San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan knows the challenges of trying to beat an opponent three times in a season after falling short a year ago in the playoffs against the Los Angeles Rams.
The 49ers open this postseason with a similar challenge when they host NFC West rival Seattle in a wild-card playoff game Saturday less than a month after beating the Seahawks for the second time this season.
“I don’t really look at it as you have to beat someone three times. I just look at it as we have to beat them on Saturday,” Shanahan said. “That’s the game, I don’t think the other games have to do with it.”
The Niners (13-4) are seeking a better result against the Seahawks (9-8) than they had last year against the Rams, when they blew a 10-point fourth-quarter lead and lost 20-17 to Los Angeles in the NFC title game.
“Once you know each other that well, usually the game becomes simpler,” Shanahan said. “You don’t trick each other after that and usually teams are playing at a higher level by that third time.”
That game last year was decided on a few key plays down the stretch, like a potential dropped interception by San Francisco, a failed short-yardage conversion and then an interception by Jimmy Garoppolo on the final drive with the Niners attempting a comeback.
The Niners have had the advantage so far this year against the Seahawks, winning 27-7 at home in Week 2 and then going to Seattle for a 21-13 victory Dec. 15 in rookie quarterback Brock Purdy’s first road start.
The constant has been the defense led by edge rusher Nick Bosa and linebacker Fred Warner that limited Seattle to one TD drive on 20 offensive possessions.
“For the most part we were just behind the sticks a lot,” quarterback Geno Smith said. “We were behind the chains and we were in second-and-longs and third-and-longs and that’s not a recipe for winning football for us.”
The Seahawks have had good success over the years against the Niners with Shanahan in charge, winning eight of the 12 games. But San Francisco took the most important one so far in a Week 17 showdown in 2019 that decided the NFC West title.
“Sometimes they get us and sometimes we get them,” coach Pete Carroll said. “I say that about the chess match thing because I have so much respect for what Kyle does, their whole style of play and all that they have developed over the years. It’s going to be a good challenge.”
THIRD TIME’S A CHARM
The Niners will be 25th team in Super Bowl era to sweep two games against an opponent in regular season and play them again in playoffs.
Those previous teams went 14-10 in the third meeting in the playoff, including the loss by San Francisco to the Rams last season on the road. But teams that hosted the third game had a 13-6 record.
For the most part, 2022 was a career season for Seattle’s DK Metcalf, with a career-best 90 receptions and topping 1,000 yards for the second time in his four seasons.
Despite those numbers, he mostly disappeared the final two weeks. Metcalf was held to one catch for 3 yards in a Week 17 win over the Jets and last weekend against the Rams had more activity jawing with Jalen Ramsey than catching passes, it seemed. Metcalf had just three catches for 40 yards on eight targets against the Rams.
“We have run the ball very well the past couple weeks, and I know that’s taken up a lot of plays on offense but as long as we’re winning I’m not mad or anything because that’s my whole purpose of being here is just to win,” Metcalf said.
But Seattle could use Metcalf making an impact against the 49ers. He had 11 catches in the two games combined against San Francisco, but his longest reception went for only 13 yards as Charvarius Ward did a good job eliminating his big plays.
Purdy has been on a remarkable run since taking over for an injured Jimmy Garoppolo, winning all five of his starts to extend San Francisco’s winning streak to 10 games.
Purdy has thrown multiple TD passes in six straight games for the longest streak for a rookie. Many of those passes have gone to tight end George Kittle, who has seven TD catches in the past four games.
“He does a great job of just creating space and I know where he is going to be,” Purdy said. “He’s a freak of nature and we just have to continue to have that connection moving forward for this playoff run.”
One way Seattle can try to fluster Purdy is getting some pressure on the young quarterback. Fortunately, Seattle’s pass rush has made an appearance the past two games. The Seahawks had four sacks in Week 17 against the Jets and sacked Los Angeles’ Baker Mayfield five times last weekend.
Those five sacks were spread across four different pass rushers, with Bruce Irvin, Boye Mafe, Uchenna Nwosu and Darrell Taylor all pitching in. That foursome combined for eight QB hits, four coming from Nwosu.
Seattle had just one sack and three QB hits on Purdy when the teams met last month. But pressuring Purdy won’t matter if Seattle can’t slow the 49ers’ run game.
“If we can eliminate the run, we can get after them,” Nwosu said.
AP Sports Writer Tim Booth contributed to this report