Article Title: Storm Clouds and then Rainbows.
The first images of what happened at Qwest Field in Seattle, Washington during the first quarter were all too real, as flashbacks of the 2007 NFL season suddenly registered in almost every 49er faithful fan’s collective mind. The 12th man for the Seattle Seahawks was a ferocious obstacle to overcome as the noise was as loud as any freight train I’ve ever heard as it rolled over our shaky defense for a 14-3 lead by first quarter end.
The Seattle Seahawks under the ideology of Mike Holmgren were also without six of their own starting wide receiving corps. It was thought that they would come out trying to establish a running game as it catered to a more direct strength that was at their disposal; however the surprise was on us as Seattle Seahawk Matt Hasselback took to the air despite the apparent setbacks.
What I remember most is the deafening noise at Qwest Field. So intense that it was as if the Seattle Seahawks were in the midst of their own divisional playoff game in Week Two of the 2008 NFL season. Despite the devastating injuries to their offense the Seahawks had plenty of razor sharp talons to cut open this game in clear opportunistic fashion.
Above all else as the noise intensified so were the hardships for the San Francisco 49er offense out on the field. Penalties kill drives as the saying goes for so many sports venues and the same was evident in illegal formations to defensive off-sides as just a dose of what set us up for failure. A heroic attempt by 49er linebacker Manny Lawson to block a punt at the Seattle 39-yard line ended up being picked up and run for a first down into 49er territory.
Bizarre was the correct terminology for that one as I sat with jaw dropped to the floor as brightness turned to darkness as I watched the Seahawks march down the field to where Seahawk running back Julius Jones answered with a 27-yard run for a touchdown. The Seattle Seahawks 12th man helped register two false start penalties on 49er right tackle Jonas Jennings that left me with yet again the ugliest of thoughts for our beloved veteran malcontent of a tackle.
Justice would be served on former 49er linebacker Julian Peterson now a high-paid premier pass rusher for the Seattle Seahawks that had 49er quarterback J.T. O’Sullivan lined up more than just a few times in his cross hairs. After a sack officials through a flag on Peterson for taunting as his trademark arm signals that point to him as a focal point backfired on him. Nothing could’ve been sweeter for a man full of greed and a self-glorifying hypocrite.
Still no pain killer in a bottle could have prevented the migraine we observed at the 49er 23-yard line as Frank Gore fumbled the ball causing the Seattle Seahawks to go up 14-0. J.T. O’Sullivan would fumble the ball himself on the next drive but recovered and eventually was able to maneuver the offense in for a field goal. More of the fumbling follies would continue within the second quarter as well with 49er cornerback Nate Clements making good on almost being beat by knocking the ball out of a Seahawk’s hands to create a fumble that was recovered by 49er safety Michael Lewis.
What I cannot condone is how unimaginable our offensive line was in again protecting J.T. O’Sullivan from harm. He was under intense pressure almost from the get go as the Seattle Seahawk defensive line poured through our porous line like a Mid-Western Flood of the Mississippi River that literally had the sea birds clawing our quarterback’s eyes out with eight total sacks for a loss of 49 total yards.
Yet he made powerful plays while under this intensive barrage of Seahawk humanity to the amazement of so many and displayed innovative trickery for making a successful play out of something that appeared so desperate and dying most of the time.
J.T. O’Sullivan has real intestinal fortitude in countless examples of his willingness to take one or two on the chin, get obliterated while standing strong inside the pocket or running for his very life while being hotly pursued by a pack of hungry dogs eager to savor on his desperate state of humanity. He doesn’t quit and he never folds. This is an underdog quarterback that is determined to make a statement on his behalf to his team and to the league itself.
I know without a doubt that this is and was the best man for the starting quarterback position. For someone to come literally out of nowhere with no mini-camps, no organized team activities and selected limited training camp repetitions to suddenly elevate oneself above two other competing teammates and become “the man at the helm,” is truly a testament of courage and faith in oneself.
The best play of the first half for us was the drive from our 20-yard line with 2:49 left to play and J.T. O’Sullivan connected with guess who? Isaac Bruce for a 63-yard bomb reminiscent of a Marc Bulger throw and completion that set up the 49ers which then had an interception turned around in our favor for pass interference which found Bryant Johnson in the end zone for a 49er touchdown for 17-13 score favoring the Seahawks.
Here we have a well-defined duo on Isaac Bruce and Bryant Johnson as a legitimate one-two punch at the receiving position. Isaac Bruce had four receptions for 153 total yards for a 38.3 average yards per reception. Johnson followed with six receptions for 78 total yards and a well caught touchdown. Mix in Arnaz Battle and some Frank Gore and we had a passing offense that can compete with any of those that exist within this league.
The Mike Martz system of offense has reinvigorated an offense that was in the morgue under then offensive coordinator Jim Hostler a first time novice that Mike Nolan has regretted promoting and forever will the rest of his football career. Players have faith again. They have a trust relationship with Martz that they can be successful because Mike will put them in positions to become successful no matter what the situation may look like.
