The Seattle Seahawks are going to the Super Bowl.
In a wild back-and-forth game that was only fitting of the NFL's best current rivalry, the Seahawks stopped a late drive by Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers in the red zone, escaping CenturyLink Field with a a thrilling 23-17 victory in the NFC Championship Game.
Bleacher Report put an exclamation mark on the victory for the Seahawks, who will take on the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium in two weeks:
The Seahawks are going to the Super Bowl after beating the 49ers 23-17! pic.twitter.com/g5mKr6AVBa— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 20, 2014
But as the second-year quarterback pointed out, via the team's official Twitter feed, Seattle still has work to do:
Wilson: "It's definitely hit me we're going to the Super Bowl. At the end of the day, we haven't done anything yet." #SB48— Seattle Seahawks (@Seahawks) January 20, 2014
Kaepernick made life miserable for the 'Hawks for much of the game, running for a whopping 130 yards on 11 carries, but three fourth-quarter turnovers—including an interception in the final seconds—sealed the title game for Seattle.
Richard Sherman, who came up with the huge deflection to force that final interception, was understandably emotional after the game when speaking to FOX reporter Erin Andrews:
After the game, Michael Crabtree took to Twitter to fire back, followed by a response from Sherman:
A lion doesn't concern himself with the opinions of a sheep.— Richard Sherman (@RSherman_25) January 20, 2014
While the defenses typically held strong, it was a game characterized by big plays.
Most of those belonged to the 'Niners in the first half. On the first play from scrimmage, Aldon Smith forced a Wilson fumble and recovered it at Seattle's 15-yard line, setting up a Phil Dawson field goal. Two series later, Colin Kaepernick busted through the 'Hawks defense for the longest run of his career:
That would set up a one-yard touchdown plunge for running back Anthony Dixon.
Wilson responded with one of his typical elusive-scramble-and-bombs, finding Doug Baldwin for 51 yards, which eventually led to the Seahawks' first three points of the game.
As the Niners entered the locker room with a 10-3 advantage at halftime, the San Francisco Chronicle's Eric Branch summed up the first 30 minutes:
#49ers have 17 passing yards, Frank Gore has 12 yards and they are 0 for 4 on third down. They are winning, 10-3.— Eric Branch (@Eric_Branch) January 20, 2014
The big plays only increased in the second half.
After the Seahawks forced a quick punt, they went back to their horse—er, beast. On the subsequent drive, Lynch went 11 yards, five yards and then 40 yards for an earthquake-causing touchdown:
It was a play that even inspired a football-related tweet from the Seattle Police Department:
The 49ers would bounce right back, though, as Kaepernick marched them down the field before connecting with Anquan Boldin for a 26-yard score.
After Seattle cut the lead back to four with a field goal, it forced San Francisco into a three-and-out, setting up yet another game-changing play. As Aldon Smith jumped offsides, setting up a free play for the 'Hawks, Wilson intelligently tossed it deep and Jermaine Kearse came down with the 35-yard touchdown grab:
That gave Seattle a 20-17 lead early in the fourth quarter, but things would only continue to get more wild.
A Cliff Avril forced fumble of Kaepernick gave Seattle the ball back in the red zone, but after a NaVorro Bowman forced fumble was called off incorrectly, Wilson and Lynch bobbled a handoff on fourth-and-goal to give the ball back to the 'Niners.
Continuing the roller coaster, Seattle safety Kam Chancellor intercepted Kaepernick two plays later, setting up a field goal for the Seahawks that made it 23-17 with 3:37 left.
Finally, as the third-year QB was seemingly en route to a NFC-championship-winning drive, Sherman batted a throw to Malcolm Smith for the end-zone interception that sent the Seahawks to the Super Bowl.
Colin Kaepernick, QB, San Francisco 49ers: B-
Running for 130 yards on 11 carries in such a big game makes for an outstanding performance. Doing it against Seattle's speedy defense makes for an unbelievable one.
Of course, while he entrenched himself once again in the postseason record books with his legs, he wasn't so bad with his arm, either. Although he finished with just 153 yards, he made this silly-good jump-throw:
Unfortunately, Kaepernick, who made some tremendous throws on the final drive, committed three turnovers in the fourth quarter, putting a dark cloud over what was an otherwise solid game.
Kaepernick did show impressive maturity in putting the loss on his shoulders, via the Mercury News' Tim Kawakami:
Colin Kaepernick: "I didn't play good enough to win. Turned the ball over three times. I cost us this game."— Tim Kawakami (@timkawakami) January 20, 2014
Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks: B+
Moving from one young, dynamic, game-changing quarterback to another, it's clear that the future of the NFL is in very good hands.
Wilson wasn't always been perfect during this game. He seemed to tuck the ball and scramble too early a couple of times, which occasionally got him into some bad positions.
Of course, his offensive line hardly gave him much help, and the 'Niners made a bit of a living in Seattle's backfield. Despite all that, Wilson completed 64 percent of his throws for an impressive 8.6 yards per toss.
After a forgettable divisional-round performance, Wilson came up in a big way to earn his team a trip to the Super Bowl.
NaVarro Bowman, LB, San Francisco 49ers: A
NaVarro Bowman had 14 combined tackles and a sack. No other 49er had more than seven.
The ferocious linebacker made plays all over the field on Sunday night, but the most impressive part of his performance was arguably his ability to wrap up Lynch and not allow "Beast Mode" to get free, especially in the first half. The Tacoma News Tribune's Todd Dybas put it simply:
Bowman is the only defender who I have seen this year consistently meet Lynch and turn him back.— Todd Dybas (@Todd_Dybas) January 20, 2014
In the fourth quarter, Bowman came up with what should have been a fumble while suffering a gruesome leg injury. Coach Jim Harbaugh said the preliminary assessment of his injury is a torn ACL.
Here's hoping for a speedy recovery.
Doug Baldwin, WR, Seattle Seahawks: A
There wasn't much more Doug Baldwin could have done.
On his way to six catches and 106 yards, Harbaugh's former wide receiver at Stanford had a 51-yard catch to set up a field goal and several other clutch first-down conversions.
He also had 109 kick-return yards, including a huge 69-yarder following Boldin's touchdown to help Seattle to three points at a critical time.
Baldwin may not be as explosive as Percy Harvin, but he made the absence of the former Minnesota Viking far less noticeable.
The Seahawks head to MetLife Stadium where they will take on the Broncos for the Lombardi Trophy, while the 49ers see their really impressive season come to an end.