With his game still in doubt, Seattle coach Pete Carroll made what he described as an uncomfortable decision. With the chance of a first-round bye all but gone with Atlanta holding a comfortable lead, Carroll pulled quarterback Russell Wilson and other key players to keep them fresh for next week’s playoff game.
Wilson threw for 258 yards and a touchdown before being replaced in the fourth quarter and the Seahawks rallied from an early 11-point deficit to beat San Francisco 25-23 on Sunday in what was coach Chip Kelly’s final game with the 49ers.
Hours after the game, the team announced that Kelly and general manager Trent Baalke had been fired.
“I hate backing off any time ever,” Carroll said. “I can’t remember doing it very many times. I just thought we were able to do something to protect ourselves for next week. I did not want to be planning for that. It just kind of happened and it just seemed like we (were) able to do something to help, and it worked out fine. ”
The Falcons wrapped up a bye with a 38-32 win over New Orleans, sending the NFC West champion Seahawks (10-5-1) to the playoffs as the third seed. The Seahawks will host the loser of Sunday night’s game between Detroit and Green Bay next week.
Seattle had control of the race for the No. 2 seed before losing at home last week to Arizona but heads into the playoffs with the confidence of a team that has been to two of the past three Super Bowls, winning it all after the 2013 season.
“Sometimes you get it and it knocks you off your rhythm,” cornerback Richard Sherman said. “Sometimes you get it and it gives you a chance to rest. At this point we’re about as healthy as we’re going to be. We don’t need it. ”
The loss capped a disappointing season for the 49ers (2-14), who matched the franchise record for losses in a season previously reached in 1978, ’79 and 2004.
“It’s a bottom line business,” Kelly said before getting the news from CEO Jed York. “So, we probably didn’t win enough games. ”
The Niners started fast with touchdowns on two of their first three drives, but were outgained 366-99 over the final three quarters as Wilson delivered numerous big plays and Seattle shut down Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco offense.
Trevone Boykin, who replaced Wilson, converted a pair of third downs with Seattle protecting a two-point lead to help run out the clock.
“It was a great job of getting in there and get it done,” Carroll said. “He put together a great drive with the guys up front, to finish the game. ”
FAST START, SLOW FINISH: Kaepernick completed his first 10 passes and Shaun Draughn scored on a pair of 1-yard runs to give the Niners a 14-3 lead. That marked the fifth time this season San Francisco led a home game by at least 11 points in the first half, but the Niners won only the opener against the Rams. San Francisco blew 14-point leads to Dallas, Tampa Bay and the Jets.
MILESTONE: Seattle receiver Doug Baldwin caught two passes for 44 yards, tying the franchise record for catches in a season with 94. Baldwin tied Bobby Engram’s mark set in 2007 with an acrobatic 41-yard catch in the second quarter.
DUBIOUS RECORD: Jimmy Graham used his basketball skills to box out safety Antoine Bethea on a 42-yard catch in the second quarter that set up Thomas Rawls’ go-ahead 1-yard run. With that play, San Francisco broke the franchise record for most yards allowed in a season. The Niners had already set franchise worsts for most points and yards rushing allowed in a season. This year’s team gave up 6,502 yards, breaking the mark of 6,259 set in 2005. The Niners had already set franchise worsts for most points and yards rushing allowed in a season.
FIGHT: Seattle defensive tackle Jarran Reed was ejected after a scuffle following an extra point. Reed was called for a personal foul for throwing a punch in the fourth quarter. Reed then got into a yelling match with teammate Frank Clark near the Seattle sideline as he walked off the field. Teammates had to separate the two.
“Somewhere in there he threw a punch,” Carroll said. “So he deserved to get ejected. ”
DRAFT POSITION: San Francisco will have the second pick in the draft, the highest for the team since taking Alex Smith No. 1 overall in 2005. The Niners had a shot at the No. 1 pick if Cleveland won, but the Browns lost 27-24 in overtime at Pittsburgh.
ROUGH WARMUP: The 49ers lost tight end Je’Ron Hamm to a broken leg in warmups. Hamm had an air cast placed on his left leg and was carted off the field following the injury. San Francisco also lost cornerback Rashard Robinson to an ankle injury in the first half.