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Seahawks steal past 49ers into Super Bowl

The Sports Xchange

NFL Team Report - Seattle Seahawks - INSIDE SLANT

Richard Sherman jumped up to knock away the most important pass of the game, and then he leaped into the CenturyLink Field stands to celebrate his Seattle Seahawks going to the Super Bowl.

The cornerback tipped a pass that ended up in the arms of Seattle linebacker Malcolm Smith in the end zone, resulting in San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s third turnover in a span of less than 10 minutes and clinching the Seahawks’ 23-17 win over the 49ers in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game.

“It was one of our goals coming into the season to make this game,” Sherman said of the Super Bowl. “It’s really unbelievable to make it. Every moment, every ounce of energy spent, it’s been worth it. It’s great; it’s fantastic.”

Seattle rallied from a 10-0, first-quarter deficit and didn’t take its first lead until the fourth quarter, but in the end the Seahawks earned their second Super Bowl appearance in franchise history. Eight years after losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XL, Seattle is on its way to East Rutherford, N.J., to face the AFC champion Denver Broncos on Feb. 2.

“Man, it’s the best feeling since seeing my little son born,” Seahawks linebacker Bruce Irvin said after Seattle beat its NFC West rival to earn a ticket to the Super Bowl.

The Seahawks jumped ahead 20-17 on a 35-yard Jermaine Kearse touchdown reception of a pass from quarterback Russell Wilson with 13:44 remaining, marking Seattle’s first lead of the game. Steven Hauschka’s 47-yard field goal with 3:37 remaining extended the lead to six.

Kaepernick completed 14 of 24 passes for 153 yards and a touchdown and added 130 rushing yards, but his three fourth-quarter turnovers ended up costing the 49ers a return trip to the Super Bowl.

“I didn’t play good enough to win,” said Kaepernick, who had a fumble and two interceptions over the final 10:07. “I turned the ball over three times. I cost us the game.”

Kaepernick’s second turnover, an interception by Seattle safety Kam Chancellor at the 49ers’ 40-yard line with 7:37 remaining, set up Hauschka’s final field goal.

Kaepernick also was intercepted on his final pass of the game. The throw toward wide receiver Michael Crabtree in the Seattle end zone was broken up by Sherman and intercepted by Smith with 22 seconds left, sealing the outcome.

“I just happened to be the guy,” Smith said of the game-clinching interception. “Just fortunate.”

Said Kaepernick: “I had a one-on-one matchup with (wide receiver Michael Crabtree). I’ll take that every time, against anyone.”

The outspoken Sherman took the opportunity to trash-talk Crabtree, who was the intended receiver on Kaepernick’s final pass. Sherman received a penalty for taunting Crabtree after the play, displaying the “choking” gesture with his hands.

“I was making sure that everybody knew that Crabtree was a mediocre receiver,” Sherman said about an hour after the win. “When you try to test the best corner in the game against a mediocre receiver, that’s what happens.”

Crabtree took a shot of his own inside the visiting locker room.

“When we were on the field, (Sherman) isn’t doing nothing,” Crabtree said. “That’s one play. He knows.”

Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch rushed for 109 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries, but he never got a chance to score the winning touchdown midway through the fourth quarter. On fourth-and-goal from the San Francisco 1-yard line, Wilson botched the handoff to Lynch, and the ball bounced free. The Seahawks recovered the fumble at the 15-yard line, but San Francisco took over on downs.

San Francisco gave the ball back two plays later on Chancellor’s interception.

The 49ers fell to 1-2 in NFC Championship Games under coach Jim Harbaugh, while the Seahawks are headed to their second Super Bowl in a span of eight years.

The Seahawks’ Smith said he is looking forward to facing the Broncos and quarterback Peyton Manning in MetLife Stadium.

“We’ll get Peyton in that weather and see how he performs,” Smith said. “Obviously, he’s a great player, and we’ll just try to stop him.”

For only the second time since the 1993 season, and the first since 2009, the top two seeds in the NFL postseason advanced to the Super Bowl.

“We wouldn’t have it any other way,” Sherman said of facing the Broncos. “They’re an unbelievable offense with a record-setting quarterback. I’m sure it’s going to be a fantastic game.”

The 49ers lost linebacker NaVorro Bowman midway through the fourth quarter. The Pro Bowler suffered a significant leg injury after stripping Kearse of the ball near the goal line. Bowman appeared to have possession of the ball as he fell to the turf with Kearse on his leg, but the Seahawks were given back the ball at the San Francisco 1-yard line. The fourth-and-goal play resulted in Lynch’s fumble on the exchange with Wilson, leaving the Seahawks without anything to show for the possession.

The Seahawks took their first lead of the game on the second play of the fourth quarter. Wilson’s pass to Kearse came on fourth-and-6.

“We gave Jermaine a shot, and he came down with a big catch,” said Wilson, who completed 16 of 25 passes for 215 yards and a touchdown after fumbling the ball away on Seattle’s first snap of the game.

The Kearse touchdown came after the Seahawks initially sent Hauschka onto the field for a 53-yard field goal attempt. Seattle was forced to take a timeout with the play clock running out, and coach Pete Carroll then opted to send the offense back onto the field.

“It was beyond what Hauschka had done in pregame, and we said: ‘OK, let’s not force that issue in hopes of him kicking a good ball right there,’” Carroll said. “So we let (the clock) wind down to go ahead and take a shot.”

A defensive first half was followed by a third quarter of offensive fireworks, with the teams combining to score on three of the first four possessions of the second half. Seattle ended up outscoring the 49ers 20-7 after halftime.

Lynch broke a 40-yard touchdown run on third-and-1 to tie the score 10-10 five minutes into the third quarter.

Kaepernick responded with a 26-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Anquan Boldin, giving the 49ers a 17-10 lead.

Hauschka hit his second field goal of the day, from 40 yards out, with 3:55 remaining in the third quarter to cut Seattle’s deficit to 17-13.

Kearse then scored the eventual game-winner on a fourth-down pass that came after the 49ers jumped offside.

“We got a free play, so we were going to take a shot,” said Kearse, who grew up in nearby Lakewood. “Russell went downfield, and I was able to come down with it.”