|ESPN.com: NFL Playoffs 2013||[Print without images]|
SEATTLE -- Richard Sherman wasn't playing. Michael Crabtree wasn't going to make a play on him, not on this night, not ever, not when a trip to the Super Bowl was on the line.
So Sherman waited. And he waited. And he waited, until San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick couldn't help himself. Kaepernick threw the fade into the end zone that Sherman knew was coming, and Sherman was ready for it.
With the NFC Championship Game on the line and Seattle clinging to a six-point lead with less than a minute to go, Sherman tipped Kaepernick's pass away from Crabtree and into the outstretched hands of linebacker Malcolm Smith. Smith caught it. Sherman would have, he said, had Crabtree not shoved him on the play.
|Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman tips the ball away from San Francisco receiver Michael Crabtree in the end zone. The ball was intercepted by Malcolm Smith, sealing the Seahawks' victory.|
It didn't matter. With the ball in Smith's hands, the game was essentially over. Russell Wilson took one knee, then another, and then another, and with that, Seattle won 23-17. The Seahawks will make their second trip to the Super Bowl in franchise history and face the Denver Broncos, who beat New England in the undercard on Sunday.
There in the New York/New Jersey Super Bowl, the Seahawks will try to answer that age-old question about what wins championships in the National Football League, prolific offenses or stingy defenses? Seattle has the best defense in football. In Denver, the Seahawks will face the best offense in the history of the game.
Seattle's reaction: Bring it on.
"It's going to be good on good," Seahawks safety Earl Thomas said.
Yes, it is. Good on good. Or make it great on great.
The Super Bowl in two weeks will mark the fifth time since the NFL-AFL merger that the No. 1-ranked offense and the No. 1-ranked defense will meet in the final game of the season. The last time it happened was 1990, when the New York Giants and their top-ranked defense beat Buffalo and its top-ranked offense. Overall, the top-ranked defense has won three times, and the top-ranked offense has won once.
Seattle will try to make it four out of five.
And why not?
Against San Francisco, the Seattle defense created three fourth-quarter turnovers. It kept handing the ball back to the offense. When the Seahawks had to get a stop, they did. When they had to force a fumble, they did. When they needed an interception, they got one, and then another.
It was the last one, after San Francisco picked up chunks of yardage to move to the Seahawks' 18-yard line, that history will remember most. The play will be remembered for Sherman adroitly playing Crabtree, for seeing the ball and for tipping it perfectly to the teammate he couldn't see but knew would be there. That's what the Seahawks do as a team: They pursue the football. They never quit. They never give up on a play.
Sherman made the play of the game, and Smith was there to seal the deal.
That Sherman chirped about it should not have been that big of a surprise. The Seahawks and the 49ers don't like each other. That is no secret. After the play, Crabtree slowly walked across the goal line. Sherman bounced up to him and said something that caused Crabtree to shove Sherman's face mask. Sherman also put his hands to his neck in a choking gesture he said afterward was intended for Kaepernick.
After the game was over and the blue-and-green confetti was about to get shot into the sky, Sherman barked about Crabtree, first to Fox's Erin Andrews and then to ESPN's Ed Werder, saying, "I told you Crabtree was mediocre at best, so I would never let him catch a game winner on me. ... This is a joke, right?"
Sherman was less than gracious in victory. He continued his crusade in his postgame news conference, where he said the origins of his feud with Crabtree date back to an offseason workout the two had in Arizona.
It should be lesson learned for Denver: Don't throw at Sherman. It isn't worth it.
"You throw it to Richard Sherman's side?" Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate said. "What are you thinking?"
Said Seattle safety Kam Chancellor: "I don't think too many people want to go after Sherman."
No, it was not the wisest decision.
"If our team knew the game was going to come down to a play like that," Sherman said, "they'd be pretty confident going into it. ... You throw that, it's a mistake."
Denver will be a different challenge than San Francisco. Against the 49ers, the Seahawks had to account for Kaepernick's legs. Kaepernick rushed 11 times for 130 yards while also completing 14 of 24 passes for 153 yards and a touchdown.
Peyton Manning threw 55 touchdown passes and just 10 interceptions in the regular season. In playoff wins over San Diego and New England, Manning completed 72.2 percent of his passes for 630 yards, with four touchdowns and one interception.
"[Manning] deserves to be there because of what he's done this year with his team and that whole club," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. "But we're not going to take this challenge lightly. We're going to go after this thing and we're not going into this game any other way but thinking that we're going to win. These guys don't know any other way."
Certainly Sherman doesn't. He proved that once and for all against San Francisco, and as a result, the Seahawks are going to the Super Bowl.