Shocker in Seattle! 49ers blow away Seahawks

It may be a bit late as far as the 2006 season is concerned, but the 49ers came of age on a soggy Thursday night in Seattle, and so did their resilient second-year quarterback. Alex Smith, after an awful first half, led an inspiring and improbable comeback as the Niners scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to stun the Seahawks 24-14, sweeping the season series from the NFC West leaders.

It was a thrill-packed display of poise, athletic ability and big plays from Smith that San Francisco followers had long been waiting for from the young quarterback, who entered the game in the midst of a sophomore slump that had contributed heavily to a three-game losing streak that all but mathematically eliminated San Francisco from playoff contention.

With a torrential downpour soaking Qwest Field for hours before the game, and the rain continuing to come down heavily as the contest began, Smith's futility continued as he misfired throughout the first half and into the third quarter. Smith looked downright horrible, and he looked less and less like a quarterback who could lead the 49ers forward as the San Francisco offense went three-and-out on eight of its first nine offensive possessions.

Three-and-outs on eight of the 49ers' first nine possessions!

But then - suddenly, dramatically - everything changed.

And, with a national television audience watching, Smith may have finally turned the corner at the tender age of 22.

"The boy just became a grown man today, baby," running back Frank Gore said of Smith. "There's a lot more to come."

Looking at times like the great ones who were his predecessors in San Francisco, Smith caught fire and worked magic after connecting with Arnaz Battle on a 54-yard bomb on the final play of the third quarter.

Smith then owned the fourth quarter, and so did the 49ers.

"This is the first time where we hung in there, stepped up and then kind of took it," Smith said.

Did they ever.

Trailing 7-3 entering the final period, Smith finished an 11-play, 90-yard touchdown drive with an 8-yard touchdown strike to tight end Vernon Davis. Besides his 54-yarder to Battle to get the 49ers out of the shadow of their own end zone, Smith also squeezed a perfect pass in between defenders to Battle on third-and-10 from the Seattle 22 to keep the drive moving.

That gave the 49ers their first lead of the game, but the kid quarterback was just getting started.

"We knew with the way our defense was playing, we were only one big play away from getting back in it or taking the lead," Smith said.

The San Francisco defense, which played marvelous throughout the game, keeping the 49ers in the contest while the offense went nowhere in the first half, immediately gave San Francisco another opportunity to add to that lead, forcing Seattle to punt for the third consecutive time after a three-and-out.

With Gore picking up steam, Smith then guided the 49ers down the field again until he faced a third-and-6 play from the Seattle 20.

That play will be remembered for a long, long time for those who are keeping track of the maturation of both Smith and the 49ers.

In shotgun formation, Smith had to throw his hands above his head and leap off his feet to snag a high snap from backup center Tony Wragge, who was playing in place of regular Eric Heitmann, who suffered a broken right leg in the first quarter.

The Seahawks blitzed cornerback Kelly Herndon from Smith's right side, and as Herndon raced in untouched, Smith was a sitting duck. Herndon ploughed into Smith's chest before the quarterback could make a move.

But showing strength and athleticism, Smith bounced away from Herndon instead of going down. Smith calmly collected himself and avoided other defenders as he drifted toward the left side, spotting Gore along the sideline. Smith fired a strike that Gore snagged and took into the end zone for a stunning 17-7 advantage with four minutes to play.

"The first half was so sloppy and the balls were so wet, everybody was having a hard time," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "Alex hadn't really experienced that very much before. But he stayed the course, and when things started to roll and go our way, he started to throw some balls, complete them, and really had a nice performance on the night."

Smith capped the stirring comeback two minutes later after a Shawntae Spencer interception gave the ball right back to the 49ers.

With Gore bursting through the beaten Seattle defense on five consecutive carries - including an 18-yarder and a 40-yarder - the 49ers took the ball down to the Seattle 18, where they faced third-and-8.

Smith made an outstanding fake on a straight handoff to Maurice Hicks, then rolled to his left on a naked bootleg, only to find nobody there.

And we mean nobody. By the time the Seattle defense realized Smith had the ball, he was all alone jaunting down the left sideline, holding the ball high and pointing it for emphasis as he strolled into the end zone to make it 24-7 with 1:42 to play.

Just like that, Smith looks a whole lot more like the quarterback the 49ers were hoping for when they selected him with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft.

And just like that, the 49ers had a shocking upset over 9.5-point favorite Seattle on its home field, preventing the Seahawks (8-6) from clinching their third consecutive NFC West championship and giving San Francisco another meaningful game to play next week when the Niners host Arizona on Christmas Eve.

The late surge was a sudden transformation for Smith and the San Francisco offense, which produced just 112 yards in the first half but finished with 390. Smith completed 5 of 12 passes for just 38 yards and had a passer rating of 50.0 in the first half. But he finished the game 14 of 25 for 162 yards and a final rating of 102.4

And Gore? All he did was get stronger and tougher as the game wore on, finishing with 144 yards on 29 carries - his team-record eighth 100-yard game this season - after being limited to just 34 yards on 14 carries in the first half. Gore now leads the NFL in rushing with 1,491 yards, and he's just 79 yards off Garrison Hearst's team record for most rushing yards in a season with two games still to play.

While Smith and Gore took over during the dramatic finish, that's the way the San Francisco defense played the entire game. The 49ers intercepted Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck twice, held reigning NFL MVP Shaun Alexander to a 3.2-yard average on the ground and would have held the Seahawks scoreless over the final three quarters if not for a meaningless Hasselbeck touchdown pass to tight end Jerramy Stevens with nine seconds to play.

San Francisco's special teams also got in the act, with rookie Michael Robinson taking a direct snap on a fake punt and rumbling for a 33-yard gain late in the second half that set up a Joe Nedney field goal that gave the 49ers some points to show for two quarters in which their offense had been totally shut down.

But not shut down for much longer, as it turned out.

"It's an extremely gratifying win for a lot of reasons, and I'm extremely proud of these guys and the way they played," Nolan said. "They stayed with it in a very difficult situation in a stadium that's as noisy as it gets anywhere. We played to our formula, and I'd like to think this is who we are."

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