Heading into Sunday, there were many already crowning the Seattle Seahawks as the Super Bowl champions, fresh off their impressive Monday night victory over the New Orleans Saints. Why even bother with the playoffs, they thought.
But I cautioned that the 49ers would be ready for the Seahawks this week. And they were. San Francisco, which lost to the Seahawks earlier this season, beat Seattle 19-17 on a late field goal to get to 9-4 and serve notice that they will be a factor come playoff time.
Seattle is good. But it is not unbeatable, even at home.
This game was played with playoff-type intensity, the hitting top notch, and it was a 51-yard run by Frank Gore that set up the game-winning field goal. The 49ers have come on the past month, seemingly getting it right in time for a playoff push.
I have to credit Seattle, though. I thought it would be worse after their revved-up victory at home against the Saints. But Pete Carroll did a great job getting them ready to play.
For the 49ers, it was a huge statement. They had to prove they could beat a good team after coming into this game with a 1-4 record against teams with a winning record.
This was the typical defensive battle you would expect from these two teams. Both teams failed to get 20 first downs, and San Francisco won the yardage battle 318-264. Both teams fell short of 200 yards passing, which could be a problem come playoff time.
For now, Seattle still should be the No. 1 seed in the playoffs, barring a collapse. The 49ers would love to see them again, but just remember that the Seahawks have blown out the 49ers the past two games in Seattle.
So Sunday was big for the 49ers, but I have to give credit to Seattle for playing the way it did.
These two will need a lot of time in the hot tub after this one. Let's hope for a round three.
• It was a day for the ages in the NFL. It had weather. It had snow. It had a record-breaking field goal and so much drama you would think somebody wrote it the day before the games. That's what makes the NFL great, the theater of the unknown. It's something new every single week. We will be hard-pressed to find a better Sunday than we had this week. What a treat.
• Snow is great for TV football. But I sure hope it doesn't get this bad for the Super Bowl. It would be a shame to have a season decided by a survival test like the one we had in Philadelphia for Lions-Eagles. Yes, it was fun to watch, those players sloshing around in six inches of snow. But when you can't kick field goals and extra points, the game is changed. That's not what we want in the Super Bowl. For more on my take on a snowy Super Bowl, check out the below video.
• The time is now for the Redskins to part ways with coach Mike Shanahan. It's not working. The Redskins looked lifeless in being blown out by the Chiefs this week, and it's quite evident that a change is needed. The disconnect between Shanahan and quarterback Robert Griffin III is obvious. But I do not like the idea of the Redskins pursuing Baylor coach Art Briles (see below video). I think Briles is a heck of a coach, but this would open up the notion that owner Dan Snyder is hiring RG3's guy. That wouldn't play in the locker room. It would be a mistake. They've had enough of this RG3-is-the-world feeling in DC. RGMe? They ran the read option last season because he wasn't ready for anything else. Now look. He got hurt, and he wasn't ready to handle the pocket. He still isn't. The crutch is gone. Now what? They traded a boatload to get RG3, so he's the guy. But they need a coach who will be able to make him become what a starter needs to be, a pocket passer who isn't coddled.
• The end of the Vikings-Ravens game has to be one of the craziest ever. There were five lead changes in the final 2:05 of the game. That's unreal. There were five touchdowns scored in the final 2:05. How does that happen? I am glad it did. What a treat.
• There were a record 88 touchdowns scored Sunday. So defense wins titles? Even in bad weather? Uh, no.
• Who do the Texans take if they have the first pick in the draft? That's going to be an interesting decision. They need a quarterback, but is there one worth taking? Is it Teddy Bridgewater? Or do they pass and take a defensive end to help their pass rush? That decision will go a long way in determining the future of general manager Rick Smith, who appears to be coming back next season. It's amazing how quickly things have turned around for this franchise. They've gone from Super Bowl contender to picking first. That's the NFL.
• One of the keys to the Jaguars winning four of five games is the play calling by offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch. He had big problems getting into a groove early in the season, and even drew some criticism in Jacksonville. But since the bye he has opened things up and he's showing off his creativity. In the past two weeks, running back Maurice Jones-Drew and receiver Ace Sanders both have thrown touchdown passes. As the young players grow -- and Fisch gets a real quarterback -- keep an eye on him. He isn't afraid to take chances, which is a good thing.
• I hated to see Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski go down with a torn ACL and damaged MCL. He is a special player, and without him the Patriots lack the inside threat to help work inside-out. That's a problem. The New England offense was far different when he was out early this season.
• I've said all along this push to make head injuries a priority would lead to more knee troubles as players go low to avoid the head. That's what we saw with Gronkowski. Safety T.J. Ward went low and hit Gronkowski's knee as his leg was planted. Protecting the head will lead to more lower-leg issues. Players will take the head shots, and worry about them later. It's the knee issues they want to avoid.
• Give Arizona general manager Steve Keim a lot of credit for signing John Abraham as a free agent. He now has 11 sacks and has really provided a lift to the Arizona pass rush. He had three sacks against the Rams.
• It just wasn't meant to be for the New York Giants this season. Injuries slowed them and they haven't been able to get anything going. Eli Manning hasn't been good and he now has 20 picks on the season. Now comes the issue as to whether Tom Coughlin will be back. I would be shocked to see him walk away or fired. He will be back for another season, I would think. The guy loves to coach.
• The officiating by Jeff Triplette's crew blew it again when they awarded a touchdown to BenJarvus Green-Ellis after review showed he clearly was contacted to go down short of the goal line. That mistake gave Cincinnati a 14-0 lead on their way to blowing out the Colts. Triplette's crew has blown several high-profile calls this season.
• Tampa Bay linebacker Lavonte David is a beast and now a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year. He had two picks against the Bills and a sack. He now has five sacks and five interceptions. That's enough to get him into the conversation.
• I worry about the Colts. After losing to the Bengals, they are 8-5. They will still win their division, but they have major problems. After studying their tapes last week, they could easily be a one-and-done come playoff time.
• LeSean McCoy is a man. He had 217 yards as the Eagles blew out the Lions in the second half Sunday. The Eagles' running game is best in the league. Chip Kelly has that offense cranked up.
• Credit the Dolphins for hanging around in the playoff race. That was an impressive win in the snow at Pittsburgh. They haven't folded like many expected them to do.
• The pass-interference call on Cleveland's Leon McFadden to help set up the game-winning score by the Patriots was a terrible call. And the beat goes on for the league's officials.