SEATTLE — The Seattle Seahawks are taking their game-changing defense — and the 12th Man — to the Big Apple for the Super Bowl.
Seattle’s top-ranked defense forced three fourth-quarter turnovers, and Russell Wilson threw a 35-yard touchdown pass on fourth down for the winning points in a 23-17 victory over the San Francisco 49ers for the NFC title Sunday.
Seattle will meet Denver (15-3) for the NFL title in two weeks in the New Jersey Meadowlands.
Moments after Richard Sherman tipped Colin Kaepernick’s pass to teammate Malcolm Smith for the clinching interception, the All-Pro cornerback jumped into the stands behind the end zone, saluting the Seahawks’ raucous fans. With 12th Man flags waving everywhere, and “New York, New York” blaring over the loudspeakers, CenturyLink Field rocked like never before.
“That’s as sweet as it gets,” Sherman said.
“This is really special,” added coach Pete Carroll, who has turned around the Seahawks in four seasons in charge. “It would really be a mistake to not remember the connection and the relationship between this football team and the 12th Man and these fans. It’s unbelievable.”
San Francisco (14-5) led 17-13 when Wilson, given a free play as Aldon Smith jumped offsides, hurled the ball to Jermaine Kearse, who made a leaping catch in the end zone.
Steven Hauschka then kicked his third field goal, and Smith intercepted in the end zone on the 49ers’ final possession.
“This feels even sweeter with the amazing support we have had from the 12th Man,” said team owner Paul Allen, comparing this Super Bowl trip to the previous one.
Until Seattle’s top-ranked defense forced a fumble and had two picks in the final quarter, the game was marked by big offensive plays in the second half. That was somewhat shocking, considering the strength of both teams’ defenses.
And those plays came rapidly.
Marshawn Lynch, in full “Beast Mode,” ran over a teammate and then outsped the 49ers to the corner of the end zone for a 40-yard TD, making it 10-10.
Kaepernick then produced consecutive 22-yard gains, first hitting Michael Crabtree with a pass, then rushing to the Seattle 28. His fumble on the next play was recovered by center Jonathan Goodwin, and Anquan Boldin outleapt All-Pro safety Thomas on the next play for a 26-yard touchdown.
Following Boldin’s TD, Doug Baldwin, who played for 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh at Stanford, stepped up — and through San Francisco’s coverage — on a scintillating 69-yard kickoff return that made the stadium shake for the first time all day.
That set up Hauschka’s 40-yard field goal — and a frantic finish. Seattle took its first lead on Wilson’s throw to Kearse with 13:44 left, and CenturyLink rocked again.
“It’s quite a magical moment,” Carroll said. “You can’t really grasp the moment. Did we really do this?”
Yep, the Seahawks and their 12th Man did.