The 49ers, who failed to score a touchdown the first time the teams met this season, scored two TDs to go with three Phil Dawson field goals in a 23-10 win over the Panthers in Charlotte.
The victory sets up a showdown in Seattle for the NFC Championship on Sunday, San Francisco’s third straight trip to the conference title game.
49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who threw for just 91 yards with an interception in the first meeting, went 15 of 28 for 196 yards and a TD with no interceptions. Anquan Boldin had eight catches for 136 yards for the 49ers while Frank Gore ran for 84 yards.
Carolina led 10-6 in the second quarter before the 49ers got rolling.
“We came out, they did some unorthodox things against us,” Kaepernick said. “We settled down, we got into our rhythm, we started making plays.”
In his first postseason appearance, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton went 16 of 25 for 267 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions, and ran for 54 yards on 10 carries.
“Terrible ending to a great season,” Newton said.
The 49ers now will focus on the Seahawks. The teams split the season series, with Seattle winning 29-3 at home in Week 2, and San Francisco winning 19-17 at home in Week 14.
“I think we’re the two teams that everybody was looking at from the beginning,” Kaepernick said. It’s going to be a knockdown, drag-out game.”
Lynch leads Seahawks: Marshawn Lynch hasn’t been the key ingredient for the Seattle Seahawks the past two months, but showed on Sunday that opponents better not forget about him.
In an NFC Divisional contest against New Orleans, Lynch got the first touchdown for the Seahawks on a 15-yard run in the second quarter for a 13-0 lead, then scampered 31 yards around left end with 2:40 left in the fourth as the host Seahawks beat the Saints 23-15.
“His vision, his footwork, his patience right there, that’s what you have to have, especially on that particular play,” Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson said of Lynch’s last TD run. “To get the first down and then accelerate to the end zone, that’s what makes him one of the best, if not the best, running back in the National Football League.”
Seattle will play in its second NFC Championship game ever when it plays at home against the 49ers on Sunday.
Lynch set a franchise playoff record by rushing for 140 yards on 28 carries, the first time he has collected more than 100 yards in a game since gaining 145 yards on November 10 against Atlanta.
The Seahawks defense bent, but didn’t break. They held Saints quarterback Drew Brees to just 34 yards passing in the first half.
“They’re a very stout defense in all phases – front four, linebackers, secondary,” Brees said. “It’s as complete a defense as there is in this league. There are a lot of reasons why they are one of the best.”
Blount, Patriots roll: New England has lost a lot of receiving weapons this season, so the Patriots are pleased to still have a threat in the backfield. LeGarrett Blount ran 24 times for 166 yards and four touchdowns in the Patriots 43-22 win over the visiting Indianapolis Colts on Saturday.
“Once I get into the open field, they’re going to have to chase me,” Blount said. “And if they catch me, they do. And if they don’t, they don’t. They usually don’t.”
The win sends New England to Denver this weekend to decide the AFC champion. Despite a rash of injuries on both sides of the ball, the Patriots continue to defy the odds.
“People have counted us out at times this year, but I think we’ve got a locker room full of believers,” said Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who passed for 198 yards.
Colts quarterback Andrew Luck threw for 331 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but threw four interceptions.
Broncos win this time: After losing 38-35 in double overtime to Baltimore in the Divisional round last year, the Denver Broncos didn’t want a repeat. They led 17-0 going into the fourth quarter and held on for a 24-17 win over San Diego on Sunday for the right to host New England in the AFC Championship game this weekend.
Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning snapped a personal three-game playoff skid, winning for the first time since guiding the Colts to a win in the AFC title game in 2010. He threw for 230 yards and two touchdowns. Knowshon Moreno ran for 82 yards, including a 3-yard run with 8:12 to play for a 24-7 lead.
Now Manning faces the Patriots Tom Brady with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.
“It’s the Broncos versus the Patriots and certainly Tom and I have played against each other a lot,” Manning said. “But when you get to the AFC Championship, it’s about two good teams that have been through a lot to get there.”
Divisional Playoffs Top Performers:
- Andrew Luck, Colts, 20-41, 331 yards, 2 TDs, 4 INTs
- LeGarrette Blount, Patriots, 24 carries, 166 yards, 4 TDs
- Marques Colston, Saints, 11 catches, 144 yards, TD
- Kam Chancellor, Seahawks, 14 total tackles
- Ahmad Brooks, 49ers, 2.5 sacks
- Alfonzo Dennard, Patriots, 2 INTs
Quotable: “Omaha.” – What Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning frequently shouted before the ball was snapped in Sunday’s playoff game against the Chargers. The Greater Omaha (Neb.) Convention and Visitors Bureau tweeted its thanks to Manning for the shout-out.
Sidelines: Detroit hired Jim Caldwell as their new head coach. Caldwell, 58, previously was a head coach with Indianapolis from 2009-11. He was Baltimore’s offensive coordinator when the Ravens won last season’s Super Bowl and again this season…Ken Whisenhunt has been hired by Tennessee as the team’s new head coach. Whisenhunt, 51, was the Chargers offensive coordinator this season. Whisenhunt also has head coaching experience, with Arizona from 2007-12…Broncos cornerback Chris Harris is out for the rest of the season with a torn ACL, suffered in Sunday’s game against San Diego.
Ted Olafson contributed to this report from Seattle.
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