SEATTLE — It came down to two, maybe three inches. For the San Francisco 49ers, that was the difference between being the No. 1 and the No. 5 seed in the NFC playoffs. Two, maybe three inches. For the Seattle Seahawks, that was the difference between hosting at least one playoff game and likely playing the entire postseason on the road.

Two, maybe three inches. That was how close tight end Jacob Hollister came to crossing the goal line and completing a furious Seahawks comeback on a fourth and goal from the 5 with 12 seconds left. That is how close the entire NFC can be. This wild conclusion – a 26-21 San Francisco victory gave the 49ers the NFC West division title on the final night of the regular season – provided a fitting pre-playoff glimpse of a conference with little separation.

Welcome to the NFC playoffs. Cherish every inch.

“Unbelievable,” San Francisco left tackle Joe Staley said. “Just a wild game, an unbelievably emotional game. We’ve been in a lot of crazy games this year. That’s just how it’s going to be.”

If this is what the postseason has in store, buckle up. And take something for your anxiety. And if you’re following the Seahawks, hope that the team can be a little cleaner at the end of these frenetic games.

Two plays before Hollister came up short on Russell Wilson’s last throw, Seattle took a delay-of-game penalty on second and goal from the 1. It was an awful mistake at the worst possible time. With a chance to win the game, the Seahawks were slow and indecisive and lost four yards on a night that came down to those two, maybe three inches. Afterward, Coach Pete Carroll said the penalty was the result of miscommunication among the running backs over substitutions. It was a critical error amid a spectacular finish.

“We burned the time,” said Carroll, whose team finished as the No. 5 seed and will play at Philadelphia in the wild-card round Sunday. "We just didn’t get it done. We just didn’t function clearly.”

The memorable finish seemingly came out of nowhere. Early in this game, the Seahawks couldn’t capitalize on the emotional lift of Marshawn Lynch’s Seattle comeback. All week, the city had been abuzz over the most unlikely scenario: Lynch, the rugged running back who helped Seattle win a championship and make two Super Bowl appearances, was back in the blue, silver and light green uniform for the first time since 2015.

The enthusiasm almost overshadowed the fact that the Seahawks signed him and Robert Turbin, another old friend, out of semi-retirement because injuries had decimated their backfield. When the game started, the shorthanded Seahawks could not hide their limitations despite the energy and atmosphere that Lynch provided.

The 49ers dominated the first half in a manner that Seattle seldom experiences in prime-time showdowns. During Carroll’s 10 seasons as head coach, the Seahawks had a 29-6-1 record in prime-time games entering this contest, including a 19-2 mark in home night games. Normally, they live for these moments, and with the NFC West title at stake, this regular season finale had been anticipated for several weeks. But it was San Francisco’s turn to own the stage.

With Jimmy Garoppolo dealing and George Kittle appearing impossible to defend, the 49ers took command and led 13-0 at halftime. It felt worse than that. San Francisco outgained Seattle 139-24 in the first quarter and took a quick 10-0 lead. At one point in the second quarter, the 49ers held a 220-30 advantage in yardage. They dominated up front on defense and did just about whatever they wanted on the offensive end.

Garoppolo, who threw for 285 yards, completed his first nine passes. Kittle had the majority of his seven receptions and 86 yards by halftime. Wide receiver Deebo Samuel scored the only touchdown of the first half, taking a reverse, sprinting 30 yards and finishing his journey to the end zone with a slick spin move on Seahawks cornerback Tre Flowers.

The 49ers stifled the Seattle running game and left Wilson to dance around and try to avoid their formidable defensive front. Wilson threw for only 55 yards in the first half. Seattle looked more ordinary than it had all season, and while you could point to significant injuries at running back, tight end, left tackle, center and wide receiver, it was still strange to see a Wilson-led team struggle for so long in such an important game.

In the first half, Lynch managed just seven yards on five carries. On Seattle’s best drive in the first 30 minutes, the offense turned to Lynch on a fourth-and-one play with 45 seconds left before halftime. San Francisco defensive end Nick Bosa stuffed him for no gain. The Seahawks had squandered their only legitimate scoring chance of the half.

The offense operated much better after halftime. Wilson threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Lockett to trim the deficit to 13-7 in the third quarter. With 9:55 remaining in the fourth quarter, Lynch scored a one-yard touchdown to inch Seattle closer, at 19-14. But Seattle couldn’t stop Garoppolo and Coach Kyle Shanahan’s clever and diverse offensive attack.

The 49ers answered Seattle’s first two scores with backbreaking drives of their own, both concluding with Raheem Mostert touchdown runs.

Wilson found DK Metcalf for a 14-yard touchdown with 3:36 left, setting up the Seahawks’ final near miss after San Francisco went three-and-out.

“All of these games are inches,” Seattle defensive end Jadeveon Clowney said. “It was very crazy. I’ve never been in a game like that and at the end of the game like that.”

The 49ers, the healthier and more balanced team, survived. With the NFC West crown on the line, they played close to a complete game and at times looked to be what their record has suggested all season: the most dangerous team in the entire NFC.

Yet, considering how wacky the NFC has been, they’ll need every bit of their newly earned home-field advantage to make a Super Bowl run. Still, the Niners will enjoy the top seed and the bye they earned. As they prepare for what’s next, they can reflect on a remarkable turnaround. Just last season, they were an injury-marred 4-12 team. Now, they are among the Super Bowl favorites.

“It’s just an incredible feeling,” Kittle said. “Appreciation is something that I feel. Just the hard work we put in finally amounting to something that matters. We’re definitely not done.”

Read more on the NFL:

Live updates and highlights by Roman Stubbs in Washington are below.

December 29, 2019 at 11:57 PM EST
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49ers win, clinch No. 1 seed in NFC

The NFC West championship, perhaps fittingly, came down to the final seconds Sunday night, with Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson hitting tight end Jacob Hollister near the goal line on a fourth-and-goal call. But Hollister was held inches short of a game-winning touchdown by San Francisco’s defense. With the win, the 49ers clinched the division title and —more importantly — the NFC’s No. 1 overall seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a 26-21 win. Seattle is the NFC’s No. 5 seed and will travel to Philadelphia for a wild-card game next weekend.

December 29, 2019 at 11:02 PM EST
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Wilson stays hot as Seahawks pull closer

Russell Wilson has kept the Seahawks within striking distance with a third touchdown in three second half drives, hitting D.K. Metcalf with a 14-yard touchdown pass. Wilson has completed 11 of 12 passes in the second half. (49ers 26, Seahawks 21 with 3:12 left in 4th quarter)

December 29, 2019 at 10:51 PM EST
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Mostert scores his second touchdown of the night

Raheem Mostert scored his second touchdown of the night, a 13-yard score to give San Francisco a a 26-14 lead. That capped San Francisco’s seven-play, 75-yard drive, keyed by completions of 21 and 16 yards by Jimmy Garoppolo. (49ers 26, Seahawks 14 with 6:37 left in 4th quarter)

December 29, 2019 at 10:40 PM EST
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Marshawn Lynch energizes home crowd with touchdown

Marshawn Lynch capped a 14-play, 75-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown dive to pull Seattle within 19-14. It marks Lynch’s first touchdown with the Seahawks since November 2015. (49ers 19, Seahawks 14 with 9:12 left in 4th quarter)

December 29, 2019 at 10:21 PM EST
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San Francisco quickly answers to pad lead

After Seattle’s score, San Francisco answered quickly with a pair of big passes from Jimmy Garoppolo — first a 49-yard strike to Kyle Juszczyk and then a 24-yard throw to Deebo Samuel — to set up a short touchdown run by Raheem Mostert. San Francisco’s two-point attempt was no good. (49ers 19, Seahawks 7 with 3:25 left in 3rd quarter)

December 29, 2019 at 10:12 PM EST
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Seattle gets on the board

Seattle’s offense has finally found rhythm, with Russell Wilson finding Tyler Lockett for a 14-yard touchdown to cap an 11-play, 62-yard drive that spanned seven minutes. That score was keyed by a 15-yard run by Marshawn Lynch and a third-down reception by Travis Homer. (49ers 13, Seahawks 7 with 5:46 left in 3rd quarter)

December 29, 2019 at 9:45 PM EST
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49ers own 13-0 lead at halftime

Seattle’s most promising drive of the night stalled after Marshawn Lynch was stuffed on a fourth-and-inches call at the San Francisco 31-yard line — and the 49ers own a 13-0 lead at halftime. It marks the first time in two seasons that Seattle has been shut out in the first half. San Francisco’s Jimmy Garoppolo has the upper-hand in the quarterback matchup so far, completing for 11-for-15 for 156 yards, while Seattle’s Russell Wilson has completed 7-for-12 for just 55 yards. San Francisco will receive the ball to start the second half. (49ers 13, Seahawks 0 at halftime)

December 29, 2019 at 9:17 PM EST
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49ers extend their lead

After another long drive, San Francisco settled for a 30-yard field goal by Robbie Gould to take a 13-0 lead. The 49ers are outgaining the Seahawks 220-30 in total yards. (49ers 13, Seahawks 0 with 5:44 left in second quarter)

December 29, 2019 at 8:57 PM EST
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Deebo Samuel gives the 49ers a 10-0 lead

Deebo Samuel sparked San Francisco’s second drive with a pair of big plays. The first was a 30-yard catch and run, followed by a 30-yard touchdown run on a reverse to give the 49ers a 10-0 lead and cap an eight-play, 94-yard drive. San Francisco quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has started the game 7-for-7 passing for 88 yards. (49ers 10, Seahawks 0, end of the 1st quarter)

December 29, 2019 at 8:44 PM EST
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Marshawn Lynch takes the field for the first time in return

Lynch, who has not played in the NFL since last October, made his debut to loud cheers on Seattle’s second drive and picked up five yards on his first carry. Lynch starred with Seattle from 2010-2015 and was brought back into the fold earlier this week as Seattle has lost its three top running backs to injury: Chris Carson (hip), C.J. Prosise (arm) and Rashaad Penny (knee). (49ers 3, Seahawks 0 with 3:30 left in the 1st quarter)

December 29, 2019 at 8:35 PM EST
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49ers take an early 3-0 lead

San Francisco capitalized on Seattle’s three-and-out on the first drive of the game with a 47-yard field goal by Robbie Gould. The 49ers first drive spanned nine plays for 45 yards and chewed up nearly six minutes of the game clock. (49ers 3, Seahawks 0 with 7:35 left in the 1st quarter)

December 29, 2019 at 7:50 PM EST
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The NFC West title is on the line

San Francisco, which enters Sunday night’s game as a narrow favorite, would not just clinch the NFC West title with a win — but also would secure the NFC’s top seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

That would boost San Francisco’s Super Bowl chances considerably — the last six Super Bowl winners have earned first-round byes. A loss to Seattle would drop the 49ers to the NFC’s No. 5 seed and a Wild-Card road matchup next weekend against the NFC East winner, Philadelphia.

Seattle, meanwhile, can wrap up its first NFC West title since 2016 with a win. But the Seahawks’ hopes at a first-round bye were dashed late Sunday afternoon after Green Bay beat Detroit to clinch at least the No. 2 seed. Should Seattle win on Sunday, Green Bay would be the NFC’s top overall seed, New Orleans would be the No. 2 seed and the Seahawks would move into the No. 3 spot and host Minnesota in the Wild-Card round next weekend.

Should Seattle lose, it would play as the No. 5 seed on the road against the NFC East winner. A Seahawks loss would also have an impact on New Orleans, bumping the Saints into the No. 3 seed, meaning they would host a Wild-Card game next weekend against Minnesota instead of getting a bye.

Seattle won the first meeting with San Francisco in November, beating the then-undefeated 49ers, 27-24, on a 42-yard field goal by Jason Myers in the final seconds of overtime. Seattle is expected to have star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney back in the lineup on Sunday night after he missed the last two games with a core injury. Clowney was a difference-maker in the first meeting, racking up five tackles, a sack, five quarterback hits and a scoop-and-score touchdown on a fumble recovery.

December 29, 2019 at 7:45 PM EST
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How to watch 49ers at Seahawks

When: Sunday at 8:20 p.m. Eastern

Where: CenturyLink Field in Seattle


Streaming: Yahoo Sports