A last-second win to close the regular season in Arizona, a nail-biter in sub-freezing conditions in Green Bay, Wis., a decisive clamp-down against a tough defense in Charlotte, N.C..
The 49ers’ road through the last three weeks and the playoffs has led them to perhaps the most difficult destination of all – the raucous environs of Seattle’s CenturyLink Field, where they will play their division rivals, the Seahawks, for a trip to the Super Bowl.
“I think our team’s been in a lot of good primers” for the conditions they’ll likely face in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. “Been through tough environments, whether it be weather or opposing stadiums.
“Been everywhere, man. Just like the Johnny Cash song. ‘We’ve been everywhere, man.’ ”
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Harbaugh sang the last part of that quote Monday, a day after the 49ers beat the Panthers 23-10 to reach their third straight conference title game. On the road, in an at-times chippy contest, Harbaugh said he thought the 49ers “played with a lot of poise” at Carolina, something that could help them this weekend.
The 49ers won’t write any lyrics to commemorate their past two visits to Seattle, where the Seahawks have lost just once over the past two seasons. The 49ers were blown out 42-13 in Week 15 last season, then lost 29-3 when they returned in Week 2 this season in a game that got out of hand late in the second half.
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick struggled in the losses, throwing four interceptions and just one touchdown pass. In addition to having reputedly the league’s loudest stadium, the Seahawks play physical football and like to impose their will on opponents.
The Panthers tried a similar tack Sunday, but the 49ers – for the most part – controlled their emotions. Carolina, however, drew eight penalties for 73 yards, including two unnecessary roughness penalties on the 49ers’ first two field-goal drives and a costly unsportsmanlike conduct call that kept the Panthers from getting the ball back while trailing by two scores with four minutes left in the game.
Harbaugh said one of the messages entering the Carolina game was to eliminate pre-snap and post-play penalties. The 49ers were flagged five times for 40 yards in the game.
“Some of our players talked about it, and they were carrying the water on that message as much as the coaches were,” Harbaugh said. “We weren’t perfect, but ... give them an ‘A’ grade in that regard.”
Pre-snap discipline is key for any opponent playing in front of the crowd at CenturyLink Field, which reportedly generated a small earthquake reacting to a Marshawn Lynch touchdown run in the Seahawks’ win over the New Orleans Saints in the divisional round Saturday. Harbaugh said Monday the stadium is the loudest “to my ear” that the 49ers have played in – a characteristic the Seahawks have made a point to preserve.
Tickets to the NFC title game went on sale Monday morning through the team’s website – but only to fans with a billing address in Washington, Oregon, Montana, Idaho, Alaska, Hawaii and two Canadian provinces. The tickets sold out within 43 minutes, according to an update on the site.
Notably absent from that list, of course, is the state that likely has the most interested buyers who would attend the game wearing red and gold. Harbaugh was candid when asked about it Monday.
“Well, it’s within the rules,” he said. “ ... I actually respect it, what you’re trying to do for your team, put them in the best possible position to win that you can. And I respect that their organization does that for their team.”
The 49ers have won both games against Seattle at Candlestick Park in the past two years, including a 19-17 victory this season in Week 14. The tiebreaker comes Sunday – with a trip to New Jersey on the line.