49ers

Why Marshawn Lynch was 'hesitant' on Seahawks' delay penalty vs. 49ers

Why Marshawn Lynch was 'hesitant' on Seahawks' delay penalty vs. 49ers

The 49ers celebrated a victory that meant so much Sunday night in Seattle.

San Francisco did enough over the course of the game to escape with a 26-21 victory over the Seattle Seahawks to clinch the NFC West title and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

The 49ers also avoided the one key mistake to lose the game. That blunder, instead, belonged to the Seahawks.

Actually, it was more than just one mistake. But the delay-of-game penalty when Seattle had a first-and-goal situation at the 49ers’ 1-yard line in the closing seconds was the major late-game meltdown.

NBC Sports analyst Cris Collinsworth called it just minutes later on the broadcast, “One of the biggest mistakes of the entire season.”

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, his staff and team absolutely, inexplicably blew it. A day later, Carroll tried to explain what happened.

The problem occurred when the Seahawks tried to substitute running back Marshawn Lynch into the game to take over at the goal line. Rookie running back Travis Homer had been the team’s back in their two-minute offense.

However, Lynch was shown a couple of times on the final drive on the sideline wearing a beanie. His helmet was not in his hands. He clearly was not expecting to enter the game at a moment’s notice just days after signing after a 14-month football layoff.

“Was Marshawn delayed a little bit? He was hesitant, but I didn’t see Homer at the time, but Marshawn was going on, he was supposed to go, and we just needed to get it done,” Carroll said Monday morning during an appearance of Seattle radio station KIRO-FM (H/T Seattle Times).

Seattle took over down by five points with 2:27 remaining in the fourth quarter. They had two timeouts. They used both of their timeouts when the clock was stopped.

The Seahawks called their timeout with the play clock running down with 46 seconds remaining. Then, they called another timeout four seconds later before their fourth-and-10 play from the 49ers’ 12.

After gaining a first down, the Seahawks let 15 seconds tick off the clock before getting everybody lined up in order to spike the ball with 22 seconds left. Seattle opted to kill the clock instead of calling for quarterback Russell Wilson to try to sneak it into the end zone on first down.

Then, things got really crazy.

As soon as the spike occurred, the 40-second play clock began.

Lynch was told to enter the game. But he did not appear to be immediately ready to leave the sideline and enter the huddle. With 21 seconds remaining on the play clock, the crowd and Collinsworth react -- "Here comes Lynch" -- when Lynch starts to jog out onto the field.

There was obvious confusion as Seattle offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer tried to get different personnel into the game. Wilson looked toward the sideline as he awaited the substitutions to match the play call.

Carroll said the spike on first down to stop the clock apparently gave his team a false sense of security.

“And sometimes what happens when you spike the ball and kill the clock, guys kind of sense like it’s a timeout and it’s not,” Carroll said Monday. “It’s just a regular sequence, so there was just a little bit of hesitation.

“By the time (Lynch) got out there, they called the play, we were late, and that’s it.”

In fact, at the time the play clock expired and referee Tony Corrente announced the delay penalty, the Seahawks’ offense was still in the huddle.

The infraction moved the ball back to the 5-yard line. Lynch left the game before he even got into the game. He returned to the Seattle sideline.

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Wilson threw incomplete passes on second and third downs, including a play the Seahawks believed should have been pass interference on 49ers linebacker Fred Warner. Wilson completed his fourth-down pass to Jacob Hollister near the goal line.

But 49ers linebacker Dre Greenlaw made the Seahawks pay for their earlier mistakes when he tackled Hollister just short of the end zone to seal the 49ers’ victory.

Why 49ers tight end George Kittle deserves to get paid like top receiver

Why 49ers tight end George Kittle deserves to get paid like top receiver

George Kittle has been the best 49ers receiver the last two seasons and it’s not even close. He has 2,430 yards in that span, a sum better than everyone on the planet except Michael Thomas, Julio Jones, DeAndre Hopkins, Mike Evans and Travis Kelce.

The first four make an average of $16.2 million or more per season.

Kelce makes just over half that on an extension signed in 2016. It’s not because he’s less valuable or those stats are a fluke. He was limited by the position he plays.

Tight ends make far less than their receiving brethren despite playing a versatile and vital position in the modern NFL.

Kittle will fight the same stigma trying as he tries to work out a seemingly inevitable contract extension with the 49ers this offseason. He does everything asked of a receiver and more, yet somehow his work is worth less.

The Iowa product surely will shatter the record $54 million in total dollars given to Rob Gronkowski way back when, and the average $10.5 million per year Austin Hooper got from the Cleveland Browns on a four-year deal this offseason.

Kittle should sign a record-setting deal in every metric even if the market’s depressed a bit due to possible adjustments made over the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that might lead to flat salary cap or smaller-than-usual increase. Any discussion of difficulties maximizing his earning power ignore the greater point.

