Earl Thomas and the Legion Of Boom certainly gave Seattle plenty to be thankful for on Thanksgiving night.
Led by a defense that has been at its absolute best against a pair of divisional rivals over the last two weeks, the Seahawks dominated what was expected to be a back-and-forth, hotly contested struggle and beat the 49ers 19-3 at Levi’s Stadium in San Francisco on Thursday night.
It was Seattle’s fifth win in their last six games and afterward, Earl pointed out that the defending champion Seahawks (8-4) are hitting on all cylinders at precisely the time they need to be to finish the season the way they want to.
“It showed in action,” he said of the team’s renewed cohesion. “It’s easy to say what you’re going to do in a meeting, but when it’s time to do it, actions speak louder than words. You can tell guys are buying in and guys are playing for each other. That’s so powerful. It’s hard to beat a united team.”
Both Seattle and San Francisco entered the game at 7-4, but the Hawks swiftly and firmly asserted themselves in all phases to win a game that was not quite as close as even the lopsided score indicates.
It also marked the second time in five days that the Seahawks beat an elite divisional foe by the same 19-3 score, as they did the same to the NFC West leading Arizona Cardinals last Sunday.
Just as they had against Arizona, Seattle did it on Thursday led by that defense, which is backed by Earl and the Legion of Boom. The Hawks forced three turnovers in the win and held San Francisco to just 164 total yards of offense on their home field.
Earl finished with six tackles on the day, but it was hard to find a play that he wasn’t involved in. Every time Kaepernick attempted a pass more than a few yards down the field, No. 29 was in the vicinity. After the game, all Earl and the rest of LOB could talk about was Seattle’s exceptional teamwork and remarkable bond.
“I look at this team like my hand,” safety Kam Chancellor said. “When I’m just holding my hand open, it’s just different tendons, different fingers, different parts. But when I ball my hand up, it creates a fist, a tight fist, and it creates a powerful punch. That’s what I look at this team as.”
The Seahawks defense set the tone early with stops on the first two San Francisco drives, the first after just five 49ers plays and the second was a three-and-out. No. 29 shined brightest on Thursday against the 49ers running game, as he came flying in to help form a wall in the trenches time and again.
San Francisco running back Frank Gore picked up 16 yards on the ground with his first three carries, but the defense quickly adjusted and held him to just 12 more yards on seven carries for the rest of the game. Over the course of the evening, the Seahawks held the San Francisco to just 64 rushing yards.
Earl Thomas running that alley fast and physical…
— Louis Riddick (@LRiddickESPN) November 28, 2014
The way Earl Thomas comes down field… goodness
— DeAndre' Blevins (@__blevv) November 28, 2014
Despite the spirited play of the Hawks defense early on, the Seattle offense wasn’t able to capitalize on either of their first two opportunities, so when the Legion of Boom took the field for a third time in the game’s first five minutes they did so knowing they had to make a play.
Three plays into the ensuing drive, Richard Sherman did just that when he intercepted a Colin Kaepernick pass intended for Brandon Lloyd at midfield and returned it to the San Francisco 45. Afterward, Earl praised the play of Sherman, who had two interceptions on the evening.
“Sherm is a great player. He works so hard at his craft,” Earl said. “We’re all just trying to become masters of our crafts, that’s exciting. We get better every week, every game. We push each other in practice, and you love it.”
The momentum gained by the turnover pushed the Seattle offense to perform as well. Quarterback Russell Wilson engineered a seven-play drive that ended with a short pass to Robert Turbin that the reserve running back took 12 yards to the end zone to give the Hawks the lead with 1:29 left in the first quarter.
San Francisco attempted to answer against the Seattle defense, but after picking up just their second first down of the night on the final play of the first quarter, the 49ers were set back by a holding penalty on the first play of the second quarter and then shut down by the Hawks on three straight plays, forcing another punt early in the second.
On the third play of the ensuing drive, the Seahawks offense got their biggest play of the day when Wilson hit tight end Tony Moeaki along the sideline and Moeaki took the catch all the way to the 1-yard-line, a gain of 63 yards. But the 49ers defense stiffened there and halted Seattle three straight times on the goal line, forcing a chip shot field goal from Steven Hauschka to make it 10-0.
San Francisco began its next drive looking to get something going, and a 16-yard run by Carlos Hyde on the first play got them moving in the right direction. However the next three plays were fruitless and the Niners again had to punt.
On the ensuing Hawks possession, back-to-back big plays from Turbin, first on a pass from Wilson and then on a run, moved the ball a total of 50 yards and put Seattle on the doorstep of the red zone. They managed to get to the San Francisco 17, but Turbin was stopped on 3rd and 1 and the Hawks had to settle for another Hauschka field goal to give them a 13-0 lead.
