SAN FRANCISCO – Seattle Seahawks cornerback Josh Wilson should have had a long touchdown last week against Tampa Bay.
He got it Sunday against San Francisco instead.
And it essentially sealed the Seahawks’ 34-13 victory over the 49ers at Candlestick Park, snapped their three-game losing streak and changed the tenor of a locker room desperate to savor the fleeting taste of success.
The game, played on a stunningly perfect afternoon in front of a crowd of 67,504, saw two long touchdown receptions by fullback Leonard Weaver, a strong defensive effort that forced two turnovers and solid play from quarterback Seneca Wallace.
But it was the interception and run by Wilson that in 10 seconds transformed this game from what should have been a tightly contested affair to a blowout.
As mesmerizing as Wilson’s second career touchdown was – a 75-yard interception return of an errant J.T. O’Sullivan pass – the way it came about was equally puzzling.
Seattle had taken a 13-0 lead on the strength of two Olindo Mare field goals and a T.J. Duckett 1-yard run. San Francisco cut the lead to 13-3, and had the opportunity to pull to 13-6 at halftime with a field goal.
But instead of allowing Joe Nedney to attempt a 47-yarder on fourth-and-4 from Seattle’s 29 with 44 seconds remaining in the second quarter, Niners coach Mike Singletary decided to go for the first down.
Singletary said he asked offensive coordinator Mike Martz if he wanted to go for it.
“I knew what his answer was going to be,” Singletary said.
But the decision was questionable for two reasons: First, the Niners could have gone into the locker room trailing by only one touchdown despite a number of costly first-half mistakes, allowing them to emerge from the break feeling good about their chances at home.
Second, even if they had gotten the first down, there may not have been enough time remaining to score a touchdown and they may have been forced to try a field goal anyway.
But Singletary, who took over for the fired Mike Nolan last Monday, has no head coaching experience and has not been in that position before. Instead of being conservative, he decided to be aggressive, possibly sending a message to his players about the franchise’s new attitude.
“I think he was trying to change the momentum of the game,” linebacker Julian Peterson said.
It certainly had that effect. But not the way Singletary envisioned.
O’Sullivan attempted to throw a short pass to Arnaz Battle, but Wilson, the nickel back in the Seahawks’ coverage scheme, played off Battle, waited for the ball to be tossed and then broke sharply. He jumped in front of Battle to grab the pass and had a running start on everybody.
“I thought it was going to be a quicker pass than it was,” Wilson said. “And he kind of held it a little longer than I anticipated. And then he just stared (Battle) down a little too long, and I got the read and he threw it to me.”
Surprisingly, as Wilson sprinted down the right sideline, 49ers tight end Vernon Davis, who weighs 250 pounds to Wilson’s 192 and who played collegiately with Wilson at Maryland, tracked him down from behind. He grabbed Wilson at the 2, but Wilson’s momentum carried him into the end zone for a 75-yard interception return.
Wilson’s teammates, never shy about ribbing the second-year player, did not pass on the opportunity in the locker room.
“Oh man, he got caught from behind by somebody who is 100 pounds more than him, and an old college teammate to boot,” Peterson said. “You know he is going to hear about that.”
Wilson defended himself by saying Davis “had a good angle on me,” though Wilson’s smile betrayed his sincerity.
This touchdown came a week after Wilson had scooped up a fumble by Tampa Bay receiver Ike Hilliard and was poised to go 96 yards for a score. But on that play, the officials did not see Hilliard fumble and blew the play dead.
This time, there was no doubt. Wilson scored his first defensive touchdown since Pee Wee football.
The score permanently altered the complexion of the game. San Francisco’s demeanor was clearly deflated while Seattle, seeking something to turn around its season, clung to the hope it presented.
“That is a big deal. A big deal,” Seattle coach Mike Holmgren said. “Those are momentum shifts in a game. We have been in games like that lately, where all of a sudden things are precarious. And then we got that big play, and that really settled things down.”
After the interception, Singletary benched O’Sullivan in favor of Shaun Hill. He sent Davis to the locker room before the end of the game because he thought the tight end was being selfish. And he watched as Weaver, nicknamed the Church Van by his teammates, rumbled for two long touchdowns off short passes to punctuate a badly needed Seahawks win.
All of that overshadowed Holmgren standing on the sideline of a place that is clamoring for his return in some capacity once he retires from the Seahawks at the end of this season.
If this was a job interview for Holmgren, it certainly was a successful one.