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Seahawks top 49ers in NFC thriller

Jan 20, 2014 - 4:35 AM Seattle, WA ( - Richard Sherman tipped Colin Kaepernick's pass and then celebrated when his teammate came away with the pick. Moments later, he screamed into a TV camera that he was the best cornerback in the NFL.

One thing's for sure: The Seattle Seahawks, in front of their noisy, proud fans, proved they were the best team in the NFC with a thrilling win over a division rival.

Russell Wilson threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to Jermaine Kearse in the fourth quarter and the Seahawks scored 13 unanswered points Sunday to beat the San Francisco 49ers 23-17 in the NFC Championship Game.

After Sherman tipped a pass intended for Michael Crabtree in the back-right corner of the end zone, linebacker Malcolm Smith picked it off to halt a 49ers drive in the final minute, sealing Seattle's second Super Bowl trip.

The Seahawks will face Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos on Sunday, Feb. 2, at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. Denver beat New England 26-16 in the AFC title game Sunday.

Wilson passed for 215 yards, Marshawn Lynch rushed for 109 with a 40-yard touchdown run and top-seeded Seattle erased deficits of 10-0 and 17-10 for its seventh straight playoff win at home.

"It would really be a mistake not to remember the connection and relationship between the team and 'The 12th Man,' the fans," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said on the field after the game. "It's really unbelievable."

Kaepernick piled up 130 yards rushing, including a 58-yard scramble in the first half that set up Anthony Dixon's 1-yard touchdown for a 10-0 lead.

Sherman celebrated Smith's interception on his back in the end zone.

Replays showed him slapping Crabtree on the butt (he was penalized) and making a choking gesture after the play, but before he screamed into Fox sideline reporter Erin Andrews' microphone after the game that we was "the best corner in the game" and called Crabtree "a sorry receiver."

Kaepernick had 3:37 and three timeouts to work with in the final drive and completed 5-of-6 passes -- including a 17-yard throw to Frank Gore on fourth down -- moving San Francisco from its own 22 to the Seattle 18-yard line before the interception.

Kaepernick passed for 153 yards with a 26-yard touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin and two interceptions and had 98 yards rushing in the first half. He blamed himself for the loss.

"I didn't play good enough to win. I turned the ball over three times. I cost us this game," said Kaepernick, who also lost a fumble.

The fifth-seeded 49ers, in the NFC title game for the third straight season and looking to go back to the Super Bowl after losing to Baltimore last year, had an eight-game winning streak snapped.

The Seahawks finished a game ahead of the 49ers in the NFC West and had beaten them in their last two meetings in Seattle by a combined score of 71-16.

This one was much closer. It was a battle, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said.

"It was a 15-rounder," Harbaugh said. "Both teams played hard."

Wilson had a free throw after the 49ers went offside on 4th-and-7 and threw it to Kearse, who leapt to pull down the 35-yard touchdown pass with a defender on his back to give the Seahawks their first lead of the game with 13:44 left.

They were close to building on the 20-17 advantage after Cliff Avril stripped Kaepernick and the Seahawks recovered at the San Francisco 6-yard line, but chaos ensued.

Niners linebacker NaVorro Bowman suffered what the team said initially looks like an ACL injury as he pulled the ball away from Kearse near the goal line on third down and Kearse landed on Bowman's left leg, bending it sideways.

Kearse ended up putting the ball on the ground, but Lynch came away with it after a scramble. Wilson and Lynch then fumbled a handoff on fourth down to give the 49ers the ball at their own 15.

But Kaepernick underthrew Boldin on first down and Kam Chancellor picked the pass off, leading to Steven Hauschka's 47-yard field goal with 3:37 left.

"This is where we want to be," Carroll said. "We have an incredible opportunity to go to New York (for the Super Bowl). It is a challenge we will not take lightly."

Lynch's electric 40-yard touchdown run tied the score at 10-10 in the third quarter.

He started right, cut back through the middle of the line, nearly ran into tackle Alvin Bailey, then stumbled near the end of the run but avoided being tackled before plunging into the right side of the end zone.

Big plays were the norm in the second half.

Kaepernick's 26-yard pass to a well-covered Boldin was tipped by Seattle's Earl Thomas as both players leapt in the end zone, but Boldin came down with it for a 17-10 49ers lead midway through the third quarter.

Doug Baldwin returned the ensuing kickoff 69 yards down the right sideline to set up Hauschka's 40-yard field goal to get Seattle within four.

Earlier, Aldon Smith strip-sacked Wilson on the game's first play from scrimmage and Phil Dawson kicked a 25-yard field goal to give the 49ers the early lead.

LaMichael James fumbled a punt in the second quarter after a brutal hit by Seattle's Ricardo Lockette, but the 49ers recovered the ball and Kaepernick slipped past four tacklers on a 58-yard dash that set up the game's first touchdown.

Dixon soared over the line for a 1-yard score on fourth down at 10:03 of the quarter for a 10-0 lead.

Not to be outdone, Wilson used his legs to get Seattle points. He scrambled for time and found Baldwin behind two defenders for a 51-yard completion that set up Hauschka's 32-yard field goal, pulling the Seahawks within 10-3.

Game Notes

Both teams gained 308 yards on offense ... Seattle beat Carolina in the 2006 NFC title game and lost to Pittsburgh in the franchise's only previous Super Bowl appearance ... The 49ers fell to 6-9 in NFC title games ... Seahawks wide receiver Percy Harvin missed the game with a concussion ... 49ers guard Mike Iupati left the game with an ankle injury.