The score would stay there through halftime as the Seahawks defense continued to dominate, allowing the 49ers to run just six plays over two drives in the final 5:40 of the half. On the last play of the half, Kaepernick looked to scramble and make a play to give his team momentum heading into the break, but he was brought to a halt by ET III and it was Seattle that went to the locker room fired up.
Throughout the game, it was clear that Seattle was simply enjoying playing the game more than San Francisco was, and many members of the Hawks have attributed the season’s turnaround a reinvestment in having fun playing the game they love.
After starting 3-3, the defending champion Seahawks have now won five of their last six games and although the results have changed from earlier in the season, Sherman said Thursday night that’s not because they’re operating any differently, it’s simply because they’ve re-committed to giving their all for one another and that’s led to better execution.
“The scheme we have in place has never changed,” he said. “I would say it’s more playing for each other and the effort, because we didn’t do anything special. We didn’t run any exotic blitzes, we didn’t run any crazy coverages.”
Perhaps most impressively, the Seahawks only allowed the 49ers to get to the red zone one time all game, and that came on San Francisco’s first drive of the second half after another Hauschka field goal had put Seattle in front 16-0.
The 49ers took over from their own 19 with nearly seven minutes already drained off the third quarter clock by a methodical opening drive from Wilson and the Seahawks. But Kaepernick set out to engineer a long drive of his own and as he found some space to work in the Seattle defense, it appeared San Francisco’s halftime adjustments might allow him to do just that.
Kaepernick completed three passes over the course of the drive totaling 28 yards and the combination of he, Gore and Hyde combined to pick up 25 yards on the ground during the 12-play drive. Additionally, the Seattle defense was whistled for three penalties on the drive, two of which gave the 49ers new life on third down.
The Niners finally broke into the Hawks red zone on a two-yard run by Hyde on the 11th play of the drive. But on the 12th play of the possession, 3rd-and-8 from the Seattle 19, Kaepernick was sacked for a three-yard loss by Michael Bennett, pushing San Francisco back out of the red zone, where they would stay of the rest of the game. The 49ers settled for a Phil Dawson field goal for their only points of the night.
Seattle took possession up 16-3 with just seconds left in the third quarter and Wilson once again piloted a sustained drive that lasted nearly six minutes and got the Hawks into San Francisco territory once more. The drive stalled at the 28, but Hauschka hit his fourth and final field goal of the night to make it 19-3.
The 49ers got the ball back with 10:11 to go still down just two possessions and looking for one last momentum shift that they hoped might key them to victory. Instead, just seconds after their 10-play drive crossed into Seattle territory, Kaepernick’s pass intended for Stevie Johnson was intercepted by Sherman, the All-Pro cornerback’s second pick of the night.
It was the third and final turnover forced by Seattle over the course of the evening (the other came on special teams) and afterward, Earl commented that the ball-hawking play of the Seahawks was only fitting given the day of the week it was.
“On Thursdays in practice, it’s “Turnover Thursday” so what a hell of a way to top it off on Thanksgiving in front of everybody,” he said. “This was just like a regular Thursday. We got those turnovers.”
Though it was Sherman who picked off Colin Kaepernick twice, ETIII and the rest of the defense locked down the rest of the field, forcing the 49ers to throw at Sherman.
How about Earl Thomas closing on Boldin there!
— Matt Williamson (@WilliamsonNFL) November 28, 2014
You can count on Earl Thomas being around the football.
— Anthony Armstrong (@MrArmstrong13) November 28, 2014
Earl Thomas is in every play… Great safety.
— Kevin White (@Keviie_) November 28, 2014
Richard Sherman is thankful for Earl Thomas
— Rich Homie Von (@UncleVicious79) November 28, 2014
The final turnover gave Seattle possession at their own 32 and Wilson wasted more than five minutes off the clock before the Hawks gave the ball back to the 49ers with 1:54 remaining and no timeouts. With the Hawks in a prevent defense over the final 94 seconds San Francisco ran six plays to tack 31 yards onto their season low total of 164 total yards.
It was also the fewest total yards allowed by the Seattle defense this season, 40 less than their previous low, allowed five days earlier in the win over the Cardinals.
In recent weeks, the Seahawks defense has been bolstered by the returns of Chancellor and linebacker Bobby Wagner, and it appears as if the unit is back to the historic form it displayed last season en route to a Super Bowl victory.
“We finished with style,” Earl said after the game. “We had fun, we’re connected, and that shows you how powerful love is. Friction caused this blossom of love to happen.”
Following the short week, the Seahawks will now have a long one as they get ready to head back out on the road for another crucial conference matchup.
Seattle has nine days to prepare for their Sunday afternoon showdown with the Eagles (9-3) on December 7th in Philadelphia.
The game is slated for a 1:25 p.m. PT kickoff and will be broadcast on Fox.