Earl Thomas was running off the sideline to congratulate Bryan Walters for a punt return, then down the sideline in step with bulldozing Marshawn Lynch.
Thomas wasn’t even in the game.
“We’re going out, having fun, trusting each other,” middle linebacker Bobby Wagner said later. “I don’t think we can be beat when we trust each other, believe in each other. It’s a beautiful thing to watch.”
Wagner was knocking out the San Francisco 49ers’ top two running backs. The home crowd roaring over ending a rival’s season, if not its winning era.
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The Seattle Seahawks got back to their Super Bowl-winning foundation after halftime to blow past San Francisco after early troubles. Now the entire NFC is in within their grasp.
Seattle’s 90 yards rushing in the third quarter, including Lynch’s go-ahead score late in the period, and a return to thumping form by Wagner, Thomas and the NFL’s top-rated defense after halftime led the Seahawks to their fourth consecutive victory, 17-7, on Sunday at poppin’ CenturyLink Field.
“I had a great time. I had a great, GREAT time,” Thomas said.
So did Lynch. He finished with 91 yards on 21 carries, once running through six 49ers to gain 8 yards. Russell Wilson survived getting sacked five more times and throwing an interception against a ferocious Niners pass rush to complete 12 of 24 passes for 168 yards and a touchdown. Wilson passed Dan Marino (1983-85) for most regular-season victories by an NFL quarterback in his first three seasons with his 34th victory.
And the Seahawks (10-4) had six sacks of Colin Kaepernick to hold their division rival to just one score — for the second time since Thanksgiving.
“The D-line,” Seattle strong safety Kam Chancellor marveled, “those guys are savages up front.”
One of those savages, Bruce Irvin (from outside linebacker, actually), had one of those sacks of Kaepernick.
“We took care of business and connected, as always” Irvin said. “These past four or five games, I feel like we’ve been better than last year.”
Statistically, they have been. They are allowing 6.8 points per game in the wins over the Arizona Cardinals, 49ers, Philadelphia Eagles and Niners again.
Seattle’s seventh win in eight games sets up what’s essentially an NFC West championship game next Sunday night at Arizona (11-3). The Seahawks beat the Cardinals 19-3 in Seattle last month.
It’s all out there for the Seahawks now. With the Green Bay Packers’ loss at the Buffalo Bills earlier Sunday, Seahawks wins next week at Arizona and in the regular-season finale against the St. Louis Rams on Dec. 28 plus Green Bay (10-4) winning at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and home against the Detroit Lions would give Seattle the top seed to the NFC playoffs.
The Seahawks could also get the top seed by winning their final two games and the Dallas Cowboys (10-4) losing once, regardless of what the Packers do. The Cowboys beat the Philadelphia Eagles (9-5), 38-27, Sunday night.
Not that the Seahawks were thinking about any of that Sunday evening after they knocked the dreaded 49ers (7-7) out of playoff contention.
“Nah, we are just enjoying this win, man,” said Wagner, who had 10 tackles and a sack in his fourth consecutive standout game zooming around the field since a foot injury cost him five games during which Seattle’s season lulled.
“We aren’t looking too far ahead. We’ve got a great team that we’re playing coming up. And we’re going to try to beat them again.
“We think we can beat anybody.”
Their only regret Sunday: Allowing San Francisco a first-half touchdown.
“We’ve got to clean that up,” said cornerback Richard Sherman.
The game — the NFC West race and maybe Jim Harbaugh’s job with the 49ers — changed on the final play of Sunday’s first half. Most will remember that being Wilson’s worst throw in a long time, a forced ball with 10 seconds and no timeouts left in the half from the San Francisco 29 and the Seahawks trailing 7-3. San Francisco safety Eric Reid intercepted Wilson’s way-high pass down the middle to Doug Baldwin against zone coverage and returned it 73 yards as time expired.
“I knew what I was doing,” Wilson said of taking one shot at a touchdown before a would-be field goal. “I just kind of threw it high … misaimed it.”
On Reid’s return of the interception, rugged 49ers rookie Chris Borland injured his left ankle and stayed on the field for many minutes as the rest of the players went to the locker room. Borland didn’t play more than a few snaps after that. He is the replacement for out-for-the-year linebacker Patrick Willis. So that meant the 49ers had to go with third-stringer Nick Moody in the second half.
As Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said, “I don’t know the other guy that came in.”
“We knew that he was out,” Carroll said. “And that just added to the fact that we were going to run the football, anyway.”
The Seahawks had 47 yards rushing in two quarters with Borland in. They had 90 in the third quarter with Borland out, including 47 on the drive to Lynch’s go-ahead touchdown late in the period. They finished with 105 of their 152 yards rushing in the second half, and 21 of Seattle’s 29 plays after halftime were runs.
How valuable, then, is Lynch? The bullish tailback got his 10th rushing touchdown — then only wanted to talk about his benefit dinner for his foundation Sunday night after the game. The only two words he said after the game: “Edgewater Hotel, 6 p.m.”
He has 1,133 yards. He is the only NFL player with 1,000 yards rushing and 10 rushing TDs each season from 2011-14.
The earlier, unsubstantiated speculation Lynch may not return to Seattle in 2015 for the final season of his contract seems like years ago. Could the Seahawks imagine an offense without Lynch?
“I don’t want to,” Baldwin said.
Late in the third quarter 49ers running back Carlos Hyde had his leg bent painfully under him on a tackle by Wagner. Frank Gore was already out with a head injury he got blocking Wagner on a 22-yard run by the more-elusive Kaepernick in the first half.
In came third-string tailback, Alfonso Smith, No. 38. And it didn’t take Chuck Knox for the Seahawks to realize the game was now solely in Kaepernick’s hands. And legs.
“I don’t even know who No. 38 is,” said Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett, who spent all day in San Francisco’s backfield no matter who was running.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Seahawks had a third-and-5 at the Niners 15, leading 10-7. Wilson got hit in the chest by Moody’s facemask just as he threw well incomplete out of the back of the end zone. Referee Ed Hochuli flagged Moody for roughing the passer, though the linebacker could do nothing else but hit Wilson like that; the 49er had launched himself at the Seahawks quarterback while Wilson still had the ball.
Harbaugh was justifiably irate at Hochuli from San Francisco’s sideline over the bad, game-changing call. The Seahawks converted the gift into Richardson’s first NFL touchdown, 10 yards down the middle for Wilson’s 18th touchdown pass this season.
Seattle led 17-7 instead of 13-7, and the NFC West championship next week in the desert was on.
“I felt that he hit the quarterback in the chest with the hairline, and that’s a foul — unless he has his face completely up and would hit it face-on with the face mask,” Hochuli told a pool reporter. “I felt he hit him with the hairline. The face mask, after you hit, the face mask comes up.”
Seattle will take it. And this trip to Arizona for the NFC West title this coming week.
“I'm ridin' for this cause,” Thomas said of this season-altering unity since the Nov. 16 loss at the Kansas City Chiefs left Seattle 6-4.
“You got to have a purpose in life. This is a great purpose.
“I feel so alive right now!"