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The Seahawks Pulled Deebo Samuel’s Leg, But The Niners Had The Last Laugh

SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 14: Deebo Samuel #19 of the San Francisco 49ers reacts after a run during an NFL football game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks at Levi's Stadium on January 14, 2023 in Santa Clara, California.
Michael Owens/Getty Images

They were down and out. Their quarterback played a dismal first half, and looked to be unraveling in his NFL postseason debut. Nobody believed. America left them for dead. And still, in a stirring display of resilience, the scrappy Niners rallied from a 17-16 halftime deficit to win the first NFC Wild Card game against Seattle on Saturday, 41-23. Some sports miracles lack explanation, but every Niners player asked about the team's second-half turnaround pointed to another turnaround. That is, the turning around of Deebo Samuel's ankle by Seahawks safety Johnathan Abram.

When Samuel was carted off the field with a leg injury in Week 14, it seemed like his season might be over; he was in tears as he left the game against the Buccaneers. But his prognosis was rosier the next day. Samuel returned to practice just over two weeks later, even playing some snaps in San Francisco's regular-season finale against the Cardinals. He looked like his usual elusive self against a tackling-averse Seahawks defense, which must have felt like it was in a specific kind of hell trying to stop a group of weapons whose shared talent is an ability to gain yards after the catch. A shaky first half from quarterback Brock Purdy and a late hit on Geno Smith set up a go-ahead field goal for the Seahawks as the first half ended. The Niners' first drive of the third quarter chugged along without much excitement until Samuel, in very Deebo Samuelish fashion, turned a pass underneath on third-and-7 into a 21-yard gain with a leap and a twirl. After bringing Samuel down, Abram got up and yanked on his leg.

Samuel stayed down for a few seconds after the play—head coach Kyle Shanahan later said he feared in the moment that Samuel was injured again— but only so he could regain his composure and avoid a penalty. "I stayed down a little because I almost lost my temper," he said. Being so upset that you have to lie on the floor to feel better ... NFL players—they're just like us.

After they scuffled with some Seahawks players on the field, Samuel's teammates channeled their anger into 25 unanswered second-half points.

"Anger kind of took over," George Kittle said. "I don't know why you'd ever want to—first off, excuse my language—why'd you wanna piss off Deebo? But if you're going to do that to him, you're just going to piss off Trent Williams, who's one of the scariest people on the football field. You're going to fire up our defense and get our entire team fired up. I don't know what the point of that is."

Fred Warner, of the fired-up defense, expressed a similar confusion: "I don't know what he was trying to achieve by doing that, but it wasn't the smartest move," he said, with a smile. Nick Bosa, after saying he "would not piss off the dudes on offense," added simply, with a sigh, "Don't poke the bear."

Abram insisted that he meant no harm by the leg pull. He even added one wrinkle to this story: Samuel is one of his closest friends, he said, and they exchanged jerseys after the game. But the damage was done. He must feel foolish now, knowing that he gave the floundering Niners something to play for. Without it, the Seahawks most assuredly would have won.

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