Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (L) celebrates with teammate Chris Maragos after defeating the San Francisco 49ers in the NFL's NFC Championship football game in Seattle. Photo by David Ryder, Reuters
(UPDATED) The Seattle Seahawks turned up the defensive heat on the San Francisco 49ers to win the National Football League's NFC Championship 23-17 on Sunday and earn a place in next month's Super Bowl against the Denver Broncos.
The Seahawks advanced to the NFL title game for the only the second time in their 37-year history, while the Broncos sealed their place with a 26-16 win over the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship.
Seattle battled back from a 17-10 deficit midway through the third quarter with 13 unanswered points as the NFL's top-rated defense registered three turnovers in the fourth quarter.
The final turnover snuffed out San Francisco's hopes as linebacker Malcolm Smith intercepted a pass intended for Michael Crabtree in the end zone that was tipped by cornerback Richard Sherman with 22 seconds left in the game.
The hard-hitting defensive struggle between the NFC West rivals saw each team gaining 308 yards.
Top-seeded Seattle went into intermission trailing 10-3 after 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick rumbled 58 yards to set up the only touchdown of the first half, a one-yard plunge by Anthony Dixon.
The second-half was marked by big plays as Seattle slowly turned the tide.
A 40-yard touchdown burst up the middle by Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch on Seattle's first possession of the second half tied it 10-10.
Kaepernick put the 49ers back in front 17-10 with a 26-yard strike to Anquan Boldin with 6:29 left in the third quarter, but that was last time San Francisco scored, as the Seahawks defense shut the Niners down.
A 69-yard kickoff return by Doug Baldwin set up a field goal for Seattle that cut the deficit to 17-13, and a gutsy fourth-and-seven pass from quarterback Russell Wilson found Jermaine Kearse in the end zone from 35 yards out to put Seattle in front 20-17 early in the fourth quarter.
A 47-yard field goal by Steven Hauschka with less than four minutes left completed the scoring as Seattle held off the last desperate drive by San Francisco, who lost last year's Super Bowl against the Baltimore Ravens.
The NFL Championship Game will be played in New Jersey on Feb. 2 in the first outdoor, winter weather Super Bowl.