SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- You experience a lot when you play 12 seasons and nearly 200 games in the National Football League, but Seahawks offensive tackle Duane Brown had never participated in the type of insanity that transpired Monday night in Levi's Stadium. It left him elated and exhausted.
While teammates undressed and showered after a 27-24 overtime defeat of the previously unbeaten 49ers, Brown sat on a folding chair in a corner of the locker room, still outfitted in his game pants, undershirt and cleats. Perhaps he was too physically tired to change after playing in a second straight overtime game, but Brown also was emotionally drained from a game that was over, then not ... then over, then not ... and, finally, over.
"Man, I can't even count," he said when asked how many times he thought the outcome was decided before officially ending on Jason Myers' 42-yard field goal as the clock expired. "There were so many highs and lows, so many times when you start to feel like we got it, then they make a couple of plays and are right back in it. Then to go down to zero in overtime, I mean, it's wild."
The Seahawks (8-2) thought they had it won near the end of regulation, after Myers kicked a 46-yard field goal to make it 24-21 with 1:45 remaining. However, on the next play from scrimmage, Seattle linebacker K.J. Wright dropped what should have been an easy game-sealing interception, and three plays after that, middle linebacker Bobby Wagner dropped another pass that looked like an easy pick.
"I would have been hot if we walked out of here with a tie," Wagner said afterward.
The muffs allowed quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to drive for the tying field goal with one second left in the quarter, which extended not only the game but also the uncertainty that left both players and fans gasping for air, although neither seemed able to catch their breath during the drama that followed.
First, quarterback Russell Wilson drove the Seahawks 61 yards to the San Francisco 14 for, at the very least, what could have been the go-ahead field goal. But the MVP candidate, who is regarded as one of the game's top clutch performers, underthrew a ball to the corner of the end zone (a touchdown would have ended the game) and was picked off for only the second time in 327 attempts this season.
And a handful of plays after linebacker Dre Greenlaw returned the interception 47 yards to the Seattle 49-yard line, and San Francisco running back Raheem Mostert gained 20 yards from scrimmage, kicker Chase McLaughlin, an undrafted rookie who had been signed less than a week earlier, missed badly left on what would have been a game-winning 47-yard field-goal attempt -- after converting from 43, 39 and 47 yards earlier.
Over, then not ... then over again, then not.
"Wildest game I've ever been a part of," Wilson said from his locker stall.
Just when many in the sellout crowd of 71,404 began to prepare themselves for a tie, Wilson showed why he's among the league's most dangerous players with the ball in his hands and the game on line. The former Wisconsin star drove the Seahawks 40 yards in the final 1:25 -- the key play being his 18-yard scramble -- to set up the decisive field goal and leave Brown shaking his head at his locker-room stall.
"It's probably the wildest one for me," Brown said of the 166 games he has played in his career. "Looking at the magnitude of it, coming in here against an undefeated team on Monday Night Football, just the back and forth -- it was wild, man. But these are the type of games you dream about. We would love to make it a little bit easier, but to win a game on the road, in overtime, with zero left on the clock, I mean, it's a great feeling."
Yet, just when many in the sellout crowd of 71,404 began to prepare themselves for a tie, Wilson drove the Seahawks 40 yards in the final 1:25 -- the key play being his 18-yard scramble -- to set up the decisive field goal.
With that, the NFC West in particular and the conference in general were thrown up for grabs. San Francisco (8-1) could have taken a two-game lead for home-field advantage with a victory, as well as a three-game lead in the loss column for the division. But what appeared to be a fait accompli is now anyone's guess, particularly with the 49ers still having to face, among others, Green Bay (8-2), Baltimore (7-2), New Orleans (7-2), the Rams (5-4), and the Seahawks again.
