't play well the first half. Couldn't get it going at all. We were fortunate to be down 13-zip.
"Then our guys did what they do. They found their way to get back and get rolling. We put ourselves in position to win. Fantastic effort by the whole team. It was there in front of us. It would have been a perfect way to win a (division) championship. We just came up short by a couple of inches."
San Francisco is getting used to these kind of games, too. The 49ers' four previous contests — wins over New Orleans and the L.A. Rams, losses to Atlanta and Baltimore — were decided by a total of 15 points. Each one came down to the closing seconds.
The 49ers beat the odds in a couple of respects Sunday. The Seahawks entered the game 19-2 in the Carroll era in games played in prime time. And Wilson had been 7-0 against the 49ers at home.
The loss wasn't Wilson's fault. The veteran Seattle QB was sensational after intermission, throwing for 178 of his 233 yards and keeping many plays alive with his nimble feet.
"It was a fun game with two great teams going at it," Wilson said. "It was a showdown everyone wanted to see. We had several different opportunities. We came a half-inch short there at the end. But we've won a lot of those games this season."
The fascinating sub-plot was the presence of Lynch, a legendary figure in Seahawk lore. The crowd roared when he busted up the middle for five yards on his first carry, and roared some more when he bulled over from 1 for a fourth-quarter touchdown.
Getting an opportunity to score the winning TD in the closing seconds wouldn't have made up for the ball not going to Lynch at the end of Super Bowl XLIX, but it would have been fun to see.
Working off of three days of practice, Lynch carried 12 times for 34 yards and a touchdown against the NFL's No. 2-ranked defense.
"He was incredible just to be out there," Carroll said.
"To have 'Beast Mode' back, it was like old times," Wilson said. "He was great."
Not great, but serviceable, especially with Seattle's shortage at running back. In one third-quarter series he had consecutive gains of eight and 15 yards. On his other 10 carries, he picked up a combined 11 yards. To be fair, there wasn't much running room available.
Lynch will likely get more work against the Eagles, who finished the season 9-7 but won the NFC East. Seattle, 7-1 away from home during the regular season, might wind up being the favorite.
"We've played great on the road all year," Hollister said. "We'll be happy to go to Philly. It's playoff time. One game and done if you don't win. We gotta be ready to go. "
"Records don't matter," Carroll said. "It's football. We've been road warriors all year. Our guys will handle it well."
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