The Seahawks did what they had to in Santa Clara on Sunday. They got a victory and avoided sustaining any additional serious injuries in a 24-13 win over the 49ers.
It wasn't particularly pretty. It didn't seem to foreshadow any impending breakout success for Seattle's struggling rushing game despite facing the 31st ranked rush defense in the league. Wide receivers dropped too many passes, which is against their norms.
But if the Seahawks are going to be a playoff team for the sixth consecutive season, a win over the 49ers was a virtual necessity. They got the job done, holding the 49ers without a touchdown until the final snap of the game with every key defensive starter already on the sidelines.
Here are four takeaways from the Seahawks victory over the 49ers:
1. Russell Wilson can't make any mistakes for Seahawks' offense to succeed.
It's an absurd standard for a quarterback to held to, but at this point in time the Seahawks can't afford any mistakes from Wilson.
With no rushing game to speak of, Wilson needs to be borderline perfect every single week.
The interception on the opening play of the game by Wilson was remarkably poor. Seattle had been gifted great starting field position after a kickoff out of bounds by Bradley Pinion. But instead of taking advantage of the situation, Wilson threw the ball to the other team.
Wilson had Luke Willson open in the flat on the back side of the play off play-action and had J.D. McKissic uncovered on the front side of the play after the faked hand off. Instead, Wilson tried to push the ball downfield to Jimmy Graham and put the ball in the one place he couldn't miss. The underthrown ball was picked off by Eric Reid to thwart an early chance to take the lead.
Seattle had a chance to snap a streak of 23 straight games without an opening drive touchdown with the generous field position at hand. Instead, that streak is now at 24 straight games.
Wilson finished the game with 228 yards passing with two touchdowns and an interception. He completed 20 of 34 passes in the game with receivers contributing a few drops as well. He completed 12 of 15 passes for 148 yards and two touchdowns in the second half, which was good enough for a 147.4 passer rating after halftime.
He also added a rushing touchdown in the second quarter, his third of the season.
Like the two turnovers Seattle sustained in the first half last week against Atlanta, Wilson's turnover on the first play was costly. Against a better team than the 49ers, it could have been debilitating.
The Seahawks no longer have the margin of error to sustain such mistakes. It's a ridiculous standard for Wilson to deal with, but it's the reality at hand for the 2017 Seahawks.
2. Bobby Wagner should be a defensive player of the year candidate.
Wagner led the Seahawks with eight tackles and intercepted C.J. Beathard to set up Seattle's first touchdown of the afternoon.
Wagner is playing at an incredibly high level every week. His eight tackles gives him 100 tackles on the year, a mark he's reached in each of his six seasons with the Seahawks.
"I think it's as good as a defensive player could have," head coach Pete Carroll said of Wagner's season for Seattle.
Early in the second quarter, Wagner jumped a throw from Beathard to Trent Taylor. The ball was never secured by Taylor and Wagner wrestled control away to give the Seahawks possession. Two plays later, Wilson walked in for a touchdown to give the Seahawks a 7-0 lead.
"I don’t know how the heck it happened," Carroll said. "It was an extraordinary play. He’s a remarkable athlete."
The Seahawks haven't had any of their star players win defensive player of the year awards. Because of the collective strength of Seattle's defense through the year, they've not received the league's highest individual accolades for their play.
With Richard Sherman, Cliff Avril and possibly Kam Chancellor all out for the season, Wagner may get more recognition for the quality of play he produces on a weekly basis. Wagner is already a three-time Pro Bowl selection and two-time first-team All-Pro. He appears to be well on his way to adding to both of those marks as well.
But the way he's played all season should have him right in the middle of the player of the year debate.
3. Eddie Lacy isn't going to revive the Seahawks rushing attack.
It's still uncertain whether any running back currently on Seattle's active roster can stir up the Seahawks' rushing attack, but it seems pretty clear that Lacy won't be the one to do it.
Lacy rushed for just 46 yards on 17 carries for the Seahawks against the second-worst rush defense in the league. While the return of Luke Joeckel to the offensive line resulted in yet another shuffled group of blockers in front of the running back, Lacy just doesn't appear to pass the eye test at the position.
Lacy appears to be far closer to a T.J. Duckett than a Marshawn Lynch at this point in his career.
However, Carroll was encouraged by Lacy's performance on the ground.
"I thought he ran hard, ran tough. I liked it," Carroll said. "That was the first time we had a chance to feel Eddie throughout a game. You can see he's got a presence about him because he is such a load. Just give us a dimension that we can play off of and we'll go for it and I thought he showed that today."
The Seahawks have felt they mixed running backs too much in the second quarter of the season after Chris Carson was lost to an ankle injury in early October. The constant shuffling of options was thought to have kept any one running back from finding a rhythm and sync with the offensive line.
Injuries to Lacy and Mike Davis the last few weeks have kept Seattle from truly committing to one back for an entire game. Sunday was the closest the Seahawks have come to be able to do so with Lacy getting the bulk of carries and J.D. McKissic serving as the change of pace, receiving back option to complement. It's why Thomas Rawls only played one snap against the 49ers.
"I think you saw the contrast in (Lacy) and J.D. also," Carroll said. "Just such a lightning rod out there for stuff. He's just so quick and explosive that it's a nice mix so that felt like we got something going here with time. We've been waiting and hopefully we can build on that."
While Lacy did have holes open up for a pair of sizable runs, including an 11-yard rush in the early stages of the game. He was far too frequently corralled at, or behind, the line of scrimmage and lost his footing in other situations as well.
Seattle will get Mike Davis back next week after missing Sunday's game due to a groin strain. Rawls is still available too, thought the coaches clearly aren't enamored with what he is bringing to the table right now.
Carson still has a chance to return this season but it's uncertain when that could become a possibility. For now, the running game continues to be an idea more than a reality.
4. No injuries of significant severity sustained is a big deal.
After seemingly losing a star a week to injury over the last month, the Seahawks came out of Sunday's game mostly healthy.
Tight end Luke Willson sustained a concussion that Carroll said after the game he didn't think was particularly severe. Backup linebacker Josh Forrest sprained his foot and Carroll did stay that could be a significant injury.
However, it's not in the same ball park as losing Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor (potentially).
The Seahawks had 13 players listed as questionable, doubtful or out for Sunday's game due to injuries. They were almost certainly have few fewer than that as they head into next week's game against the NFC leading Philadelphia Eagles.
If Willson is able to clear protocol to play next Sunday, the Seahawks could have the healthiest roster they've been able to field in weeks. With five incredibly pivotal games remaining before the playoffs begin, the Seahawks are going to have to find a way to beat teams that are as good, if not better, than they are at this point. It will go a long way for them to have as many players at full strength as possible.
Photo Credit: SANTA CLARA, CA - NOVEMBER 26: C.J. Beathard #3 of the San Francisco 49ers gets sacked by Sheldon Richardson #91, Frank Clark #55 and Branden Jackson #67 of the Seattle Seahawks during their NFL football game at Levi's Stadium on November 26, 2017 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)