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Magical season at CenturyLink Field ends with marquee matchup

Posted Jan 18, 2014

The defending NFC Champion 49ers invade the land of the 12th Man on Sunday, with the Seahawks looking to claim the conference title in a rematch where 3's are wild.

The Seahawks will play their final game at CenturyLink Field on Sunday in what has been a magical 2013 season. Whether it’s their final game of the season depends on the outcome of their matchup against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game.

The 12th Man crowd that turns CenturyLink Field into a noise factory on game days, and nights, will be there and looking to burn its brand on the eardrums of yet another opponent – in the biggest game of a season that already has featured its share.

“It’s really a thrill to bring a championship game to CenturyLink and to our fans,” coach Pete Carroll said. “The 12’s are deserving and they’re ready for it and excited about it, as we are, and I think the matchup is exactly what everybody is looking for and it’s an exciting one.”

But will the 12s be outdone by a series of 3's in this game that will determine the NFC representative in Super Bowl XLVIII on Feb. 2 at MetLife Stadium in The Meadowlands?

Impossible? Probably. But consider:

The Seahawks will be playing in a conference championship game for the third time in their 38-year history. They won the 2005 NFC Championship in Seattle by beating the Carolina Panthers 34-14, after losing the 1983 AFC Championship game 30-14 to the Raiders at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

This will be the third meeting between the NFC West-rival Seahawks and 49ers this season. The Seahawks prevailed 29-3 in Week 2 at CenturyLink Field, while the 49ers took the Week 14 rematch in San Francisco 19-17 on a field goal with 26 seconds left in the game.

This is the third consecutive appearance in the NFC title game for 49ers, making them the 12th team since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger to turn that trick. They beat the Falcons 28-24 in Atlanta last season to advance to the Super Bowl, where they lost 34-31 to the Baltimore Ravens. The 49ers lost the 2011 NFC Championship game 20-17 in overtime to the eventual Super Bowl Champion New York Giants at Candlestick Park. 

This also is the 49ers’ third road game this postseason. As the No. 5 seed, they beat the NFC North Champion and No. 4-seed Packers 23-20 in the wild-card round and then beat the NFC South Champion and No. 2-seed Panthers 23-10 in Carolina last Sunday in the divisional round.

This also is the Seahawks’ third postseason appearance in four seasons under coach Pete Carroll. They won the NFC West in 2010, with a 7-9 record, and then upset the defending Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints in a wild-card game in Seattle before losing to the Bears in Chicago in the divisional round. They advanced as a wild-card team last season, with an 11-5 record, and beat the Washington Redskins for the franchise’s first road playoff win since 1983 before falling to the Falcons in Atlanta in the divisional round – 30-28 on a field goal with 8 seconds to play.

The Seahawks’ offense has had issues on third down in recent weeks, converting 29 percent (19 of 63) over their past five games – when they’re 3-2 after starting 11-1.

Sunday, they’ll be looking to improve on that against a 49ers’ defense that is led by three Pro Bowl linebackers – NaVorro Bowman, Patrick Willis and Ahmad Brooks, who combined for 413 tackles and 16.5 sacks during the regular season and have 70 tackles and 5.5 sacks in the postseason.

The Seahawks also will be looking for their third consecutive win over the 49ers at CenturyLink Field, having dispatched them 42-13 in Week 16 last season to go with the 29-3 win in Week 2 this season.

And they’ll be looking to do it in a stadium that has had three names – Seahawks Stadium, Qwest Field and now CenturyLink Field. For that matter, the Seahawks have had three home fields in their history – the Kingdome, Husky Stadium on the University of Washington campus and their state-of-the-art facility that opened in 2002.

And this is the third weekend of the 2013 postseason, with four teams vying to advance to the Super Bowl. Three times four? It’s 12, of course.

But the 3 that could matter most is No. 3 – Seahawks QB Russell Wilson. He has been spectacular at times this season, resourceful at others and opportunistic at still others. But in the past five games, he has not put up the type of numbers that have become expected of him.

In the four games to close the regular season and last week’s playoff win over the Saints, Wilson is 68 of 120 (57 percent) for an average of 158 yards, with four TD passes and three interceptions, for a passer rating of 77.4. During the Seahawks’ 11-1 start, Wilson was completing 65 percent of his passes for an average 223 yards, with 22 TD passes and six interceptions, for a 108.5 rating.

But Wilson never looks back, because he’s too focused on the task at hand.

“At the end of the day, I’m not a stats person,” he said Friday. “Obviously, I want to lead the league in stats and all that kind of stuff that usually shows your team is winning games. But at the same time, we’re built to run the football. We’re built to play-action the ball and give different looks and throw the football all over the field.

“So I’m not really worried about all that. We’re 14-3 and in the NFC Championship game against the 49ers. It doesn’t get any better. So at the end of the day, I just want to find a way to win every single time I step on the field.”