Although the loss was not shocking -- defeats happen -- the way in which the 49ers went down was surprising. For weeks, the talk has been about their defense being something special, a unit upon whose back a championship could be won. Yet, when critical stops needed to be made in adverse situations after a pair of Garoppolo turnovers left them with their backs in the shadow of the goal line, the players could not meet that challenge, as Seattle went 16 yards and 24 yards for touchdowns.
"We didn't play up to our standards," said cornerback Richard Sherman. "There were plays that were sudden changes, we were backed up, but you've got to find a way to get those stops."
Seattle's defense had not played up to expectations most of the season, including the previous week, when it surrendered 14 points in the first quarter and 34 overall -- including the tying touchdown in the final minute of regulation -- before beating the Bucs in Tampa. It had managed only five sacks in the five games coming in and had a total of just three takeaways in the previous three games. But on Monday night, the group matched both those totals in just one game.
Clowney, who admitted to being motivated by all the talk about the greatness of San Francisco's defense, left his fingerprints all over the outcome. The massive and athletic end had five tackles, a sack, five QB hurries, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a touchdown, all of which came on a night that San Francisco welcomed back both of its starting tackles from injury. His 10-yard return late in the second quarter sparked the Seahawks, who trailed 10-0 at the time and had been largely lifeless.
The Seahawks' two other takeaways -- one at the San Francisco 16, the other at the San Francisco 24 -- both resulted in touchdowns, as Wilson found Jacob Hollister from 3 yards out and Chris Carson burst through the interior of the line from the 1.
It was a sobering night for Garoppolo, who was coming off his best game of the season the previous week at Arizona, where he threw for 317 yards and four touchdowns with no turnovers. But with Pro Bowl tight end George Kittle out with a leg injury, and with No. 1 wideout Emmanuel Sanders leaving in the first half with injured ribs, Garoppolo finished 24 of 46 for 248 yards, one touchdown, one interception and two lost fumbles. He also had a first-quarter interception negated by penalty. He was hurt by repeated drops by his receivers, but he also was aided by them as well, at least in terms of Wright and Wagner leaving the ball on the field.
Seattle defenders seemed to have a read on Garoppolo all night, sometimes running the route better than the receivers. Wagner said some of that had to do with familiarity and film study.
"They're a team that runs so many different things that it's hard to get a tendency, but I felt like the last couple of times that we played them we were able to figure out what they were doing," he said. "Because they run so many different things, it's a game where you have to be disciplined, and you just have to read your keys. It becomes kind of like simple football: Read your keys, and it will take you to the football. Once we started reading keys, me and K.J. started hearing the calls and picked up on the checks he was making, and it allowed us to break faster."
If Garoppolo's uneven play isn't cause for concern going forward, the 49ers' mounting injury list is. In addition to Kittle and Sanders being sidelined, defensive lineman Ronald Blair (knee), running back Matt Breida (ankle) and defensive lineman D.J. Jones (groin) left the game and did not return. Center Weston Richburg also missed time with a hand injury but did return.
The defeat was doubly disappointing because San Francisco had a chance to ensure its first winning campaign in seven seasons. After so many down years, the stadium was electric. The faithful were joined by band-wagoners, which heightened the anticipation. And for one-plus quarters, the team looked deserving of the hype, as the defense dominated and the offense did just enough.
But that's when Clowney picked up the loose football and returned it for a touchdown, setting up a game of runs that saw the Seahawks go from 10 down to up 21-10 to tied after the 49ers scored 11 fourth-quarter points, one touchdown coming on a defensive score of their own. The pace was as frenetic as it was entertaining.
Over, then not ... then over again, then not.
"It was fun," said Clowney, who had his breakout game since arriving in a trade from Houston. Many wondered when his impact would be felt, and on Monday, he answered emphatically.
"Clowney was playing lights out," Wilson said. "That's why we got him. He has been a force throughout his whole career, and to have him on our football team -- and he was talking it up on the sidelines and focused, and we were all together, and he was one of the main leaders in that -- it's great to have him. The plays he was making were incredible."
The same could be said of the game in general, once you caught your breath.