SEATTLE - - The 49ers finally solved the riddle of Seattle’s home stadium.
And they did it in the most dramatic fashion possible.
The 49ers built momentum with a suffocating defense and their offense and defense came up big when the Seattle Seahawks got back into the game in the second half.
The 49ers broke an eight-game losing streak in Seattle on Sunday night with a wild 26-21 victory over the Seahawks to clinch San Francisco the NFC West title for the 20th time in franchise history and for the first time since 2012.
More important, the 49ers earn homefield advantage in the NFC playoffs and will have a bye week before opening the playoffs at Levi’s Stadium on Jan. 11 or 12.
Dre Greenlaw and Fred Warner made a stop at the goal line on Jacob Hollister on a fourth-down play to keep the Seahawks just inches from the winning points to clinch the dramatic victory.
Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and the team’s running game had an answer for everything Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch threw at them. Raheem Mostert scored two second-half rushing touchdowns on drives after the Seahawks marched down the field to get within one score on two separate occasions.
Garoppolo completed 18 of 22 passes for 285 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions in one of his finest clutch performance since coming to the organization in the middle of the 2017 season. Deebo Samuel had five receptions for 102 yards.
Quieting the crowd
The 49ers did not let the Seahawks’ revved-up crowd to get into it in the first half due to a strong start.
San Francisco deferred after winning the coin toss, and Robert Saleh’s defense set the tone early with pressure on Russell Wilson to force a punt.
The 49ers’ defense was flying around from the beginning with safeties Jimmie Ward and Marcell Harris making big hits. And the pass rush had extra juice, as Wilson was not allowed much time to get the ball down the field.
The Seahawks did not move the ball into 49ers’ territory until three minutes were remaining in the first half.
The 49ers further silenced the crowd in the second quarter, when Seattle went for it on fourth-and-inches from the San Francisco 31. Defensive Nick Bosa destroyed tight end Tyrone Swoopes, and the 49ers’ line got great push to stop Marshawn Lynch for no gain to end Seattle’s only first-half scoring chance.
The Seahawks made a run in the third quarter to cut the 49ers’ lead to 13-7, but the 49ers immediately came back with a 75-yard touchdown drive. Mostert scored on a 2-yard touchdown to regain momentum.
After Seattle cut the lead to 19-14, the 49ers again responded with a seven-play, 75-yard drive. Mostert scored on a 13-yard run.
Of course, Kittle makes a difference
Seattle coach Pete Carroll last week declared George Kittle as the 49ers’ best player. He wasn’t lying.
Kittle did not play when the 49ers met the Seahawks in November. Carroll said his team could not defend the 49ers the same way it did on that Monday night at Levi’s Stadium. Kittle did not wait long to flex in the rematch.
In the first half, Jimmy Garoppolo targeted Kittle five times. Those five passes resulted in five completions for 74 yards. Kittle went over the 1,000-yard mark for the season. Not only is he the only tight end in franchise history with a 1,000-yard receiving season, he has now down it in back-to-back seasons.
Last season, Kittle set the NFL record for receiving yards from a tight end with 1,377 yards.
Kittle had receptions on each of the 49ers’ scoring drives in the first half.
Kittle had a 7-yard reception on third down on the first drive of the game to get the 49ers in position for Robbie Gould’s 47-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead. Kittle had a 15-yard reception two plays before Deebo Samuel’s 30-yard touchdown run. Kittle had 15- and 26-yard catches to set up another Gould field goal.
Conquering their demons
Left tackle Joe Staley was the only 49ers players who previously experienced a victory in Seattle.
The 49ers went into one of the toughest environments in football, and handed the Seahawks their fourth home loss of the season. The 49ers’ 7-1 road record was the franchise’s best season away from home since also winning seven games in 1992.
The 49ers had gone 11 consecutive games, dating back to the 2008 season, without scoring 20 or more points in Seattle.
The 49ers’ victory ensures that the club will not play another road game this season. The 49ers will open the playoffs in two weeks. They are ensured to play again at home the following week for the NFC Championship game, if they get past their divisional opponent.
The 49ers have not had a bye since Week 4, so the break comes at a great time. The 49ers hopeful to get defensive end Dee Ford (hamstring) and strong safety Jaquiski Tartt (ribs) back in action when they open the playoffs.