Seahawks outlast 49ers
For three straight seasons, Jim Harbaugh’s San Francisco 49ers have finished oh-so close.
The NFC championship game after the 2011 season and again this year, and last season’s 34-31 Super Bowl defeat to the Baltimore Ravens. And they have lost them all in a most frustrating fashion: Each time, with a great chance to win.
Quest for Six will have to wait at least one more year after the Niners lost a chance for a return trip to the Super Bowl in a 23-17 loss to archrival Seattle on Sunday.
“It’s great competition,” Harbaugh said. “Not many people get to be in this arena. I’m proud of our guys for the fight they showed today and all season.”
In a scene reminiscent of the way last season ended in the New Orleans Superdome in the Super Bowl, Colin Kaepernick threw a pass in the end zone intended for Michael Crabtree. This time, Richard Sherman deflected the ball right to Malcolm Smith for a game-sealing interception.
Harbaugh knows special seasons can be fleeting. All he has to do is turn to big brother, John, whose Ravens failed to even reach the playoffs 11 months after winning a championship.
Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers knew one or two turnovers could cost them a return trip to the Super Bowl.
That had been the case in their past two visits to Seattle, so taking care of the ball became a top priority for San Francisco to beat the Seahawks on their home field.
Kaepernick went 14 for 24 for 153 yards with two sacks and two interceptions, and the 49ers committed three fourth-quarter turnovers that made the difference through the deafening noise of CenturyLink Field.
“You can’t point fingers,” right tackle Anthony Davis said. “We came out here as a team, we win as a team, and we just lost as a team.”
It hurt even more to see two key players from either side of the ball go down with serious injuries — All-Pro linebacker NaVorro Bowman with a likely torn left knee ligament, and left guard Mike Iupati with a left ankle that is believed to be broken.
“Preliminary it looks like an ACL,” Harbaugh said of Bowman. “Tough break for NaVorro.”
“Bo was like our leader,” nose tackle Glenn Dorsey added. “A great football player, a great human being. Just to see that happen is really unfortunate. I know he’s going to train hard, rehab hard and come back even stronger.”
Seattle will meet Denver (15-3) for the NFL title in two weeks in the New Jersey Meadowlands.
It’s the first trip to the big game for the Seahawks (15-3) since they lost to Pittsburgh after the 2005 season.
“We had a shot,” punter Andy Lee said. “That’s what we wanted. It was a good year with these guys. Hopefully we can get back to work and come back all fine next year.”
The conference champs had the best records in the league this year, the second time the top seeds have gotten to the Super Bowl in 20 seasons.
It also is a classic matchup of the Denver’s record-setting offense against the NFL’s stingiest defense.
Denver opened as a one-point favorite over Seattle on the Glantz-Culver line.
San Francisco (14-5) led 17-13 when Seattle QB Russell Wilson, given a free play as Aldon Smith jumped offside, hurled the ball to Jermaine Kearse, who made a leaping catch in the end zone with 13:44 left in the fourth quarter.
Steven Hauschka then kicked his third field goal with 3:37 left to end the scoring.
Kaepernick, who rushed for 130 yards, got San Francisco to the Seattle 18 with his arm. But his pass for Crabtree was brilliantly tipped by Sherman to Smith.
“It’s tough. Any time you get this close to the Super Bowl and lose, it’s pretty upsetting,” tight end Vernon Davis said. “We just didn’t get it. We’ve been down this road before in the same kind of situation. It’s hard.”
And now the Seahawks are on to New Jersey, where Carroll once coached the Jets for a season.
That didn’t end well — he was fired so the team could hire Rich Kotite.
He heads back with a chance to add a Super Bowl crown to two national titles as coach at Southern California.
“It’s quite a magical moment,” Carroll said. “You can’t really grasp the moment. Did we really do this?”