SAN FRANCISCO – The 49ers’ game-winning drive was highlighted by two plays that offensive coordinator Greg Roman kept in reserve for when they were needed most.
One play had been in the 49ers’ playbook for a while but had never been called during a game. The other had a great deal of historical significance.
Those plays set the stage for Phil Dawson’s 22-yard field goal with 26 seconds remaining for the winning points in the 49ers’ 19-17 victory the NFC West-leading Seattle Seahawks in front of an enthused crowd of 69,732 fans at Candlestick Park.
The 49ers were able to run the clock down when Colin Kaepernick gained 8 yards around the left side on a quarterback sweep with a little more than three minutes remaining. Four plays later, Dawson kicked the winning field goal.
“Did that remind you of anything?” Roman asked afterward.
The 49ers ran the exact same play two years ago and Alex Smith scored on a touchdown run against the New Orleans Saints in a playoff game. As part of the final season of Candlestick Park, the 49ers commemorated that 49ers victory on Sunday. The 49ers beat the Saints in a thrilling back-and-forth shootout on Smith's last-second touchdown pass to tight end Vernon Davis.
But before there was "Vernon Post," there was Smith's scamper down the left sideline for a go-ahead touchdown.
“Matter of fact, I thought there’d be some irony there if we did the same shift and everything,” Roman said.
On Sunday against the Seahawks, wide receiver Anquan Boldin leveled defensive end Chris Clemons at the line of scrimmage and Mario Manningham blocked the cornerback to allow Kaepernick to turn the corner for the necessary yardage.
The 49ers were already in field-goal range because of a play called “97 G-Rub” that Roman was waiting for the right time to unveil.
“G-Ro (Roman) had been saving that call in his back pocket and picked the exact right time to call it,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. “And Frank executed it.”
The play design utilized different angles at the point of attack, Roman said. The play was blocked well on the left side of the line, and it allowed Gore to take advantage of over-pursuit from the aggressive Seahawks defense.
“We’ve never ever run it before since we’ve been here,” Roman said. “And it’s just something we were keeping in the back pocket for the right time. And it’s one of those things, you always question, ‘Should we run it early and pop it early?’ You like to have some stuff in your hip pocket for the right time.”
With the 49ers trailing 17-16, Roman decided the time was right and the 49ers executed it perfectly.
“My O-line did a great job – O-line and receivers,” said Gore, who rushed for 110 yards on 17 carries. “When I saw the hole, I kind of knew (safety Earl Thomas) – he’s so fast to the ball, I kind of knew he was going to overrun it. So I kind of set him outside and then broke him back in because he’s so aggressive.”
Gore cut across the field to pick up 51 yards to the Seahawks’ 18-yard line. Gore broke a dry spell in which he was held to just 121 yards combined in the past three games.
“We popped one,” Roman said. “Man, it’s been tough to pop one lately. We finally popped it at the perfect time.”
“That’s just kind of the way the running game goes,” 49ers left tackle Joe Staley said. “You see runs that go for 2 or 3 yards in the beginning of the game, and then you start turning out more. That run was one that we’ve had in for a while, and we finally got the look that we really wanted to have it.
“It was a great cutback by Frank of seeing the secondary and the linebackers overplay it. It was a big play in a crucial moment for us.”
And what made the play even more significant was that Gore remained in-bounds to keep the clock running with about four minutes remaining. The Seahawks called their final two timeouts prior to the third-and-7 play on which Kaepernick picked up the first down.
Both of those plays were set up by fullback Bruce Miller’s 2-yard gain on a third-and-1 play from the 49ers’ 29-yard line. Miller entered the game with seven rushing attempts on the season. But he was 2-for-3 on third-down rushing attempts on Sunday.
“Really, really liked Bruce’s ability to get downhill,” Roman said. “The first time we ran it, it wasn’t a great call. But the way they do things, we felt like it would be effective.”