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It’s Seahawks and 49ers for the NFC Championship

Posted Jan 12, 2014

With their 23-10 victory over the Panthers in Carolina on Sunday, the San Francisco 49ers are heading to CenturyLink Field next Sunday to face the Seahawks in the NFC Championship game.


Bobby Wagner is getting his wish.

During the Seahawks’ playoff bye week, when it was possible for them to host either the San Francisco 49ers, New Orleans Saints or Green Bay Packers in their postseason opener, the team’s middle linebacker and leading tackler offered, “I’d really like to play the 49ers again.”

It’s a week later than Wagner was hoping, but the 49ers it is as the Seahawks’ opponent in next Sunday’s NFC Championship game at CenturyLink Field.

The No. 5-seed 49ers punched their ticket to the title game for the third consecutive season with an impressive 23-10 victory over the No. 2-seed Panthers in Carolina on Sunday. The No. 1-seed Seahawks earned their berth in the NFC Championship game on Saturday, when they dispatched the No. 6-seed New Orleans Saints 23-15 at CenturyLink Field.

And really, isn’t this the postseason matchup everyone wants to see – not just Wagner?

THESE DEFENSES NEVER REST

The matchup within the matchup for next Sunday’s NFC Championship game between the Seahawks and 49ers t CenturyLink Field features two of the best defenses in the NFL, as their rankings in these pivotal categories during the regular season indicate:

Category  Seahawks 49ers
Avg. points allowed 1 (14.4)  3 (17.0)
Avg. yards allowed 1 (273.6)  5 (316.9)
Avg. passing yards allowed  1 (172.0) 7 (221.0)
Avg. rushing yards allowed 7 (101.6)  4 (95.9)
Turnovers 1 (39)  4 (30)
Interceptions 1 (28)  6 (18)
Fumble recoveries 4 (11)  3 (12)

The Seahawks playing the 49ers has developed into one of the best rivalries in the NFL. They play in the same division – the NFC West, the winningest division in the league. They played each other twice during the regular season – with the Seahawks winning 29-3 at CenturyLink Field in Week 2 and the 49ers holding service in Week 14 with a 19-17 victory at Candlestick Park. The Seahawks won the NFC West in 2010 and 2013, with the 49ers winning the division in 2011 and 2012.

They are the last teams standing in the NFC as the season moves toward this one game that will determine who represents the conference in Super Bowl XLVIII on Feb. 2 at MetLife Stadium in The Meadowlands.

And, they arrived at their title-game showdown in familiar fashion.

Sunday, the San Francisco defense held the Panthers to 10 points, as linebacker Ahmad Brooks had half the 49ers’ five sacks of Carolina quarterback Cam Newton and Pro Bowl linebackers NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis each had 11 tackles. The offense, meanwhile, was efficient and opportunistic, as Frank Gore ran 17 times for 84 yards; Colin Kaepernick completed 15 of 28 passes for 196 yards and a touchdown; and Anquan Boldin caught eight passes for 136 yards.

Saturday, the Seattle defense shut out the Saints through three quarters, set up the Seahawks’ first touchdown when defensive lineman Michael Bennett forced and recovered a fumble at the New Orleans’ 24-yard line and the All-Pro safety tandem of Kam Chancellor (14) and Earl Thomas (11) combined for 25 tackles. Marshawn Lynch carried 28 times for club playoff-record 140 yards and both the Seahawks’ TDs – a 15-yarder in the second and a 31-yarder in the fourth quarter to ice the outcome – while second-year QB Russell Wilson completed only 9 of 18 passes for a career-low 103 yards.

Now comes the rubber-match this season between the Seahawks and 49ers, in their first-ever playoff game against each other.

“We’re a different team than we were the first time we played them up there,” Kaepernick told reporters after Sunday’s game. “We have a lot of key playmakers back and we're ready to go.”

After Saturday’s game, the Seahawks made it clear that is more important where the game is being played than who the opponent might be. With Saturday’s win, the Seahawks are 16-1 at home the past two seasons, including playoffs; and 6-1 in the postseason in their state-of-the-art stadium that opened in 2002, including a six-game winning streak.

“They’ve got to come here. So they’ve got to worry about us,” Wagner said. “It’s great that we’ll be playing here. Our fans are great. When they come in they always bring a lot of energy and we feed off that energy. So the opposing team, they have to worry about that.”

Reminded of his bye-week wish regarding the 49ers, Wagner cracked a smile and offered, “Hey, bring ’em on. I don’t care who we play. But if we play them, it would be nice.”

Thomas was not only in agreement, he expanded on that notion.

“I’m just excited for the opportunity,” he said. “I don’t have any expectations. I never have put any limits on this defense or myself. You just let stuff happen, and that’s how you become legendary.

“We make it hard (on teams that come in here). But we can be beat if we’re not on it, like we normally are. We learned that in the Arizona game.”

That would be the Week 16 matchup with the Cardinals at CenturyLink Field, the only game the Seahawks have lost at home the past two seasons. And it happened when the offense gave the Seahawks a 10-9 lead with 7½ minutes to play on Wilson’s 11-yard TD pass to tight end Zach Miller, only to have the NFL’s No. 1-ranked defense yield an 80-yard drive to the Cardinals’ game-winning TD with roughly two minutes left in the game.

“I’m kind of glad it happened,” Thomas said. “Because you have tough learning lessons, even though you don’t want it to happen. But we learned from that experience and applied it to this experience and it paid off for us.”

It also delivered the Seahawks to yet another payday, and a matchup with an opponent they know very well.

As wide receiver Doug Baldwin tweeted moments after the 49ers advanced, “Wouldn’t want it any other way.”