Riding an eight-game winning streak, it’s easy to understand why the San Francisco 49ers feel they can perform better than they did in their last two visits to Seattle.
Whether they’re good enough to end their road struggles against the Seahawks and reach the Super Bowl for a second straight season will be determined Sunday with the NFC championship on the line.
”I think we’re the two teams that everybody was looking at from the beginning,” San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick said. “It’s going to be a knockdown, drag-out game.
“We’re ready to go.”
Mirroring the images of their fiery and animated head coaches, both sides expect the hitting to be hard, the talking loud and the emotions high when these NFC West rivals meet with so much at stake.
“Long story short: They know us, we know them,” 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman said. ”We got to go there. We all know the history. But this is the Super Bowl.”
Though the teams have split the last four meetings, top-seeded Seattle (14-3) has looked dominant while forcing seven turnovers and outscoring the 49ers 71-16 to win the last two at raucous CenturyLink Field.
“It’s a big deal to play here,” Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman told the team’s official website. “We’ve earned that right to play them at home, to be on our home field in front of our fans.”
With the “12th Man” crowd there to lend support, the Seahawks have won six straight home playoff games, highlighted by a 34-14 victory over Carolina in the NFC championship game during the 2005 season. The noise level in the stadium even produced a small earthquake during last Saturday’s 23-15 win over New Orleans.
“We understand that we have to go up there in a hostile environment with a really good football team and do what a lot of people probably aren’t going to pick us to do,” San Francisco safety Donte Whitner said. “That’s OK with us. We understand what we have to do.”
A three-point win in the bitter cold at Green Bay in the wild-card round and a 23-10 victory at second-seeded Carolina last weekend further increased the 49ers’ confidence level.
“Our team has been in a lot of good primers, been through a lot of situations, been through tough environments, whether it be weather or opposing stadiums,” coach Jim Harbaugh, whose team can be the first to make the Super Bowl in consecutive years since New England during the 2003 and ’04 seasons.
Kaepernick completed 50.0 percent of his passes for 371 yards with a touchdown and four interceptions in his two starts at Seattle. His 87 yards on nine carries highlighted San Francisco’s 29-3 loss there in Week 2.
However, Kaepernick is 4-1 in the postseason, including 3-0 on the road.
He posted a 92.7 passer rating and threw six TDs and three INTs in those five games, while rushing for 377 yards and four touchdowns with a 9.4-yard per-carry average.
Kaepernick’s game has improved with the presence of Michael Crabtree, who has 30 receptions for 435 yards with a TD in seven contests - including playoffs - since making his season debut Dec. 1 after an Achilles injury.
Tight end Vernon Davis caught his seventh TD in his seventh playoff game last week while teammate Anquan Boldin had eight catches for 136 yards.
Boldin is looking to make it to the Super Bowl for the second straight year after helping Baltimore beat San Francisco 34-31 in 2013 with six receptions for 104 yards and a score.
“We’re a different team than we were the first time we played (the Seahawks) up there,” said Kaepernick, who threw for 127 yards, three interceptions and was sacked three times in that meeting.
San Francisco (14-4), though, still must find a way to get the best of a Seattle defense that led the league with 273.6 yards and 14.4 points allowed.
Boldin caught 13 passes for 208 yards and a TD in a 34-28 season-opening win over Green Bay, but the next week was held to one reception for seven at Seattle. He did make six catches for 93 yards in the rematch at San Francisco on Dec. 8, but the 49ers needed a 22-yard field goal with 26 seconds left to win 19-17.
San Francisco’s Frank Gore, who had 110 yards on 17 rushes in last month’s matchup, is averaging 4.9 per carry in seven postseason games. However, he’s rushed 15 times for 44 yards in the last two at Seattle.
The Seahawks allowed New Orleans to run for 108 yards and Marques Colston to make 11 catches for 144 yards and a TD last weekend, but they limited star tight end to Jimmy Graham to one catch for eight and the Saints to a 3-of-12 performance on third down.
“(Reaching the NFC championship is) what we want to do, and we’re not going to let anybody come in our way and take this from us,” Seattle safety Kam Chancellor said.
Teammate Marshawn Lynch pounded his way for 140 yards and two touchdowns, including a 31-yard score late in the fourth quarter. It was the third playoff game of at least 131 yards for Lynch, who has averaged 5.2 per carry and scored five TDs in five postseason contests.
He’s averaged 112.5 yards and scored four TDs in four home games versus San Francisco, which gave up 90.8 rushing yards per game in the regular season. Lynch has also caught a touchdown pass in each of the last two home contests in the series.
Seattle’s Russell Wilson has thrown for five TDs and two INTs while posting a 101.4 passer rating in the past two at home against the 49ers.
Despite his team’s recent home success in the series, Wilson knows a serious challenge awaits against a San Francisco team that’s allowed averages of 15.5 points and 304.9 yards over the last eight weeks.
“The Seattle Seahawks want to bring something special to the city,” he said. “To do that, we have to play the best 60 minutes of our lives.”
Wilson has averaged just 157.6 passing yards in his last five with four touchdowns and three interceptions, completing 56.7 percent of his passes, and he’ll be without perhaps his biggest weapon Sunday.
Percy Harvin, who played just one regular season game but came back to face the Saints, caught three passes against New Orleans but didn’t play in the second half after suffering a concussion. On Friday, Seattle ruled him out against the 49ers.