SEATTLE — In his first season as head coach of the 49ers, Kyle Shanahan put his team within one possession of doing something that hadn’t been done since 2011: Win a game at CenturyLink Field.
It didn’t happen, because the Niners’ worn-down defense couldn’t stop Russell Wilson as he kept the drive alive with his legs, capping a game-clinching drive with a strike to Paul Richardson in the corner of the end zone to give Seattle a 12-9 lead.
The 49ers had a chance to respond, but instead went three-and-out and punted. That was a problem for them throughout the game as their inept offense spoiled a surprisingly effective defensive performance.
The big picture: It was a best-case-scenario loss. They competed against a team that had beaten them by at least 10 points in each of their regular season games in Seattle over the past five seasons. The Niners showed progress and promise. And most importantly, they maintained pole position for the No. 1 pick.
But, this is the NFL, where there are no moral victories.
“I’m not happy at all, I’m extremely disappointed,” Shanahan said. “Anytime you think you put yourself in a position to win the game, you expect to win it. I felt like we had that opportunity and we didn’t, which is extremely disappointing.”
The defense might just be good
For the second-straight week, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh’s group exceeded expectations.
The 49ers’ front seven exploited a bad Seattle offensive line, landing three sacks on quarterback Russell Wilson and limiting the Seahawks to 230 total yards before giving up 80 during the game-winning drive.
Wilson was able to find holes in the fatigued defense that played nearly 80 plays. Seattle possessed the ball for 13 more minutes than the 49ers did.
“We have to help our offense,” said Jimmie Ward, who returned from injury to start. “Next week, we have to come out and do better, turn the ball back over to the offense.”
That’d be a useful strategy, because the offense can use all the help it can get.
But before that fateful march down the field, the Seahawks managed just two field goals, both of which came in the first half.
The defensive line validated its collective high draft stock. Arik Armstead had a sack that he celebrated with a cringeworthy dance that lasted a little too long. And DeForest Buckner logged two run stops and nine total pressures, according to Pro Football Focus.
If the defense actually forced a turnover, the 49ers would’ve likely won. And they had chances to do that as Wilson was uncharacteristically inaccurate and bounced passes off of defensive backs’ hands more than once.
“I had a ball but it hit me in my chest and I could have caught it,” cornerback Rashard Robinson recounted. “I’m pretty sure it was six.”
If he had realized that dream, it would’ve been the Niners’ first touchdown of the season. Which leads me to my next point …
The passing game is not good
Shanahan didn’t hold back when asked if he expected more success out of his aerial attack.
“I think [Brian Hoyer] looked like he struggled out there,” the first-year head coach said. “… Obviously, we did not do a good job in the passing game.”
Hoyer finished the contest 15-for-27 for 99 yards and a 48.2 quarterback rating.
The 49ers were 2-for-12 on converting third downs. They even managed to get worse from last week’s performance (2-for-11).
That led to a frustrated Shanahan postgame with Hoyer mirroring his coach’s mood.
“I’ve got to execute, really when it comes down to it,” he said. “I have to play a whole lot better. I’m disappointed with myself.”
And he should be after throwing an interception to a linebacker falling into coverage for the second week in a row. For a quarterback who was signed to limit mistakes and make the occasional throw downfield, he hasn’t delivered on either through two weeks.
To be fair, he played against two of the best defenses in the league. But when Carlos Hyde is able to rip off 124 yards on the ground, it’s reasonable to expect the team to parlay that success into some passing yards.
A worthwhile co-sign
Michael Wilhoite knows the 49ers. He played for the team during the good years under Jim Harbaugh and he played all 16 games last season.
He started for the Seahawks on Sunday and said he saw a change in his former club after the game.
“I see that it’s turning over there, and I’m really happy for those guys, like I’m very happy because it’s a different atmosphere for those guys and they’re very positive,” he said.
Former players weren’t saying those kinds of things last year.
Contact Examiner Sports Editor Jacob C. Palmer at email@example.com or on Twitter, @jacobc_palmer.