The San Francisco 49ers had their most productive rushing game in nearly month Sunday when they were eliminated from the playoffs after their 17-7 loss to Seattle.
They pounded out 140 yards on the ground, and did it without their top two runners in Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde for long stretches of the afternoon. They had not eclipsed the 100-yard mark since Nov. 16's win over the New York Giants.
The 49ers also dealt with losing defensive rookie of the year candidate Chris Borland and No. 2 tight end Garrett Celek both to ankle injuries. Outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks also sustained a thumb injury.
After scoring San Francisco's only points of the afternoon on a 10-yard run on a fourth-down play in the second quarter, Gore sustained an apparent concussion when blocking down field on a 22-yard run from Colin Kaepernick. He hit linebacker Bobby Wagner, went to the ground hard and did not return to the game.
“Frank’s a phenomenal player. He’s one of the big leaders on this team," Kaepernick said. "So to lose him, it was a big hit to our offense. But at the same time, it was a bigger hit when we lost Los (Carlos Hyde) as well. Having both of our running backs go down, having Alfonso (Smith) come in and Bruce (Miller) come in, and they’re playing their butts off to help this team, but it’s not a situation we’ve put them in in the past.”
The 49ers offense struggled to get anything going in the passing game, thanks largely to six sacks of Kaepernick, but were running the ball effectively, averaging 4.4 yards per carry. They finished with 141 passing yards on on 11 of 19 completions. On the ground Kaepernick added 46 yards on nine attempts.
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San Francisco started the second half with a 7-3, but then lost the rookie Hyde when he was twisted down awkwardly on a short run on their first drive in the second half.
"(I thought) I tore my knee up. I was alright though," Hyde told reporters. "I’m going to have X-rays in a second to figure out exactly what it is."
Before leaving, Hyde had 55 yards on just six carries against Seattle's third-ranked run defense that held the 49ers to 64 rushing yards two weeks prior on Thanksgiving.
"We were still clicking," said Hyde. "We had a few more good runs, but we had some holding penalties in there. The penalties really killed us. We were already backed up. When you have the holding penalties, it really kills the momentum. I think if we eliminated those holding penalties, we would have been fine."
San Francisco finished the afternoon with eight penalties for 78 yards.
The absence of their two running backs forced special teamer Alfonso Smith into the game, who managed just six yards on four carries. It took a six-yard run late to get him above zero for the day.
And as the 49ers were trying to come back from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter, they turned the ball over downs in Seahawks territory twice. Once, fullback Bruce Miller was stuffed on fourth-and-short just four plays after he managed a first down on a fourth-and-1 play. A drive later, Kaepernick couldn't hit Miller on fourth down after he was flushed to his left.
Borland sustained his ankle injury on the final play of the first half trying to block for safety Eric Reid, who was looking to score a touchdown as time expired after intercepting Russell Wilson. Borland tried to go back into the game in the third quarter, but was unable to play.
The 49ers limited running back Marshawn Lynch to 15 yards on six carries in the first half with Borland in the game. But with Borland out in the second half, Lynch rushed for 76 yards on 15 carries, including the decisive touchdown in the third quarter.
In the fourth, Borland's replacement, second-year player Nick Moody, was flagged for a crucial personal foul after a hit on Wilson following a third-down incompletion. Without the flag, Seattle would have likely settled for a 33-yard field goal, making it a 13-7 game. Instead, rookie wideout Paul Richardson scored from 10-yards out moments later to make it a two-score game.
“I thought it was a clean hit, but that’s what the ref called and that’s what it was,” Moody told CSN Bay Area. “It felt like it was clean to me."
Referee Ed Hochuli told a pool reporter after the game he made the correct call, CSN Bay Area reported.
"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. It’s a foul, and that’s why I called it," Hochuli said.
Predictably, 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh said afterwards, "I didn't agree with the call."
Celek left the game with his ankle injury in the second quarter and did not return, making former practice squad player Asante Cleveland the team's No. 2 tight end. Vernon Davis, who was targeted twice Sunday but didn't make any catches, had already missed two games this season with ankle and back injuries. Backups Vance McDonald (back) and Derek Carrier (foot) were already on injured reserve coming into Sunday's game.
Harbaugh will address the team's injury situation Monday.