The San Francisco 49ers turned the ball over three times in the fourth quarter and Russell Wilson threw a 35-yard touchdown pass for the go-ahead points in the Seahawks 23-17 victory in Sunday’s NFC Championship at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field.
Disappointed but not devastated, head coach Jim Harbaugh said afterward:
“It was a 15-round fight. Not many people get to be in this arena. Proud of our guys for the way the fought this whole season. Congratulations to the Seahawks.”
The 49ers (14-5) drove into Seattle territory on the game’s final assault, but with 30 seconds left, Richard Sherman tipped a Colin Kaepernick pass intended for Michael Crabtree in the back of the end zone into the hands of Malcolm Smith for the game-sealing interception.
Pete Carroll and the Seahawks (14-5) were down 10-3 at halftime mustering only a Steven Hauschka field goal.
Aldon Smith forced and recovered a Wilson fumble on the first play from scrimmage that Phil Dawson turned into three points and Anthony Dixon later scored on a one-yard touchdown in the second quarter.
Marshawn Lynch opened the second half with a 40-yard touchdown run and the 49ers responded with Kaepernick’s 26-yard strike to Anquan Boldin that put San Francisco up 17-10 with 6:29 left in the third.
Yet the Seahawks struck back when Baldwin returned the ensuing kickoff 69 yards that resulted in another field goal to make it 17-13.
Kam Chancellor subsequently picked off Kaepernick which turned into a touchdown on Wilson’s 35-yarder to Jermaine Kearse.
Kaepernick had the ball stripped from his hand on the next possession which Michael Bennett recovered and Hauschka tacked on another three points to put Seattle up 23-17.
Like their Super Bowl loss nearly one year ago, the 49ers’ final chance to win again came down to a Kaepernick pass that didn’t make into the hands of Crabtree in the end zone.
A somber Kaepernick addressed the 49ers last offensive play:
“When I saw the match up [Sherman on Crabtree] I thought we were going to score.”
It’s a disappointing loss for a team that reached it’s third consecutive NFC title game.
Kaepernick finished with 153 passing yards and 110 rushing yards, but his three turnovers were costly. The rest of the backfield combined for just 31 yards on 17 carries.
Problems also arose in the return game, as LaMichael James muffed an early punt — his fumbling problems are well known — and got drilled by gunning ex-teammate Ricardo Lockette.
Vic Fangio’s defense again played well, hitting Wilson 10 times while registering four sacks between Smith, Dan Skuta and NaVorro Bowman who led the team with 14 tackles before exiting with a gruesome ACL tear. Pro Bowl guard Mike Iupati also left with a fractured ankle.
Despite the loss and injuries, linebacker Patrick Willis remained positive post-game:
“I have no reason to think that next year won’t be our year.”
The Seahawks move on to face the Denver Broncos (15-3) in Super Bowl XLVIII at the New Jersey Meadowlands on Feb. 2.