Kittle shouldn’t be boxed in by the position he plays. Elite is elite no matter where you are in the formation, be it in-line or out wide. Kittle isn’t just one of the NFL’s best tight ends, for all that job entails. He’s one of the NFL’s best receivers regardless of position.

His yardage total the last two years bears that out. His 3.12 yards per route run was the NFL’s best in 2019. His 2.82 Y/RR in 2018 was second only to Jones.

His 7.3 yards after the catch per reception also led all receivers and tight ends. His 9.9 YAC/reception in 2018 was the NFL’s best among those positions by nearly four yards, per Pro Football Focus.

All that proves he shouldn’t just set the market for tight ends. He should get paid comparable to those who produce like him in the passing game. Evans is in that production range, and the Tampa Bay wideout is working under a five-year, $82 million contract extension signed in 2018 with $55 million in guarantees and $38.2 million fully guaranteed.

It’s hard to fathom Kittle getting that sum, even during a normal offseason, due to the “T” and “E” next to his name on a lineup card.

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Jimmy Graham tried to break through the tight-end ceiling back in 2014, after he recorded 1,215 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns for New Orleans the previous season. The Saints placed a franchise tag on him at the tight end rate, which was roughly $5 million lower that the receiver amount.

Graham didn’t like that one bit. He eventually filed a grievance demanding to be viewed as a receiver. He lost. Then he appealed the arbiter’s decision, but agreed to a four-year, $42 million deal with New Orleans before that case was heard.

Graham was almost exclusively a receiving tight end trying to be re-categorized. Kittle’s an elite receiver and a tenacious run blocker, something clear during the NFC playoffs when he helped the 49ers dominate on the ground. PFF graded him as an elite run blocker ranked fifth in that category last year over 472 snaps working in the run game.

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The 49ers understand Kittle’s value well and seem ready to pay him. General manager John Lynch has expressed that point earlier this month on the 49ers Insider Podcast.

“George is certainly a priority,” Lynch told NBC Sports Bay Area in early May. “I don’t anticipate -- you never say never -- but George is going to be Niner. We think too highly of him. I think he loves the (environment).

“We got to find the right deal and we’ll continue working towards that. We’re not going to put any timetable on that. But George is certainly is a priority for us. We love everything about him. We love everything he brings to the Niners.”

Finding a proper deal, given everything he does and the market surrounding the position he plays, isn’t straight forward.

“Those are some of the challenges, I think,” Lynch said. “We understand that. And he understands that.

“These things aren’t easy. Oftentimes, they’re complex, but they’re doable. I know there’s motivation on both sides. And so I’m very confident in due time, we’ll get that done.”

49ers could benefit from Seahawks' lack of offensive line continuity

49ers could benefit from Seahawks' lack of offensive line continuity

As we learned in 2019, as good as the 49ers are the margin for error in the NFC West is razor thin.

Despite having the more talented roster, the 49ers were pushed to the limit by Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks, needing a Dre Greenlaw tackle on the 1-yard line in Week 17 to secure the division crown and No. 1 seed in the NFC. The two rivals should  be close again in 2020, but the Seahawks will be starting the season at a disadvantage due to the lack of offseason OTAs and perhaps a shortened training camp.

While some position groups can make do with Zoom meetings and individual workouts, the offensive line is a group that needs to work together to establish cohesion. The Seahawks underwent massive turnover on the offensive line in the offseason. Seattle cut center Justin Britt and guard D.J. Fluker while tackles Germain Ifedi and George Fant left in free agency. That's 60 percent of their starting offensive line and a key reserve that now are gone.

The lack of in-person time to work on chemistry due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic worries tackle Duane Brown.

“A major factor is just chemistry. And continuity,” Brown said during a videoconference with reporters, via Gregg Bell of the Tacoma News Tribune. “And we just lost a big chunk of our starting pieces this offseason. So we’ve got some new faces, some guys who have been in the system, some guys that haven’t been there. Just have to learn each other, learning the the terminology, communication, just learning how we do things here. All of that stuff is important.

“We’re doing what we can now virtually, by texts, calls, just to try to build as much chemistry as possible until we’re able to meet and physically get on the field. Once that happens we have a small window to build each other up as much as possible until the season starts.”

The Seahawks needed to upgrade or change their offensive line in free agency. Seattle had the 27th ranked offensive line last, per Pro Football Focus. Their pressure rate allowed in 2.5 seconds or less was 26.7 percent, which ranked last in the NFL.

Seattle brought in four free agents, including center B.J. Finney and tackle Brandon Shell. The unit very well could be better than last year's disaster but it will take time for them to come together.

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With the 49ers returning the majority of a loaded roster, some early stumbles by the Seahawks due to offensive line play could be all San Francisco needs to wrap up the division before their Week 17 showdown at Levi's Stadium.

In the battle for the NFC West title, any little advantage over Wilson and Pete Carroll helps, especially given Seattle's easy December schedule. Lack of offensive line continuity early on in the Pacific Northwest could be a gift to the 49ers.