Doug Baldwin was caught. Not in the sense of getting tackled, but caught being an observer.
Baldwin couldn’t help himself. When Seattle’s wide receiver saw that Green Bay had lost, he gave a little fist pump knowing what that meant for the Seahawks.
The NFC playoffs could be routed through the Pacific Northwest again.
”We can only control what we can control and so we’re focused on us,” Baldwin said.
The Seahawks knocked their most heated rival out of contention Sunday behind another stingy defensive effort and Marshawn Lynch’s 91 yards rushing and a touchdown in Seattle’s 17-7 win over San Francisco.
Gone are the 49ers from the postseason conversation. Now the question is whether Seattle (10-4) can win its final two games – at Arizona and vs. St. Louis – and potentially land the No. 1 seed in the NFC for the second straight season.
The opportunity at home-field advantage was implausible four weeks ago when the Seahawks were 6-4 and teetering in the NFC playoff picture. After four straight wins and the Packers’ loss at Buffalo on Sunday, the Seahawks have the chance at more than just a postseason berth.
”I don’t care about that stuff right now,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. ”We have two more games to play and we have one more game that’s at hand right now. That’s all we got. The rest of it doesn’t matter.”
After a sluggish, sloppy first half filled with penalties and missed assignments, Seattle awoke in the final 30 minutes behind the running of Lynch and a defense that shut out the 49ers, holding them to 67 yards. Colin Kaepernick was sacked six times and the 49ers didn’t run a play past the Seattle 38 in the second half.
Lynch scored on a 4-yard run late in the third quarter and the Seahawks took advantage of a short field on their next drive, capped by Russell Wilson’s 10-yard touchdown strike to rookie Paul Richardson.
Wilson was 12 of 24 for 168 yards and rushed for another 27 yards.
Losing to Seattle for the fifth time in six meetings, and Detroit’s win over Minnesota, eliminated San Francisco (7-7) from making the postseason. It’s the first time in Jim Harbaugh’s four seasons the 49ers won’t be playing in January, and will only heighten questions about Harbaugh’s future with the club.
”I don’t want to get too far out in front of our headlights,” Harbaugh said. ”We’re going to focus all our energy on this week.”
In a season filled with key injuries, the 49ers lost two more players late in the first half and another in the third quarter. Running back Frank Gore, who scored on a 10-yard run in the second quarter, left with a concussion. Middle linebacker Chris Borland, the NFC defensive rookie of the month in November, hurt his ankle on the final play of the first half. He attempted to return, but was mostly a spectator and replaced by Nick Moody.
Gore’s backup, Carlos Hyde, was bent backward and appeared to injure his right leg late in the third quarter. Kaepernick threw for 141 yards and rushed for another 46, but was constantly under pressure behind an offensive line missing starters Marcus Martin and Anthony Davis.
”We didn’t give up any yards, we just played our way,” Seattle defensive end Michael Bennett said. ”We played team defense and that’s the way you play championship football.”
The absence of Borland was significant. Seattle rushed for 90 yards in the third quarter alone after having just 47 in the first half. Lynch had runs of 13 and 15 yards on his touchdown drive that he capped by strolling the final yard into the end zone.
San Francisco went three-and-out on the next possession, including Hyde’s injury on first down. Seattle took possession at the 49ers 44 and Wilson immediately went for 19 yards on a designed keeper.
The drive was kept alive by a debated third-down roughing-the-passer call against Moody and two plays later, Richardson caught the first TD of his career. Referee Ed Hochuli told a pool reporter after the game he believed Moody hit Wilson with the hairline of his helmet and not the facemask, thus drawing the penalty.
”The crown is the top of the helmet, the hairline is up at the top of the forehead,” he explained. ”That is still a foul when you hit the quarterback with that part of your head.”
”I think it was a bad call,” San Francisco safety Antione Bethea said. ”It’s so up and down with those types of calls,”
NOTES: Seattle did not force a turnover for the first time since Week 7 against St. Louis. … Borland and Seattle LT Russell Okung (chest) were both injured on Eric Reid’s interception return on the final play of the first half. Okung suffered a chest-wall bruise and was taken to a local hospital for further examination and released. … The 49ers had 178 total yards in the first half after having 164 for the entire game in the first meeting.