Poise. Good teams have it. Bad teams don’t. The 2010 49ers did not have it. The 2011 team most surely does.
The 49ers completed a season sweep of the Seahawks Saturday in a game reminiscent of their victory over Detroit earlier in the year. They had to overcome adversity on the road on a short week in a loud stadium, rally down the stretch with a clutch 4th quarter drive, and then close the door with one last defensive stop to seal the win.
That is four 4th quarter come back victories on the road this year by the team and its QB Alex Smith. The last 49er QB to post this gritty stat was Joe Montana in 1989. That 1989 team is considered one of the best squads of all time, maybe THEE best one. Getting into the same exalted space as that club is a major achievement for this current team. And this current QB.
In winning this game, the 49ers put themselves in the driver’s seat for a first round bye in the playoffs. A scenario that did not look likely after the loss to Arizona two weeks ago. But the team has beaten Pittsburgh and Seattle to keep its hold on this seed, with only a season ending win over the Rams standing in their way. These guys are good.
Marshawn Lynch got his arm inside the pylon as he was running for his life to the sidelines, technically qualifying as a Rushing TD and thus ending the season long shutout the Niners had accomplished. He sure didn’t make it the old fashioned way earlier in the game when he had two chances inside the four and was stuffed both times. Larry Grant missed a tackle in the backfield on his TD “run” and it was hard not to mumble, “Patrick Willis would have made that play.”
But Grant redeemed himself on the final Seahawks drive by stripping the ball from Tavaris Jackson, causing a game ending fumble much like the one Justin Smith pulled off in the Eagles game. In all fairness to Grant, he has played great in Willis’ absence. Still, Patrick would have made that play. And Lynch knows it.
Of far greater importance was the 41 yard bomb from Smith to Michael Crabtree on the game winning drive. That was precisely the deep sideline pass that had been eluding these two guys all year. We even saw Vernon Davis making two tippy toe catches at the sidelines on a previous TD drive. As most of you know, tippy toes and Vernon are not usually associated. In fact, Vernon had blissfully thundered OB on a pass in the first half, failing to get those dainty little digits on the grass first. Good old Vernon. Maddening one moment, heroic the next.
Other players deserving of mention: Kendall Hunter, Chris Culliver, Aldon (14 sacks!) Smith — goodness, these guys are all rookies! And let’s hear it for the entire Offensive Line. What a solid, mistake free game. On the road.
There hasn’t been a true 49er rivalry type opponent since the Cowboys in the ’90’s, but the bad blood in the Arizona game and this Seattle game looks like it could produce some terrific black and blue football in the coming seasons. The NFC West is most definitely on the rise. There will be no laughing stock winners of this division for quite some time. Here’s hoping the Niners stay ahead of the curve in seasons to come. For this season, there is no doubt who is Number One. Go Niners!!!!