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Seahawks headed to Super Bowl after 23-17 win over 49ers

Updated: January 20, 2014 10:05AM

SEATTLE — Their vaunted home-field advantage muted by an early deficit, the Seattle Seahawks found a way to win anyhow.

Trailing almost from the outset and into the fourth quarter Sunday, the Seahawks rallied behind quarterback Russell Wilson and a defense that not only was as good as advertised, but it came up with all the big plays when it mattered most to beat the San Francisco 49ers 23-17 to win the NFC Championship Game at CenturyLink Field.

Wilson, overcoming a lost fumble on the Seahawks’ first play from scrimmage, threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to Jermaine Kearse on a fourth-and-seven play early in the fourth quarter. And the defense made it stand with three takeaways in the last 10:20 — capped by Malcolm Smith’s interception in the end zone with 22 seconds left off a pass intended for Michael Crabtree but tipped by teammate Richard Sherman — to advance to Super Bowl XLVIII on Feb. 2 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

‘‘Not until Sherm tips the ball to Malcolm did it hit me that we had a chance to go to the Super Bowl,’’ Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. ‘‘It’s quite a magical moment. You can’t quite grasp the reality of it. I know for the old guys, the young guys, it’s a big moment for everybody. It’s very, very special.’’

Though Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch scored on a 40-yard run to tie the game 10-10 early in the third quarter, the quarterbacks made the difference. Wilson’s fumble when he was sacked by Aldon Smith was his last big mistake of the day. He finished 16-for-25 for 215 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions for a 104.6 passer rating that was a measurement of his efficiency as much as anything.

‘‘It’s been a blessing,’’ Wilson said. ‘‘We played so hard. We talked at the beginning of the season and said, ‘Why not us?’ ’’

Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick was better early but struggled in the second half when Carroll made some defensive changes. Kaepernick rushed for 130 yards on 11 carries, including a 58-yard run in the second quarter that set up a touchdown.

But after Wilson threw the touchdown to Kearse that gave the Seahawks a 20-17 lead with 13:44 left in the fourth quarter, Kaepernick was unable to respond. He lost a fumble when he was sacked by Cliff Avril, with Michael Bennett recovering and returning it to the 49ers’ 6-yard line.

The 49ers staved off that threat — after NaVorro Bowman suffered a gruesome-looking knee injury on an apparent fumble recovery that was inexplicably given to the Seahawks — when Lynch fumbled on fourth-and-goal. But Kaepernick threw an interception, leading to a Steven Hauschka field goal that gave the Seahawks a 23-17 lead.

Kaepernick had one last chance and drove the 49ers to the Seahawks’ 18 with 30 seconds left. But his pass for Crabtree in the end zone was tipped by Sherman and intercepted by Smith to clinch it.

‘‘It wound up being a sloppy finish,’’ Carroll said. ‘‘But what did happen was we threw a tremendous night of defense out there.

‘‘With a couple of exceptions, we played great. And we needed it.’’


Twitter: @MarkPotash

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