49ers miss chance to separate in jumbled NFC playoff race
SEATTLE (AP) — Jimmy Garoppolo believed the play was there. There likely was going to be an open target with all the attention focused on George Kittle.
But the pass never got to its intended target, deflected at the line of scrimmage by Carlos Dunlap. When Garoppolo’s throw hit the turf, gone was San Francisco’s three-game win streak and a chance for the 49ers to separate themselves in the messy NFC playoff picture.
San Francisco walked out of Seattle with a 30-23 loss Sunday after its offense was shut out in the second half, stopped at the Seattle 3 in the final seconds.
The 49ers took possession 98 yards from the end zone with 4:03 remaining after Gerald Everett fumbled. Garoppolo and Kittle led the 49ers deep into Seattle territory, toward the same end where Fred Warner made a game-saving tackle to win the NFC West title for San Francisco in the 2019 regular-season finale.
But there was no celebration this time. Garoppolo’s third-down pass intended for Trent Sherfield was broken up and the fourth-down throw never made it to the end zone.
“We’re all disappointed, very frustrated,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “We felt we had a lot of self-inflicted stuff.”
It was a mixture of mistakes, turnovers and an inability to get the run game established that led to San Francisco losing for the first time since falling to Arizona in Week 9.
Garoppolo was responsible for a few of those mistakes. He was 20 of 30 for 299 yards and two touchdowns, but also his seventh and eighth interceptions of the season.
San Francisco was able to hold off his first pick, but the second one by Quandre Diggs in the third quarter led to the winning points for Seattle on Russell Wilson’s 12-yard TD pass to Tyler Lockett.
The 49ers also fumbled the opening kickoff of the second half, and, while Seattle didn’t score after its own turnover, it did lead to Garoppolo getting sacked by Dunlap for a safety.
The loss dropped the 49ers (6-6) into a tie with Washington based on record. Right now, that would be good enough for San Francisco to make the playoffs, but there are five teams at either 6-7 or 5-7 behind the 49ers.
Even Seattle at 4-8 isn’t mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, and it swept the season series from the 49ers.
“It’s one of those losses that you can’t let this stick with you for too long,” Garoppolo said. “Watch the film, be hard on ourselves like we always are. I mean, we’re very critical of all little things. But Cincinnati is going to come up real quick.”
The fact San Francisco had a chance on the final drive spoke to the craziness of the game. Seattle scored on a 73-yard run off a fake punt, but also turned the ball over twice near the goal line, both by Everett. His bobble led to an end-zone interception for K’Waun Williams in the third quarter and his fumble as Seattle went in for a clinching score late was forced by Azeez Al-Shaair and recovered by Dontae Johnson.
There was also the safety, a missed field goal and a missed extra point.
“It was one of the wildest games I’ve ever been a part of. Just the first half was absolutely crazy,” Kittle said.
San Francisco was significantly short-handed playing without starting linebackers Warner and Marcell Harris, and do-everything offensive weapon Deebo Samuel.
Kittle picked up for the absence of Samuel with nine catches for 181 yards and touchdowns of 24 and 48 yards. It was the best game for Kittle since having 15 catches for 183 yards early last season against Philadelphia.
But the 49ers’ run game that had averaged 178.3 yards over the past three wins never got started. Elijah Mitchell had 22 carries for 66 yards, and San Francisco finished with 71 yards rushing total.
“It’s always just such a dogfight between us when we play each other,” Garoppolo said. “We know we’re getting into but we’ve just got to be more ready.”
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://apnews.com/hub/pro-32 and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL