The San Francisco 49ers were down by a point and in desperate need of a big play late in the fourth quarter against the Seattle Seahawks.
So naturally they turned to running back Frank Gore, who has made a habit of coming up big against the Seahawks.
On first-and-10 from the 49ers' 31, Gore bolted off left tackle, cut back against the grain and raced 51 yards to the Seahawks' 18.
Seven plays later, Phil Dawson kicked his fourth field of the game, a 22-yarder with 26 seconds left, lifting the 49ers to a 19-17 victory.
"I kind of knew that (safety Earl Thomas), he's so fast going to the ball, I kind of knew he was going to overrun it," said Gore, who rushed for 110 yards on 17 carries. "So I kind of set him up outside. Because he's so aggressive."
The 49ers (9-4) took another huge step in their playoff push, snapped their two-game losing streak to the Seahawks (11-2) and prevented Seattle from clinching the NFC West at Candlestick Park.
Gore has rushed for 1,364 yards against Seattle, his most against any opponent in his career. He set a 49ers' single-game rushing record with 212 yards against the Seahawks on Nov. 19, 2006, but his 51-yard run Sunday was arguably his most important against Seattle.
The Seahawks still own a two-game lead in the NFC West with three to play, but the 49ers remained in the lead for the NFC's second wild-card spot. What's more, the 49ers gained some confidence against a Seattle team they could well see again in the postseason at CenturyLink Field, where they've lost the past two games by a combined score of 71-16.
"If we keep doing our thing and they keep doing their thing, no question," Gore said. "They're a great team, and we're a great team.
"We play well on the road. How we go about it in the season, we go by quarters. It's the fourth quarter now. We want to be that team going to get to that next level, trying to get that (Lombardi) trophy. You got to take the north direction. This is a big win. We're taking small steps. We still got a lot to learn. But that 's a good thing. We beat a good team like Seattle and we're still not playing our best ball. That's great."
The 49ers marched 76 yards in 11 plays for Dawson's 22-yard game-winner. After Gore's big run, quarterback Colin Kaepernick swept left end for 8 yards on third-and-7 from the 15, giving the 49ers first-and-goal from the 7 with 2:39 left to play. Four plays later, Dawson connected.
"We didn't project it to be this way," Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman said. "We expected to blow them out ,but they got the benefit of a few calls throughout the game and that helps you, especially on third down. We will see them again, and it will be a different result."
Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch carried 20 times for 72 yards, giving him 1,042 yards for the season. This marks Lynch's third straight 1,000-yard rushing season and the fifth of his career.
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson completed 15 of 25 passes for 199 yards and one TD with one interception.
Kaepernick completed 15 of 29 passes for 175 yards and one touchdown with one interception, and 49ers wide receiver Anquan Boldin caught six passes for 93 yards as San Francisco won its third straight game.
"We're playing playoff football," Boldin said. "It's either win or go home. That's how we feel. We're getting hot at the right time. That's what you want. You want to play your best football in December and January. We feel like we're hitting our stride."
As expected the game turned into a physical struggle featuring two NFL defensive heavyweights.
After building a 16-14 halftime lead, the 49ers marched deep into Seahawks' territory late in the third quarter and appeared ready to extend their advantage. But on first-and-10 from the 20, Kaepernick underthrew wide receiver Michael Crabtree on a fade route along the left sideline, and Seahawks cornerback Byron Maxwell intercepted at the 1, then returned 2 yards to the 3.
The Seahawks took a 17-16 lead on Steven Hauschka's 31-yard field goal with 6:20 left to play. Seattle wide receiver Golden Tate set up Hauschka's field goal with a 38-yard punt return to 49ers' 27. The Seahawks stalled at the 13, and Hauschka gave them a one-point lead.
But the 49ers responded with their game-winning drive, and the Seahawks left Candlestick still needing to do more to dethrone the 49ers in the West.
"We've got three huge games coming up," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "Our season wasn't going to end today one way or the other."
The 49ers built a two-point halftime lead, using Dawson field goals from 23, 48, 52 yards and Kaepernick's 8-yard touchdown pass to tight end Vernon Davis with six seconds remaining.
The Seahawks scored on Lynch's 11-yard touchdown run and Wilson's 39-yard TD pass to rookie tight end Luke Willson, both in the second quarter.
In the end, the 49ers made what linebacker NaVorrow Bowman called a "statement to world" with their victory over Seattle.
"This is still our division until someone takes it from us," Bowman said.