SANTA CLARA — Seattle quarterback Geno Smith was looking a little too comfortable. Late in the third quarter, Smith and the Seahawks were threatening a go-ahead touchdown against the 49ers’ top defense at Levi’s Stadium.
That’s when Defensive end Charles Omenihu put his foot down, forcing the wild card game’s first turnover to shift momentum back to the No. 2 seed 49ers in their 41-23 win to open up Wild Card weekend on Saturday afternoon.
The Seahawks were in the red zone down six, but facing third-and-14 from the 19-yard line. When Smith when back to pass, Omenihu reached in and knocked the ball out of his hands, forcing a fumble. It took a second for everyone else on the field to realize the ball was loose and live — Nick Bosa recovered the ball at the Seattle 30-yard line.
Charles Omenihu strips Geno and Bosa recovers!
Huge @49ers takeaway in the red zone. #SuperWildCard
📺: #SEAvsSF on FOX
📱: Stream on NFL+ https://t.co/96NMtTe9OX pic.twitter.com/L6byd90Uba
— NFL (@NFL) January 14, 2023
The defensive play paid off with a key touchdown drive to extend the 49ers’ lead to 31-17. At the start of the quarter, rookie quarterback Brock Purdy connected with a leaping Juan Jennings for a 33-yard reception that put San Francisco in the red zone. Then Purdy escaped pressure, rolled right and found a wide-open Elijah Mitchell, who scampered into the endzone.
Purdy found George Kittle for a successful two-point conversion, ensuring that a pair of unanswered Seahawks touchdowns would only tie the game.
The play energized the 49ers offense and demoralized Seattle. Smith’s very next play on offense was a pass intercepted by Deommodore Lenoir, giving the NFL’s best team in turnover margin another one to add to the docket. The 49ers would add another touchdown and a field goal after that to pull away.
The 49ers top-ranked defense had been underwhelming until that point. Omenihu’s sack and forced fumble was just their second sack of the game, their first since the first drive of the game when Arik Armstead sacked Smith on third and 2 at the Seattle 18 yard line.
San Francisco’s defense had no answer for an efficient Smith. He was feeding massive wide receiver DK Metcalf and 14-for-18 with 164 yards, 9 yards per pass, and a touchdown until the fumble.
Omenihu’s game changing play was reminiscent of his dominant performance last playoffs against the Dallas Cowboys. The defensive end had 1.5 sacks, including one that forced quarterback Dak Prescott to fumble in their first-round win last year.
The 25-year-old defensive end finished with two sacks on Saturday, adding to the 4.5 sacks he had heading into Saturday’s game and showing why he’s been such an impactful addition to San Francisco’s defense since the team traded a 2023 sixth-round pick to the Houston Texans for him mid-season last year.