Ladies and gentlemen, the best rivalry in the NFL is now even better.
It took 59 minutes and 38 seconds, but Seattle held on to defeat San Francisco 23-17 in an NFC championship that will define these two teams' bitter rivalry for years to come.
This was a game of exceptional plays, peaks whose best-of-the-season excellence helped cover up what was, in many cases, a sloppy contest on both offense and defense. The capper was Malcolm Smith's interception of a long Colin Kaepernick pass with just 22 seconds remaining, but there were half a dozen plays that helped make this one of the year's most memorable games:
• Kaepernick's 58-yard run in the first half set the tone for a game in which neither team could take a single player for granted. Kaepernick rushed for 153 yards and threw for a touchdown, but also threw two critical late interceptions.
• Russell Wilson, Kaepernick's counterpart, had a rockier time under center, but still remained in stride and in focus long enough to frustrate the outstanding 49ers defense, and lasered in on his receivers when he needed to.
[Related: Get Seattle Seahawks NFC championship gear]
• Marshawn Lynch ripped off one of the prettiest touchdown runs in the postseason, a 40-yard rage for a touchdown that ended in a shower of Skittles and handshakes.
• Later in the third, Kaepernick found Anquan Boldin with a how-did-he-catch-that laser for a touchdown to give San Francisco a 17-10 lead.
• With just 10 minutes left in the game, Seattle's Cliff Avril stripped Kaepernick, and that led to two straight pivotal plays. Seattle's Jermaine Kearse appeared to lose the football to NaVorro Bowman, who was injured in a grotesque twist of the knee on the play. But because of arcane and indefensible reasons, the referees could not review the change of possession, and Seattle kept the football. On the next play, however, Seattle fumbled and San Francisco recovered, the third time Seattle came away with no points in the red zone.
Seattle now heads to New York for the Super Bowl, while San Francisco heads south to ponder what could have been ... and what might well be next year. Both teams are loaded for the forseeable future, and this is likely to be the first of many memorable matchups between these two teams.
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