CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The San Francisco 49ers have the pairing they wanted.
Their 23-10 win at Carolina on Sunday sends them through to this weekend’s NFC Championship Game against the Seattle Seahawks. After the win, 49ers players and coaches said that feels like the fitting path to determining who goes on to the Super Bowl.
“Yeah, I think we’re the two teams that everybody was kind of looking at from the beginning,” quarterback Colin Kaepernick said. “It’s going to be a knock-down, drag-out game.”
Coach Jim Harbaugh added this: “Sure. Why not? Our team’s excited to have this chance — the ultimate chance. We’re ready.”
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Meanwhile, wide receiver Michael Crabtree downplayed the stakes and took more of a next-game-on-the-schedule approach.
“I don’t even look at it as the NFC championship,” he said. “I’m looking at it like we are playing the Seattle Seahawks. We just finished a game, and I’m looking forward to the next one.”
The 49ers and Seahawks split two regular-season meetings. On Sept. 15, the Seahawks won, 29-3, at CenturyLink Field. On Dec. 8, the Niners won, 19-17, at Candlestick Park.
The rubber match will be played at 3:30 p.m. Sunday at CenturyLink Field. Seattle earned the NFC’s top seed and home-field advantage with a 13-3 record. San Francisco (12-4) was the NFC West runner-up.
Their third meeting will determine the NFC representative in the Super Bowl, which will be played Feb. 2 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
“They’re in our way, and we’re in their way,” San Francisco linebacker Ahmad Brooks said. “The best men are going to win.”
Brooks was involved in one of the memorable moments of the 49ers-Panthers game, when he tried to anticipate the snap count, but missed — spectacularly — and launched himself over Carolina’s offensive line, which remained down in its stance. “I didn’t make a play,” Brooks said, noting that he has made the play at other times when his timing was a bit better. ... Carolina running back Jonathan Stewart, a former Timberline High School standout, was inactive because of a knee injury. That was something of a surprise, as Stewart had practiced all week. ... The result marked a disappointingly early end to the postseason for the Panthers, who had won 11 of their previous 12 games. “I had a coach tell me right after the game, this is a bad ending to a great season. And he was right,” quarterback Cam Newton said. “But a lot of credit goes to the 49ers and their preparation to how they handled the game plan today. We didn’t make enough plays ... and we will be better from this.”
Don Ruiz: 253-597-8808 firstname.lastname@example.org @donruiztnt