Again Mike Martz knows who the offense revolves around and that starts and ends with Frank Gore who had another fine game despite the numbers as he carried the ball 19 times for 61 total yards with a 3.2 yard average but is credited with a touchdown in the third quarter. Frank creates a passing game because his running game is respected by the opposition for what it truly is formidable.
No 49er could honestly believe that we could win this game despite the open wounds that the Seattle Seahawks had on offense. Whatever they had were dressed for Halloween because their offense had success because of their relentless defense that provided them time on the field. Saving the best for last the second half saw the tide turn with a rebirth of our own defense that began a campaign of retribution with a tipped pass off Matt Hasselback that landed in 49er second-year linebacker Patrick Willis’s hands.
Willis from the 49er 25-yard line returned this ball 86 total yards for a touchdown that had all 49er fans spilling their beer as they celebrated a release of utter frustration with Willis delivering a wake-up call that the defense was in it to play for real. On the next Matt Hasselback offensive series another pass was deflected, this one by Ray McDonald that was caught by a diving Walt Harris that helped set-up a Frank Gore touchdown to make it 27-20 49ers.
It was the best defensive highlights I have seen in a long time, making up for the inability all during the game to register a sack on Matt Hasselback as he was sacked but only once during the entire game as the Seattle offensive line played meticulously close and with utter execution. There was many times where Hasselback felt some pressure to get rid of the football quickly as Mike Nolan indicated at his post-game news conference when questioned by beat writers.
49er strong safety Michael Lewis came away with the only lone sack in the game. In comparison when your quarterback is sacked eight times and still wins the game, you kind of figure “what went so wrong?” Certainly the comments made publicly by offensive coordinator Mike Martz indicates that J.T. O’Sullivan maybe the best quarterback he has coached manifest a belief that we may have someone truly special within the making on our football team.
Looking at the defense versus the run, one can say we failed miserably at containing Seattle Seahawk running back Julius Jones who had 26 carries for 127 total yards with a 4.9-yard average per carry and a long burst of 27 total yards along with a touchdown. Again a lot of this was due in fact to the Seattle Seahawk offensive line dominating at the point of attack along the line of scrimmage.
Our pass defense was exceptional when you take out the formula of base sacks not really being a factor in limiting Matt Hasselback to 189 total yards and completing just 18-of-36 passes with zero touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 42.5. That is a significant accomplishment. As stated sacks don’t necessarily mean that there is no real pressure because there was throughout the game at times, especially as indicated in the second half. Mike Nolan could be seen on the sidelines scrambling around with a dry erase board in an effort to get his defense to hold against the Seattle offense.
The majority of time he applied the nickel and dime defense with five defensive backs that severely limited Matt Hasselback’s ability to keep the passing game in high gear and to further confuse and disorientate the fresh younger wide receivers he was attempting to connect with on the fly so to speak. This in fact could’ve been the reason why Julius Jones had a bit more production with the air being locked down for most of the time by the 49er defense.
At the beginning of the fourth quarter the Seattle Seahawk offense answered back after Frank Gore’s touchdown with one of their won following a 74-yard drive that featured T.J. Duckett crashing in from the one-yard line to make it 27-27. Both clubs would add field goals that would make the score 30-30 with just a mere three seconds to go, Joe Nedney missed a 41-yard attempt that went wide right that had Qwest Field erupting like Mount St. Helens.
Winning the toss in overtime gave Joe Nedney a little bit of a breather as he did some soul searching of his own out along the sidelines hoping he would have at least one more shot at seeking retribution for himself. J.T. O’Sullivan weathered and beaten after eight sacks and much contact outside the normal lines of scrimmage manufactured a 57-yard drive from the 49er 20-yard line that found Joe Nedney again with a 40-yard attempt that he belted through the uprights for the long anticipated victory.
In an instant the multitudes of Seattle Seahawk faithful were left with a surprise look on their collective faces. It was the most deafening sound that was a welcomed presence to the San Francisco 49er congregation along the sidelines as if all our collective prayers had just been answered from above. Legitimate respect was bestowed upon us as the Seattle fan fare and their players recognized the war that had just been fought and the final score was read.
Certainly one can see this game as a defining moment for the San Francisco 49ers on their 2008 NFL season. A road victory in front of one of the most hostile crowds against long time division champions is a major reason to celebrate. In the beginning it felt as if the darkest storm cloud had just opened up and pummeled us with all its being, but then as time progressed the cloud dissipated and rainbows began to form as if the Joe Nedney 40-yard kick had just reached the pot of gold.
My hat goes off to the coaching staff for making the adjustments needed to keep us in the game and to our opportunistic defense and even special teams plays that kept us off the oxygen machine so to speak. The road ahead is filled with land mines. We have a tough schedule ahead with New Orleans and New England lying in wait. Detroit although wounded like the Seattle Seahawks cannot be discounted in our collective minds as being a push over. Having respect for those players helps us anticipate success again.
Sources of Information: Mercury News.com, SF Gate.com, Inside Bay Area.com, NFL.com and my own personal analysis and opinion.