The Seattle Seahawks outfought the San Francisco 49ers 23–17 in a thrilling finish in Seattle to join the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII.
The team that’s been so dominant at home and that led the league in takeaways (39) stuck true to their form in disposing of a most hated rival.
Trailing 10–3 at the half, Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch came up with a brilliant 40-yard touchdown run in the third quarter and their defense came up with three turnovers in the fourth quarter to get the win.
“This team was ready to finish,” head coach Pete Carroll told FOX Sports after the game.
Seattle took the lead on a 35-yard touchdown pass from second-year quarterback Russell Wilson to Jermaine Kearse on 4th-and-7 early in the fourth quarter.
“We went with a double count and Jermaine Kearse came up with a big time catch,” Wilson said.
“We knew we had to finish this off,” said Richard Sherman who tipped Colin Kaepernick’s final pass that led to an interception by his teammate Malcolm Smith in the end zone. “This was a team effort.”
Ultimately, the game came down to the turnover differential. San Francisco turned the ball over three times, while Seattle turned it over only once, on the first play from scrimmage.
Lynch ran for 109 yards to become the first running back to run for over 100 yards in 23 games against the vaunted 49ers defense.
The Seahawks and 49ers have arguably become the NFL’s most heated rivalry. They met for the third time this season with each team winning at home against the other.
Seattle’s dominance at home is impressive. They’ve won seven straight postseason games at home and are 17–1 in the last two seasons.
Broncos Dominate Patriots
Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos were simply too good for Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game, winning comfortably 26–16.
Denver dominated play and avenged their stunning overtime loss from Week 12 to the Patriots. New England never really got going and Brady lost only his fifth meeting against Manning after winning 10 of the prior 14.
Manning threw for 400 yards, two touchdowns, was never sacked and never turned the ball over. It was a flawless performance and one that many have come to expect from him week-in-week-out. The Denver offense set an NFL record with 606 point scored in the regular season and Manning set records for passing yards (5,477) and touchdowns (55).
“We’ve overcome a number of obstacles this year. We kept our nose to the grindstone, kept persevering,” Manning said in an on-field interview with CBS after the game. “Feels great to get this win.”
The tide turned squarely in the Broncos’ favor when Patriots’ corner back Aqib Talib had to leave the game in the first half due to rib and knee injuries.
Without the key cover man, Denver’s Demaryius Thomas had a field day against Alfonzo Dennard.
There were some doubts about his knee coming into this game, but Thomas showed no effects.
“I’m going to put it all out there on the field,” Thomas said. And he certainly did that with 7 catches for 134 yards and 1 TD.
Denver controlled the clock (nearly 35 minutes time of possession) and wore down New England’s defense who had no answer to Manning’s passing attack.
New England could not get their power running game going against Denver’s stout defense and facing a 17-point deficit when they got the ball for the first time in the second half, the play-calling had to be heavily weighted to the pass.
With a 13–3 lead at the half, the Broncos got the ball to start the second half. They drove down field in 13 plays, chewing up over seven minutes of clock to extend the lead to 20–3.
In fact, Denver scored on six consecutive drives after punting in their opening drive. They didn’t punt once against San Diego last Sunday.
Brady was attempting to extend his own record by winning his 19th NFL postseason game, but that will have to wait another year.
“They played really well today,” Brady told CBS after the game. “Give them a lot of credit. We fought hard, it’s a tough loss.”
Looking Ahead to Super Bowl Matchup
Seattle and Denver is the ultimate matchup of defense versus offense. The two teams both topped their respective conferences with 13–3 records and won two home games to reach the Super Bowl. Denver has the league’s best offense and Seattle the league’s best defense.
Manning will face a much more ferocious secondary than what the Patriots (minus Talib) threw at him. But Denver’s run defense will also have its hands full with Lynch. Both teams are equally capable of playing away from their home fans, achieving 6–2 records on the road during the regular season.
Seattle is making it’s second trip to the Super Bowl. They lost in their first trip in 2006 to the Pittsburgh Steelers. For Denver, they will look to win their third since winning two straight in the late 90s.
Super Bowl XLVIII will be played on Sun. Feb. 2 at Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Follow Rahul on Twitter @RV_ETSports