San Francisco 49ers

What to watch: Five story lines that standout for today’s game



Jim Harbaugh already is the first head coach since the NFL-AFL merger to take his team to the conference championship game in each of his first three seasons. Still in play for the 49ers are several other historical marks. No team since the 1972 Miami Dolphins has won the Super Bowl a year after losing it. No team has even reached the big game the season after losing it since the Buffalo Bills in 1993 and 1994. And no NFL team – ever – has won back-to-back conference championship games when playing both on the road. The 49ers, of course, beat the Atlanta Falcons in last year’s NFC title game at the Georgia Dome – but even that enclosed venue doesn’t have the hostile reputation of Seattle’s CenturyLink Field, where the Seahawks have lost just once in two seasons.


In less than two full seasons as an NFL starter, the 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick has a 3-0 record in playoff games on the road, having beaten the Falcons last season in Atlanta and the Packers and Panthers en route to this year’s NFC title game. Putting that in the context of 49ers history, Kaepernick’s three wins are one more than the total of Joe Montana, Steve Young, Jeff Garcia and John Brodie – combined. Of course, the first two guys on that list do own something Kaepernick does not – Super Bowl rings, which Kaepernick can put himself in position to earn by conquering a place that has given him more trouble than any other. In two games in Seattle, Kaepernick has thrown four interceptions and one touchdown, while the 49ers have been outscored 71-16 in two losses.


There’s no shortage of stories between the 49ers and Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, who along with establishing himself as one of the best cover corners in the NFL has become one of its most colorful voices. Sherman played at Stanford under Harbaugh, who passed over Sherman in the 2011 draft after he was hired by the 49ers, leading the latter to say the two no longer have a relationship. After the Seahawks’ 29-3 win in Week 2, Sherman said Harbaugh didn’t acknowledge him. After the 49ers’ 19-17 win in Week 14, Sherman said the 49ers benefited from calls. On the field today, Sherman likely will match up at times against Anquan Boldin, the 49ers’ team MVP who will be looking to build on an impressive postseason résumé (63 catches, fourth-most among active players). Whatever the game’s outcome, Sherman likely will have a say in it – and about it.


With his toe-dragging touchdown catch just before halftime Sunday at Carolina, the 49ers’ Vernon Davis tied Dave Casper for the most postseason touchdown receptions by a tight end (seven). Davis has saved some of his biggest games for the playoffs, catching two touchdown passes in the 49ers’ NFC title game loss to the Giants in 2012 and catching five passes for 106 yards and a score against the Falcons in last year’s NFC Championship Game. This season, he has a touchdown catch in eight of his last nine games, including one in each of the 49ers’ playoff wins, and a team-high total of 15 on the season. If Davis passes Casper today, it will be against a defense that has mostly held him in check the past two seasons. In the last four games against Seattle, Davis has six total catches for 68 yards.


Jim Harbaugh, who enthusiastically avoids comparisons, this week admitted Seattle’s CenturyLink Field is the loudest stadium in the NFL, though he added: “To my ear. I’m older. Everything sounds louder to me.” He probably didn’t need to hedge: Seahawks fans twice this season set a Guinness World Record for crowd noise, and in their team’s win over the Saints in last weekend’s divisional round they caused a small seismic reaction similar to an earthquake under the stadium as they celebrated Marshawn Lynch’s touchdown run. There’s no reason to expect anything less today, which presents a challenge to the 49ers, who have had problems with pre-snap coordination and clock management on offense this season. Harbaugh said the 49ers would try to simulate the noise in practice and counteract it with “hand signals, verbal signals, body language, reading lips.” Hey, whatever works. It will get loud.

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