SEATTLE – The 49ers knew they would have a difficult time trying to slow down the Seattle Seahawks’ running back on Sunday.
But it just turned out the running back the 49ers were expecting was not the same player who tore them apart in the Seahawks’ 29-13 victory at CenturyLink Field.
“We prepared for 24, and 24 didn’t play,” 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman said of five-time Pro Bowl runner Marshawn Lynch.
Instead, undrafted rookie Thomas Rawls of Central Michigan, No. 34, got the starting assignment with Lynch out of action with an abdominal strain. Rawls delivered a punch to the 49ers’ gut on Sunday with 209 yards and a touchdown on 30 rushing attempts.
It was the most yards rushing the 49ers have allowed in franchise history – surpassing a 192-yard performance from Atlanta’s Erric Pegram in 1993.
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Did the 49ers’ defense let its guard down after learning 90 minutes prior to kickoff that Lynch would not play on Sunday?
“I don’t know what effect that had on us,” Bowman said. “But they did a great job taking advantage of it.”
When asked if he thought his defense took Rawls too lightly, Tomsula said, “I don’t think that. I couldn’t imagine that.”
The 49ers had an alarming number of missed tackles just two weeks after holding Atlanta’s Devonta Freeman, then the NFL’s leading rusher, to just 12 yards on 12 rushing attempts.
“I was disappointed, very disappointed, in the way we played the run today," 49ers coach Jim Tomsula said.
"You have to be solid on the run fits and the tackling. You need to be sure-tacklers...We were talking about wrapping up. You can’t tackle when you worry about missing a tackle. You have to just go tackle.”
Bowman said he believed the 49ers’ run defense took a blow when defensive lineman Glenn Dorsey sustained a potentially severe right knee injury on the first play of the game.
“Glenn going down early, that really hurt us,” Bowman said. “Rawls wanted to prove himself to the Seattle Seahawks today, so he came out with a chip on his shoulder.
“We have to play better, we have to tackle better, and if we do that, this game would have been a lot different.”
Rawls took over as the Seahawks’ leading rusher on the season. He has 604 yards rushing on 101 rushing attempts for a 6.0-yard average. Lynch has 417 yards on 111 rushes for a 3.8 average.
“He’s compact and he has good speed, too,” 49ers defensive lineman Arik Armstead said. “That aspect of athleticism and being strong, as well, makes it hard to get those guys down who run hard like that.”
The 49ers' pass defense was not much better. Rawls contributed three receptions for 46 yards and a touchdown. Quarterback Russell Wilson completed 24 of 29 pass attempts for 260 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. His passer rating was 138.5.