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Dec 15, 2022, 11:46 PM ET
SEATTLE — The San Francisco 49ers clinched the NFC West with a 21-13 win over the Seattle Seahawks on Thursday night. Rookie Brock Purdy, the Niners’ third starting quarterback this season, led the team to a road win over a division rival four days after beating Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in his first NFL start.
Purdy threw for two touchdowns, while running back Christian McCaffrey rushed for another after the Seahawks lost a fumble. San Francisco’s defense kept quarterback Geno Smith and the Seahawks’ offense out of the end zone until the final minutes of the game.
While the Niners will continue to fight for playoff seeding in the NFC, the Seahawks’ playoff chances drastically declined after the loss. The Seahawks have lost four of their last five games and face the Kansas City Chiefs and New York Jets in the next two weeks.
San Francisco 49ers
For the second time in four years, the 49ers are NFC West division champions.
And now the fun begins.
The Seahawks have long been a thorn in the Niners' side, especially at Lumen Field. But the Niners, led by another stellar performance from McCaffrey, vanquished their most problematic foe with relative ease Thursday night to extend their winning streak to seven games.
At 10-4 and 5-0 in the NFC West division, the Niners can drop no lower than the No. 3 seed in the NFC postseason picture, meaning coach Kyle Shanahan and his staff will have a bit of a balancing act to pull off in the season's final three weeks.
In theory, the Niners could still catch the Philadelphia Eagles for the No. 1 overall spot, but realistically, they're unlikely to jump any higher than the No. 2 spot. As it stands, the 10-3 Minnesota Vikings are a half-game in front of them but with an 8-2 record in the NFC, the Niners hold a potential tiebreaker if they finish with the same record as Minnesota.
Shanahan, no stranger to significant injuries, could opt to manage the workload of some key players over the final three weeks. But he probably won't as long as the No. 2 seed is in play. What's more, Purdy could use as many snaps as possible before embarking on his first playoff journey.
"There's no doubt about it," Shanahan said. "I mean this isn't our final goal by any means. I'm very proud of our team and what we accomplished throughout the year to get to this. Our goal is to get into the tournament and we accomplished that today, but now it's all trying to set that up to be the best situation we can and hopefully get some of our guys back, too, in the process."
For now, the Niners can enjoy a "mini bye" before their Christmas Eve clash with the Washington Commanders and bask in celebrating another division title in Seattle's home stadium.
QB breakdown: Purdy was listed as questionable with a rib and oblique injury this week, but it would have been hard to tell from his performance against the Seahawks. With McCaffrey leading the way, Shanahan schemed up some easy looks for Purdy to tight end George Kittle, and Purdy was again mostly poised and on target.
He finished 17-of-26 for 217 yards with two scores and no interceptions for a passer rating of 117.0. He also became the second rookie quarterback in franchise history to win his first two starts, joining Scott Bull circa 1976.
Promising trend: Kittle has remained as integral to the Niners' offense as always, but that hasn't shown in the pass game as often as years past. He finished with four catches for 93 yards with two scores on Thursday night. With receiver Deebo Samuel nursing a sprained left knee and ankle, the Niners need Kittle to produce more and offer a complement to McCaffrey. Thursday night was a step in the right direction.
Pivotal play: The Niners controlled the game for most of the first half but struggled to extend their lead, seemingly leaving the door open for Seattle to jump in front just before halftime. With the Seahawks moving the ball late in the second quarter, running back Travis Homer caught a short pass and attempted to find room in the open field before he was hit by cornerback Jimmie Ward. Niners linebacker Dre Greenlaw converged soon after, jarring the ball loose. San Francisco cornerback Charvarius Ward recovered it and raced 40 yards to Seattle's 6-yard line, and McCaffrey scored two plays later to make it 14-3 and effectively put the game away.
Next game: vs Commanders (4:05 p.m. ET, Dec. 24)
It was apparent in Week 2, when the Seahawks were held without an offensive point in a 27-7 loss to the 49ers in Santa Clara.
It was even more evident in recent weeks, as the 49ers widened their lead in the NFC West by blowing out one opponent after another while the Seahawks lost three of four, all to teams with worse records than their own.
And on Thursday night at Lumen Field, it was obvious once again how big the gap has suddenly become between the Seahawks and the division rival they used to own not long ago. Facing a third-string quarterback who didn't have his best offensive weapon in Samuel, the Seahawks watched the 49ers clinch the NFC West in their building by controlling the game from start to finish.
The Seahawks are still a team on the rise. They have a strong young core and a boat load of 2023 draft capital, including what's likely to be a top-five pick thanks to the Russell Wilson trade. And they're still in playoff contention, with the same number of wins as the two teams currently occupying the NFC wild-card spots, the New York Giants and Commanders.
But they got another reminder Thursday night of how far they'll have to go to catch up to the 49ers. And while they have a mini bye to lick their wounds, it won't get any easier with a game against the 10-3 Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium on Christmas Eve -- especially with wide receiver Tyler Lockett expected to miss time after breaking a bone in his hand.
QB breakdown: Smith was so-so, which was about all that could be expected of him under extremely tough circumstances. He was already facing the NFL's best defense with a struggling run game, and when the Seahawks fell behind big early on, they were forced into throwing mode against a loaded pass rush. Smith completed 31 of 44 passes for 238 yards and a late touchdown pass to Noah Fant. He also threw a pick-six that was negated by an iffy roughing penalty.
Pivotal play: Late in the second quarter, with the Seahawks trailing 7-3, safety Quandre Diggs was in perfect position to pick off an over-the-middle Purdy throw. But instead of an interception that set up Seattle in good field position, the ball bounced off Diggs' hands, leading to a punt that put the Seahawks at their own 19-yard line. Four plays later, Homer lost a fumble that the 49ers recovered and returned to the 6-yard line, setting up an easy touchdown. Diggs was a Pro Bowl selection in each of the past two seasons, but has not played at that level this year.
Troubling trend: The Seahawks have now allowed at least 150 rushing yards in five straight games, the biggest way in which their defense has regressed to its early-season form after a promising turnaround. The 49ers went for 170 on 34 attempts. And while the Seahawks were doing a decent job -- by their standards, at least -- to keep McCaffrey from running all over them for much of the night, they allowed Jordan Mason to bust free for a 55-yard gain that put the game away. McCaffrey finished with 108 yards on 26 attempts. Seattle was already playing without its best run defender in Al Woods, and lost his replacement, Bryan Mone, to an ACL injury in the first quarter.
Next game: at Chiefs (1 p.m. ET, Dec. 24)