SEATTLE — The Seattle Seahawks’ NFC West Division title hopes died at the one-inch line.
A sliver of green turf, a booming goal line hit from San Francisco 49ers linebacker Dre Greenlaw on Seahawks tight end Jacob Hollister — that was the difference between a division title and a road trip during next weekend’s wild-card playoff round.
With Seattle trailing by five points with 2:27 to play, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson needed to navigate his offense 73 yards for a miraculous come-from-behind victory against the division-rival 49ers. Seattle covered 72. On a fourth-and-goal from San Francisco’s 5-yard line with 12 seconds to play, Wilson found Hollister open over the middle. Hollister caught the ball, turned toward the end zone and was thumped by Greenlaw just before the ball broke the plane of the goal line.
A replay review upheld the call, and Seattle suffered a dramatic regular-season ending 26-21 loss to San Francisco on Sunday night at CenturyLink Field.
A win would have given Seattle its 11th division title in franchise history and the NFC’s No. 3 playoff seed. Instead, the Seahawks (11-5) claimed the No. 5 seed and travel to play the NFC East Division champion Philadelphia Eagles at 1:40 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 4.
“We had the opportunity,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “It was there in front of us. … To me, it was a perfect way to win a championship. Unfortunately, it just came up short by a couple of inches. It was an amazing effort.”
Seattle had plenty of opportunities to score in the game’s final seconds.
The Seahawks had eight plays from San Francisco’s 12-yard line or closer. Rarely utilized receiver John Ursua caught an 11-yard pass from Wilson on a fourth-and-10 with 42 seconds remaining to keep Seattle’s title hopes alive. Following a spike to stop the ball, Seattle took a delay of game penalty before Wilson threw three incomplete passes to setup Wilson’s fourth-down, 4-yard game-ending completion to Hollister.
After being shutout in the first half, Seattle’s offense was nearly flawless during the final 30 minutes. The Seahawks scored touchdowns on three of their four second-half possessions, only falling short on their game-ending drive.
“We just couldn’t get going in the first half at all,” Carroll said. “We were fortunate it was 13-0, and then our guys just did what they do and found a way to get back and get rolling. We didn’t dominate the second half, but we certainly put ourselves in position to win a championship.”
Wilson finished 25-of-40 for 233 passing yards and two touchdowns, and rookie running back Travis Homer logged a team-high 62 rushing yards on 10 carries and added 30 receiving yards. Marshawn Lynch, in his much-anticipated debut after signing with Seattle earlier this week following Week 16 season-ending injuries to Chris Carson and CJ Prosise, finished with 34 rushing yards and a touchdown on 12 attempts.
San Francisco, which claimed the NFC’s top seed and a first-round bye with the win, was led by Raheem Mostert’s 57 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Receiver Deebo Samuel recorded 135 total yards and a rushing score.
For as well as Seattle played down the stretch, the Seahawks were fortunate to be trailing just 13-0 at halftime. Seattle’s offense struggled to get anything going, managing just 77 total yards during the first two quarters.
San Francisco kicker Robbie Gould opened the scoring with a 47-yard field goal at 7:35 in the first quarter to give the 49ers a 3-0 lead. The points came after Seattle sacked Garoppolo twice during the drive — one from defensive end Quinton Jefferson and another from cornerback Tre Flowers.
The scoring drive was the first of three consecutive San Francisco drives to end with points.
Samuel helped San Francisco add to its lead late in the first quarter. Samuel highlighted an eight-play, 94-yard touchdown drive with a pair of 30-yard gains. Three plays after working the ball near midfield with a 30-yard reception, Samuel took a reverse around the left side for a 30-yard score that extended the 49ers’ lead to 10-0 with 0:24 to play in the first quarter.
Seattle recorded just three first downs on its first three drives. The 49ers took advantage, moving the ball up and down the field, but twice settled for field goals.
Gould extended San Francisco’s lead to 13-0 with a second field goal — a 30-yarder with 5:44 to go in the second quarter.
The Seahawks’ most promising first-half drive came late in the second quarter. Seattle moved from its own 25 to San Francisco’s 31 before facing a fourth-and-one with 49 seconds left until halftime. Lynch, trying to keep the drive alive, took a handoff over the left side and was stuffed at the line of scrimmage for a turnover on downs.
But Seattle’s offense opened the second half with a critical touchdown drive. Lynch sparked the run game with rushes of 8 and 15 yards, and Wilson threw a fastball to Tyler Lockett in the back of the end zone for a 14-yard TD pass with 5:36 left in the third quarter. The drive covered 62 yards on 11 plays, and Wilson’s TD pass came on a third-and-11, trimming the 49ers’ lead to 13-7.
San Francisco quickly stemmed the momentum. On the 49ers’ first play after the touchdown, Garoppolo found fullback Kyle Juszczyk along the right sideline for a 49-yard pass down to Seattle’s 26. Four plays later, Mostert took a carry over the ride side for 2-yard touchdown run. The score, with a failed two-point conversion, extended San Francisco’s lead to 19-7 with 3:25 remaining in the third quarter.
The Seahawks responded with a 14-play scoring drive that cut San Francisco’s lead to 19-14 with 9:55 to play in the fourth quarter.
Seattle moved methodically from its own 25, using 8 minutes, 30 seconds of clock. A defensive holding penalty on a third-and-one on San Francisco’s 2-yard line gave Seattle a first-and-goal on the 1. Lynch, on the following play, leaped over the line of scrimmage for a touchdown as Skittles rained down into the north end zone.
Just as the 49ers had done a drive previously, they followed a Seattle touchdown with one of their own. And again Mostert was responsible for the San Francisco score. His 13-yard touchdown run with 5:51 to play extended the 49ers’ lead to 26-14 and closed a seven-play, 75-yard drive.
Seattle kept hope alive, moving the ball 60 yards in 2:15 for a third consecutive touchdown drive. The Seahawks started from their own 40 after a kickoff out of bounds and ended the drive with a 14-yard touchdown on a back-shoulder pass from Wilson to D.K. Metcalf. The score cut San Francisco’s lead to 26-21 with 3:35 to play.
Seattle’s defense forced a crucial San Francisco three-and-out, setting up Wilson and the Seahawks with an opportunity to win the game.