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Five takeaways from 49ers’ dramatic OT win over Seahawks

(Photo credit: Chris Mezzavilla)

The 49ers beat the visiting Seattle Seahawks, 26-23, Sunday, marking their second straight win. Here are five takeaways.

Breaking the streak

At last, the losing streak is over.

The 49ers had lost 10 straight to the Seahawks, and all four games at Levi’s Stadium, entering Sunday. And for the majority of the second half, this game appeared to trend toward another 49ers heartbreak.

The Seahawks tied the score at 23 points apiece with fewer than six minutes remaining in the game. The 49ers offense struggled to move the ball, but the young defense held up, holding off a vintage Russell Wilson game-winning drive and forcing overtime. The 49ers forced another punt, then marched downfield for the win. A timely pass interference call, and a 16-yard Jeff Wilson run, put the 49ers into field goal range.

Robbie Gould connected on the 36-yard field goal for the victory. For the 49ers to finally close out a close game with a win, against the team that has dominated this rivalry in the past five years, had all the makings of a happy ending.

This won’t appease the fans prioritizing the No. 1 overall draft pick over results. The Cardinals and Raiders now share the worst record at 3-11. But the young 49ers are learning how to close out games, which matters. They have won two straight for the first time all season.

Nick Mullens continues to prove himself

Another game, another positive Nick Mullens performance.

Mullens was consistent and efficient Sunday, completing 20 of 29 pass attempts for 275 yards and one touchdown. In his six NFL starts, he is 3-3, and the 49ers offense has flowed much smoother than it typically has in C.J. Beathard’s 10 starts, which have resulted in just one win.

Arguably Mullens’ most impressive drive of the season came on a 10-play, 98-yard march that resulted in San Francisco’s lone offensive touchdown Sunday. Backed deep into their own territory, Mullens hit Trent Taylor on the right sideline for a third-down conversion. Then, Mullens found Kendrick Bourne over the middle in a tight window. On another third down, Mullens threw a strike to Dante Pettis to move the chains. Mullens missed an open George Kittle, which could have resulted in a 71-yard touchdown, but the two connected for 21 yards later in the drive. Then Mullens found Garrett Celek for a 41-yard touchdown.

That drive — featuring good rhythm, clutch throws, and dispersed production — captured Mullens’ improving play. He continued to put the 49ers in positions to succeed, but his teammates did not consistently reciprocate it, including on the following plays:

-In the third quarter, Jeff Wilson dropped a screen pass on third down.

-In the fourth quarter, Mullens released the pass right before he was crushed, and gave Bourne a chance to make a catch, but the pass slipped through his hands.

-With two minutes left in the game, Taylor dropped what would have been a 10-yard gain on second down. Mullens was sacked one play later, and the 49ers punted.

Mullens had limited time to throw throughout the second half. He was sacked three times. He continued to hold onto the ball despite suffering bone-crunching hits.

Ultimately, Mullens played well enough for the 49ers to win.

Kyle Shanahan schemed players open better than the last Seattle matchup

Two weeks ago, the Seahawks stymied the 49ers offense for 16 points. For one of the few times all year, Kyle Shanahan couldn’t mask the 49ers’ lack of offensive firepower with play-calling that fooled the defense.

Sunday went differently.

Throughout the game, and particularly the first half, Shanahan schemed open the 49ers’ playmakers. Kittle, coming off a 210-yard performance, was open on two throws that Mullens missed. Had Mullens hit Kittle running behind the Seattle defense in the second quarter, he likely would have scored a 71-yard touchdown.

Later that drive, Shanahan dialed up a screen for Kittle that yielded 20 yards. One play later, found Celek, also wide open, for a 41-yard touchdown.

The 49ers established a consistent offensive rhythm behind Shanahan’s playcalling. He dialed up a healthy dose of 29 passes and 26 runs. Perhaps his most questionable decision was running with Matt Breida on third-and-six, with 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter, and the score tied at 20 apiece. Breida’s run went nowhere, and the 49ers settled for a field goal.

Ultimately, the 49ers were able to move the ball downfield on the game’s final drive to snap the losing streak.

Third-down/fourth-down defense almost bit the 49ers

The 49ers entered Sunday allowing third-down conversions just 37 percent of the time, the eighth-best mark in the NFL. But the Seahawks converted nine of 19 third-down plays into first downs Sunday, many of which came in important situations.

On their first offensive drive, the Seahawks converted all three third down attempts into first downs, including the opening touchdown to receiver Doug Baldwin.

On Seattle’s fourth offensive drive, quarterback Russell Wilson found Baldwin, again, for an 11-yard gain on 49ers rookie nickel corner D.J. Reed. Wilson capped the drive with another third-down conversion, a 35-yard touchdown pass to Baldwin.

The 49ers couldn’t get off the field when they needed to throughout Sunday’s game. Seattle scored its second touchdown on a fourth-and-1. Both 49ers nose tackle D.J. Jones and linebacker Elijah Lee hit Seahawks running back Chris Carson, but he bounced off their tackles and plunged into the end zone. And on the next Seahawks’ scoring drive, which resulted in a field goal, Wilson found Baldwin for another third-down conversion.

There are plenty of reasons why the 49ers need a dynamic edge rusher, and their shortcomings on these third and fourth-down plays are further evidence.

Young secondary struggles

On Seattle’s first offensive drive of the game, Ahkello Witherspoon left the game and did not return with a right knee injury. Tarvarius Moore, who had just 49 defensive snaps entering Sunday, replaced Witherspoon and struggled early on before rebounding late. On his third snap, he allowed a touchdown to Baldwin.

The young 49ers secondary’s struggles enabled Seattle’s scoring drives. Reed allowed two third-down conversions. Moore failed to cover a back-shoulder throw to Seahawks receiver David Moore early in the third quarter.

Perhaps the 49ers defense’s worst play of the day came on Baldwin’s second touchdown, a 35-yard catch with fewer than six minutes remaining in the second quarter. Wilson scrambled, and Baldwin found a pocket in the 49ers’ zone. Baldwin snagged the ball, and safety Antone Exum whiffed on the tackle, opting for the big hit rather than wrapping up, which allowed the touchdown.

Moore did, however, clean up those mistakes with an encouraging second half. He forced an incompletion that led to a Seattle punt late in the fourth quarter. One defensive possession later, as the Seahawks eyed a game-winning field goal, Moore forced incompletions on consecutive plays. The Seahawks subsequently punted, and the game continued into overtime.


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