Photo by 49ers
Charlotte, NC -- They came in as a wild card and have proven they belong back in the playoffs. The Forty-Niners are headed back to the NFC Championship for the third time in three seasons. This time the only goal is to win the Super Bowl but in order to do that they must win in Seattle.
After defeating the Carolina Panthers 23-10, San Francisco will head back to CenturyLink Stadium for another rematch against the Seahawks. But this time, it's Seattle who has the bitter taste in their mouth after losing at Candlestick Park on Dec 8. For the 49ers the hurdle is the Seahawks have only lost one game at home.
"That's in the past," said Colin Kaepernick when asked about returning to Seattle. "This is a different situation. We have to go in there and win it."
Late in the second quarter it was one play that changed the direction of the game. Vernon Davis caught a 1-yard touchdown pass in the end zone from Kaepernick but it was ruled incomplete with about five seconds left on the clock. Head coach Jim Harbaugh disputed the call by racing onto the field and got a 15-yard penalty.
"I was disputing the the clock rather than the play," Harbaugh said. "We needed those seconds on there, in case we needed to make another play."
After reviewing the play, officials ruled Davis' catch a touchdown and San Francisco led 13-10 at halftime. This was the momentum they lacked throughout the first half against a dominating Panthers defense. Cam Newton had a great start leading his offense to a 10-6 lead after connecting with Steve Smith for a 31-yard touchdown. But that would be the last time they scored.
"I would probably have to look at the film but I would say we played well in the first half offensively," said Smith. "In the second half they made some adjustments and made more plays than us."
The 49ers did make some adjustments as well because they started the third quarter with a 4-yard touchdown from Kaepernick and that's when San Francisco took over the game. The defense held Newton, intercepting him twice and sacking him five times while shutting down their offense.
"Terrible ending to a great season," Newton said.
One particular play by Ahmad Brooks stopped Newton on a fourth-down sneak early in the second quarter. Had he gotten into the end zone, the game might've ended differently but instead the 49ers took over but failed to get their offense going resulting in two field goals by Phil Dawson before Davis' touchdown.
"We understood coming down here that it was going to be a fight," Patrick Willis said. "We just came out here today and fought together as a team. It wasn't pretty but we got the job done."
Now San Francisco will return to Seattle where they split two games with the Seahawks this season. This highly anticipated game will determine who will move on to the Super Bowl. And winning on the road has been the 49ers untold secret to staying alive in the playoffs. But Seattle has no worries as they have been almost unbeatable at home.
"We are two teams that everybody was looking at from the beginning," said Kaepernick. "It's going to be a knockdown, drag-out game, that's for sure."
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