Malcolm Smith intercepted Colin Kaepernick’s pass to Michael Crabtree in the endzone with less than a minute left, and the Seahawks held off the 49ers 23-17 in the NFC Championship game on Sunday to reach the Super Bowl.
The Seahawks (15-3) rode Marshawn Lynch and their defense, plus their deafening “12th Man” at CenturyLink Field, to their second conference championship. They will face Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII on Feb. 2 in MetLife Stadium.
Kaepernick led the 49ers deep into Seahawks territory on their final drive, converting a fourth-and-two along the way. After connecting with Anquan Boldin for a short gain to the Seattle 18-yard line, Kaepernick lobbed a deep fade down the right sideline for Crabtree, who appeared to have a step on Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman. But Sherman adjusted well and got a hand on the ball, tipping it high enough for Smith to haul it in and seal the game.
The 49ers’ final three drives ended with turnovers — two interceptions and a lost fumble — all by Kaepernick.
It was the chippy, physical battle everyone expected from the two NFC West powers, who split their two regular-season meetings. The Seahawks thoroughly beat the 49ers the last two times at CenturyLink Field, but the 49ers vowed this trip would end differently.
For a while, It looked like it would. The 49ers (14-5) built a 10-0 advantage and stayed in control by trading scores with the Seahawks through the first three quarters.
The fourth was the 49ers’ undoing.
Kaepernick finished 14-for-24 passing for 153 yards and a touchdown and rushed for a game-high 130 yards on 11 carries.
Boldin and Crabtree had 53 and 52 receiving yards, respectively.
NaVorro Bowman led the 49ers defense with 14 tackles and a sack, but left the game in the fourth quarter after suffering a gruesome knee injury while trying to recover a fumble at the 49ers’ 1-yard line.
Aldon Smith had two sacks and stripped Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson on the first play from scrimmage.
MVP – Marshawn Lynch
The Seahawks running back became the first rusher to eclipse 100 yards on the ground against the 49ers this season. He carried 22 times for 109 yards (5 yards per carry), and broke loose for a 40-yard touchdown run in the third quarter that was vintage Beast Mode. The 49ers bottled up Lynch in the first half, but his physical running style eventually wore them down.
LVP – Vernon Davis
The versatile 49ers tight end ended a very disappointing postseason by being a ghost when his team needed him most. Davis finished with two catches for 16 yards and dropped a key pass.
X-Factor – Doug Baldwin
He delivered for the Seahawks when it looked like they were on the brink of collapse. First, there was his 51-yard reception that was of equal discredit to the 49ers secondary. That led to the first of three field goals by Steven Hauschka, trimming the 49ers lead to 10-3. Then there was his 69-yard kick return that followed a 26-yard touchdown pass from Kaepernick to Boldin in the third quarter. The result: another Hauschka field goal to make it 17-13 49ers. Those six “gimme” points proved costly.
Key Stat – 3
The 49ers committed three turnovers in the fourth quarter.
Tweet of the game
If the first thing Richard Sherman thinks about after winning a conference title game is calling Crabtree “mediocre” . . . tells you a lot.
— Mark Purdy (@MercPurdy) January 20, 2014
What This Loss Means
It’s another heart-breaking end to a promising season for the 49ers, who had realistic goals of avenging last year’s Super Bowl loss to the Ravens. The 49ers led 17-13 after three quarters and, despite two turnovers in the fourth, had a chance to beat their arch rivals at their place on their final drive. Kaepernick’s critics are sure to resurface, despite the fact he carried San Francisco through the first three quarters with his improvised runs and sure throws. But he failed miserably to deliver in the fourth.
The 49ers’ reign atop the NFC West and the conference has clearly ended.