SEATTLE — And with that, the 49ers joined every other Super Bowl runner-up since 1973. There will be no avenging last season's Super Bowl defeat.
The 49ers were stopped short of reaching Super Bowl XLVIII by losing 23-17 Sunday to division-rival Seattle in an increasingly tense NFC Championship game at CenturyLink Field.
A series of tragic plays spelled the 49ers' demise in the fourth quarter, most notably three turnovers by quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Like the 49ers' Super Bowl finish a year ago, Kaepernick's final pass of the season went toward Michael Crabtree in the right side of the end zone. Instead of falling incomplete like last year's throws toward Crabtree, Richard Sherman tipped Kaepernick's lob to linebacker Malcolm Smith for a clinching interception with 22 seconds remaining.
The top-seeded Seahawks (15-3) survived to face Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII, set for Feb. 2 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
Shortly after the Seahawks seized their first lead of the game, Kaepernick lost a fumble on a sack, and then had a pass intercepted on the 49ers' next series with 7:37 remaining.
Between those plays came arguably the 49ers' most painful visual: a left-knee injury to star linebacker NaVorro Bowman on a potential takeaway at the 49ers' 1-yard line.
The Seahawks took their first lead of the game when Russell Wilson threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to Jermaine Kearse on fourth-and-8 with 13:44 remaining. The 49er had led 10-3 at halftime and 17-10 in the third quarter.
Only the 1971 Dallas Cowboys and 1972 Miami Dolphins won Super Bowls after losing the previous season's.