The rubber match between the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks lived up to all the hype that many had expected.
Only this time, both teams met in the NFC Conference Championship for the right to play at MetLife Stadium in Super Bowl XLVIII.
Sure enough, the game provided a thrilling finish and a crazy postgame interview that will be talked about for the days leading up to the big game.
Riding the momentum of their famed “12th Man” via a sold out Centurylink Field crowd, the 49ers stunned the Seahawks on their opening drive by coming up with a key defensive play. On Seattle’s first play from scrimmage, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson took a handoff and faked as if he was going to reverse around the line of scrimmage for a pass, but a 49er defender got ahold of the speedy Wilson, stripped him of the pigskin and recovered the fumble as San Francisco had their first forced turnover of the contest. But 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick couldn’t get his team in the endzone three plays later and instead had to settle for a short field goal and a 3-0 early lead.
The Niners continued their defensive prowess on Wilson for most of the first half, forcing the Seattle QB into scrambling situations and taking him out of the rhythm that made him one of the more potent QB’s in the league this season.
A Niners second quarter touchdown gave the visitors a 10-3 lead at the half before Seattle began to wake up on offense. Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch broke free for a 40-yard TD run early in the third quarter to tie it up at 10-10. Not to be outdone, Kaepernick threw a laser to Anquan Bolden minutes later to answer the Seattle scoring drive from 26 yards out, making it 17-13 and setting up an epic fourth quarter finish.
With less than four minutes to play and facing a fourth-and-8 situation, Seattle head coach Pete Carroll decided to gamble on going for it, and it paid off. The 49ers bit on the Seahawks’ snap attempt and Wilson threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to Jermaine Kearse and a 20-17 advantage.
But the Niners (14-5) had one last chance, and it appeared they would be able to pull it
out. With three timeouts remaining, Kaepernick moved his troops down the field with good timely passing and clock management. Yet the key play – and final play of the contest – saw Kaepernick looking for receiver Michael Crabtree in the back of the endzone. The pass was on target, but Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman came up with probably the biggest play of his career when he deflected the pass right into the hands of his teammate, Malcom Smith, for the game-ending interception.
Sherman had some choice words for Crabtree during a memorable postgame interview with FOX Sports sideline reporter Erin Andrews, saying he was a “sorry receiver.” You can check out the video of the rant here.
“To see all our work that we put in -- the mornings, the nights, the weights, all your life, as a young player and in the NFL, it's amazing,” Smith said afterwards.
For Seattle (15-3), it’s their first trip to the Super Bowl since being knocked off by the Pittsburgh Steelers in Detroit at Super Bowl XL and their second trip to the Meadowlands this season. They will oppose Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, who took care of Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the AFC title game earlier in the day.
“It will be a great matchup,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. “I think it's an extraordinary opportunity to go against a guy that set all the records in the history of the game.”