6. And if Lynch deserves the game ball, then Seahawks ever-underrated wide receiver Doug Baldwin deserves another award, because he was a huge key to this game. Not only was Baldwin excellent on returns, but he also caught six of the seven passes thrown at him for 106 yards, including a big 51-yard pass that made Russell Wilson look like Johnny Manziel with his improv skill. It was a huge gain, as Baldwin did a great job of getting open against the 49ers safeties and hauling in the pass, and Baldwin made everyone forget about Percy Harvin (he should be back in time for the Super Bowl, by the way). I’ve been touting Baldwin as the league’s most underrated receiver all game long, and he averaged a whopping 15.1 yards per target yesterday. The thing is, he’s been brutally efficient all season long, as his regular season yards per target average was 10.7; the Seahawks need to continue to get him involved.
7. I usually like what I see out of the Seattle Seahawks wide receivers, and one of my favorite hook-ups is the Russell Wilson-Jermaine Kearse connection on jump balls. Wilson really trusts Kearse to come down with the ball on those kinds of passes, and he usually does. He had one jump ball on a deep throw broken up out of his hands at the last moment, but he received his big play in the biggest way possible. Kearse’s 35-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter gave the Seahawks a 20-17 lead, and that play proved to be the winner. After going for it on fourth down and succeeding, Carroll’s gutsy call to go for it instead of kick for three was rewarded big-time on the next play. All game long, Wilson did an incredible job of baiting an aggressive 49ers defense offsides, and he baited them again. Whenever a quarterback draws offsides and knows they’ll be able to repeat the down, they’ll wisely be more risky on their throw. Wilson decided to take a shot to the end zone to Kearse, who beat slot corner Carlos Rogers on an excellent “go” route. Kearse did a great job of leaping up and hauling in the pass, which was thrown with exemplary accuracy from Wilson. The quarterback recognized that Kearse won his matchup and had the leverage and height advantage, and it was a flawless throw. I always love watching Wilson throw deep passes, because he is among the most accurate QBs on deep throws; we saw that accuracy on display at times yesterday.
8. It’s always amazing to watch the Seattle Seahawks “Legion of Boom” in coverage, because they don’t really give an inch out there. Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell form one of the best cornerback duos in the league, and they are both long-time roomates. Maxwell is honestly a better player than either Brandon Browner or Walter Thurmmond III, and that’s saying something about both Maxwell’s talent and the depth and talent in the Seahawks secondary. But Maxwell and Sherman weren’t the only guys who played at a high level yesterday, as Chancellor locked down Davis and came away with a pick (it was a gift from Kaepernick, though). Kaepernick probably has the best raw physical tools of any QB in the league, but he’s prone to taking too many risks. Some risks, like the touchdown to Anquan Boldin, paid off, but others like the throws in Sherman’s and Chancellor’s coverage ended up in picks. While Kaep’s pass that was picked off by Malcolm Smith in the end zone can be defended, I don’t think there’s any reason to throw it right in Sherman’s coverage (I thought Sherman did an excellent job of baiting him and then making that extraordinary play on the ball to further showcase his elite talent) at that critical of a juncture in the game.
9. The Seahawks secondary defended six passes, whereas the 49ers defense was credited with just one pass defended, and that just goes to show you just how ball-hawking the Seahawks secondary is. I also credit Wilson for throwing the ball away when there was nothing there instead of digging himself into a worse hole; he reminds me of Matt Hasselbeck in that way, and there’s little doubt that Wilson is mature beyond his years.
10. If you look at the stat sheet, both teams were evenly matched in just about everything: yardage, points, time of possession, penalties, you name it. So the difference in this 23-17 game were big play and turnovers, and there’s a lot of luck that goes into a close football game between two incredibly talented rivals. We were treated to a game that most of us wished never ended, since it was beautiful watching two great coaches, two great young QBs, and two great defenses (I’ll leave out the great RBs part since Gore had such a poor game, but you can replace “RBs” with “running games” thanks to Kaepernick’s 130) jawing and going back-and-forth. If you love football, then you relish games like this. The 49ers knew that they had their work cut out for them in CenturyLink, and Kaepernick played a lot better than he usually does in that stadium. However, the Seahawks were able to capitalize on the mistakes he made and the mistakes the 49ers secondary made to come up with big plays on both sides of the ball, and those big plays were enough to swing the difference in their favor. The Seahawks won this game by pouncing in plays for turnovers and long passes, whereas the 49ers did their best to grind it out and move the ball behind Kaepernick, who really had to do too much. The Seahawks are, in my opinion, the best team in the NFL and definitely deserved to win this game, but this was definitely a very close one. I will defend Kaepernick for his performance, because I don’t believe in short-sighted narratives as a replacement for analysis.