SEATTLE – The 49ers’ road show came to an end Sunday afternoon.
After impressive playoff road victories in Green Bay and Carolina, the 49ers could not withstand the most difficult visiting venue in the National Football League.
The 49ers' quest for a sixth Super Bowl title ended with a 23-17 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship game on Sunday at deafening CenturyLink Field.
The 49ers' last chance was thwarted when Colin Kaepernick's pass intended for Michael Crabtree in the end zone was deflected by Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman and intercepted by Malcolm Smith. Just like a year ago in Super Bowl XLVII, the 49ers' season ended with a failed pass to Crabtree in the end zone.
The Seahawks will face the Denver Broncos, a 26-16 winner of the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game, in Super Bowl XLVIII on Sunday, Feb. 2, at the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, N.J.
The 49ers were looking to beat the odds to overcome the curse of the Super Bowl loser. Only two Super Bowl losers have won the Super Bowl the following season. The last team to do it was the 1972 Miami Dolphins.
The Seahawks took their first lead of the game, 20-17, with 13:44 remaining in the fourth quarter. On a fourth-and-7 play from the 49ers’ 35, Aldon Smith jumped offside. With the free play, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson found Jermaine Kearse against the coverage of Carlos Rogers for a 35-yard touchdown.
The 49ers’ defense prevented the Seahawks from adding onto the lead after Kaepernick was stripped of the ball on a sack and Seattle took over at the San Francisco 6-yard line.
Linebacker NaVorro Bowman sustained what appeared to be a significant left leg injury on third down while keeping Kearse out of the end zone. Bowman was taken off the field on a cart, while some of his teammates prayed for him.
Then, on fourth down, Wilson and running back Marshawn Lynch fumbled the handoff and the 49ers took over at the 15-yard line.
However, Seattle safety Kam Chancellor recorded an interception of Kaepernick two plays later.
Both offenses had their moments in the third quarter against two of the NFL’s most stout defenses with a compelling give-and-take sequence.
Lynch accounted for the Seahawks’ first touchdown with a 40-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 10-10.
And on the 49ers’ next drive, Kaepernick answered with his legs and his arm. He completed a 22-yard pass to Crabtree, then rushed for 22 yards around left end to set up a picturesque touchdown throw and catch.
Kaepernick threw on the move to Anquan Boldin, who appeared to be well-covered in the end zone. Kaepernick’s throw was just past the outstretched arms of safety Earl Thomas, and Boldin made the grab for a 26-yard touchdown to give the 49ers a 17-10 lead.
The only offense the 49ers could generate through the first half was courtesy of Kaepernick’s legs.
He set up the game’s first touchdown with a zig-zagging 58-yard run through the Seahawks defense. The play – the longest in NFL postseason history by a quarterback -- came three plays after Sherman was called for holding on a third-down play to extend the drive.
Four plays later – on a fourth-and-goal from just inside the 1-yard line – Anthony Dixon took it over the top of the pile for a touchdown that gave the 49ers a 10-0 lead with 10:03 remaining in the first half.
On the previous play, the officials ruled Dixon scored from a yard out, but referee Gene Steratore overturned the call upon a mandatory review after a scoring play.
Kaepernick finished the game with 130 yards rushing on 11 attempts. The Seahawks completely shut down running back Frank Gore, who had 14 yards on 11 rushes.
Kaepernick completed 14 of 24 passes for 153 yards, while Wilson was 16-of-25 passing for 215 yards.
Jump-starting D: Outside linebacker Aldon Smith got the 49ers off to a fast start on the first play from scrimmage. Wilson’s bootleg to the left did not fool Smith, who stripped Wilson and recovered the ball on a sack.
The turnover gave the 49ers possession at the Seattle 15-yard line just 10 seconds into the game. The 49ers settled for Phil Dawson’s 25-yard field goal to take their first lead in Seattle since a late-season win in 2011.
Focus on Lynch: The entire season the 49ers’ defense matched personnel. Any time the opposition put three wide receivers on the field, the 49ers countered with their nickel package.
On Sunday, the 49ers kept their base defense on the field to best handle one of the Seahawks' most powerful weapons in Lynch.
Typically, the 49ers replace nose tackle Glenn Dorsey with a nickel back against three-receiver sets. But Dorsey remained on the field to give the 49ers a bigger defense designed to slow down Lynch.
Lynch had only 33 yards on 12 carries in the first half, and the plan appeared to be working. But he turned it on in the second half and finished the game with 109 yards on 22 rushing attempts.
The only time the 49ers’ strategy backfired was on a second-quarter play in which Wilson scrambled to buy time and hit Doug Baldwin with a 51-yard pass over the top of 49ers safeties Donte Whitner and Eric Reid.
The 49ers’ defense stiffened, and forced Seattle to settle for Steven Hauschka’s 32-yard field goal with 5:47 remaining the half. The 49ers led 10-3 entering the third quarter.
This ‘n’ that: Left guard Mike Iupati left the game in the second quarter with an ankle injury. After the game, head coach Jim Harbaugh said Iupati sustained a fractured ankle. The 49ers replaced him with Adam Snyder, who started four games in place of Iupati late in the season when Iupati was sidelined with a knee injury. . .
--Punt returner LaMichael James sustained a neck injury after he muffed a punt and hit by former 49ers receiver Ricardo Lockette in the second quarter. The 49ers recovered the loose ball to avoid the turnover.
--Lockette appeared to get away with a facemask penalty as he grabbed ahold of James and ripped his helmet off as he was falling to the turf. James returned later in the quarter and was back deep on a kickoff. . . .
--Cornerback Carlos Rogers returned after missing two games with a hamstring strain. He assumed the role of the 49ers’ nickel back.
To make room for Rogers on the 49ers’ 46-man game day roster, the 49ers deactivated cornerback Eric Wright for the first time since Nov. 17, after spending the first half of the season on the non-football illness list.
--Fullback Will Tukuafu, who played just two snaps in the divisional round due to a knee injury, was active and played.
--Tight end Vance McDonald started, as the 49ers went with a lot of multi-tight end formations. He had a 13-yard reception in the 49ers’ second drive of the game. It was his first catch since the Nov. 25 game at Washington.
--The 49ers got good pressure on Wilson throughout the game. Outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks had a big play to end the third quarter when he forced Wilson into an intentional-grounding penalty for a 16-yard loss.