A highly efficient offense and an opportunistic defense ruined Richard Sherman's homecoming in Seattle.
Throughout the week preparing for the San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll emphasized that his team needed to cash in on this latest opportunity and not overlook their upcoming opponent.
Following a dominant 43-16 dismantling of their NFC West rivals, the Seahawks clearly embraced his challenge.
Playing like much more than a "middle of the road" team as described by former star cornerback Richard Sherman earlier this week, the Seahawks built a 20-point lead in the first half en route to their third straight win.
While Carroll wasn't necessarily pleased about his team's shaky tackling and allowing 49ers quarterback Nick Mullens to throw for 414 yards, he was thrilled to see the Seahawks take command of a game early and not take their feet off the gas pedal.
"That game was a little different than a number of the games we've been playing this year. Totally different in the way it came off and the way we felt it," Carroll said following the game. "A really nice job by the offense again of doing the things we needed to do, being really efficient running the ball in the first half. ... A lot of good stuff happened on that side of the ball and the defense did what it needed to do."
As they've done most of the season, the Seahawks found success early pounding the football with running backs Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny. The duo combined for 66 rushing yards on 14 carries, creating ideal opportunities for quarterback Russell Wilson to exploit Sherman's defensive counterparts through the air.
Only a few days after Sherman threw shade at Wilson for a five-interception outing against the Packers a few years ago, Seattle's franchise quarterback turned in yet another scintillating performance. Despite throwing only 17 passes during the entire game, Wilson torched the 49ers secondary with three touchdowns in his first six attempts, starting with a 4-yard strike to receiver Jaron Brown.
At the conclusion of the play, the Seahawks receivers celebrated in the end zone by imitating Sherman's famous "tip" play from the 2013 NFC Championship Game against the 49ers.
Honoring his long-time teammate with the reenactment, receiver Doug Baldwin said, "I know all you guys think we're robots and that we're not humans and that we don't have emotions, but when you spend so much time with guys and doing what we do, day in and day out, it's hard. You spend those hard days with guys that you love. Sherm is obviously one of those guys that has done so much for this organization that we thought it would be nice to give him a tribute and we had an opportunity to do so."
On Seattle's very next possession, Wilson struck again, this time stepping up in the pocket before unloading a 52-yard bomb to Tyler Lockett. The speedy receiver exploded past former Seahawks linebacker Malcolm Smith in coverage and hauled in the pass to extend the lead to 14-0 early in the second quarter.
"I thought we did a really good job tonight of being explosive in the first half and making a lot of great plays. Guys made some unbelievable plays," Wilson said. "Our receivers were excellent tonight. We didn't throw that much, but we were able to make a lot of huge plays when we did, so that was exciting."
Exiting halftime with a 20-3 lead, the Seahawks added to their lead quickly out of intermission, as Lockett bolted 84 yards on the opening second-half kickoff to the 49ers' 15-yard line. On the ensuing play, Penny took a pitch on a crack toss untouched for a 15-yard score to increase Seattle's lead.
Finishing with 65 yards on only seven carries, Penny said he's seeing the game much slower, adding, "With me practicing harder and making the right reads and doing a little film study with my coaching and the other running backs, I think that's going to make a difference. That's just how it is."
The 49ers were able to make things interesting for a brief spell during the second half, using two touchdown receptions from rookie Dante Pettis to trim the Seahawks lead to 34-16. After limiting Seattle to a field goal on the next drive, Mullens swiftly moved his team down to the opposing 5-yard line looking to further cut into the deficit.
Unfortunately for Mullens, All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner had other plans.
After already recording double-digit tackles and recovering a fumble in the first half, Wagner jumped a route at the goal line and intercepted Mullens. With nobody in front of him, he raced 98 yards for the longest pick six in franchise history.
When revisiting the game-clinching play, Wagner said, "I kind of watched film that when they have two by two, or whatever, if he didn't have anything he might try to throw it to the back. So I was trying to make it look like I didn't see the back and when he threw it to the middle, I just broke on it, caught it, and tried to score and make sure I didn't get caught by the quarterback because I would never hear the end of that for the rest of the year."
Along with finishing the contest with a team-best 12 tackles, Wagner became the first Seahawk to return an interception for a touchdown, force a fumble, recover a fumble, and record a quarterback sack in the same game.
"He just had a phenomenal game. There's not many more things the guy could do..." Carroll gushed. "Just did another marvelous job of taking care of all the leadership stuff that he does too."
Thanks to the impact performances from Wilson and Wagner, the Seahawks moved to 7-5 on the season and catapulted into the fifth spot in the NFC standings. With a huge Monday night game against the Vikings at CenturyLink coming next week, they'll have a shot to further improve their playoff odds after handling their business against the 49ers.