SEATTLE - It was going so well for the San Francisco 49ers, for quarterback Colin Kaepernick. They were in control. He was flying around, eluding tacklers, finding receivers, arguably playing the best game of his brief career.
Then it was as if both team and individual remembered where they were -- in their football purgatory, CenturyLink Field.
Three quarters of success were ruined by one quarter of errors as the 49ers lost to the Seahawks, 23-17, Sunday night in the NFC Championship Game.
San Francisco went ahead 10-0 early in the second quarter and led 17-13 early in the fourth quarter. But it will be the Seahawks who face the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII on Feb. 2 at MetLife Stadium.
The 49ers were beaten by the Giants in the NFC title game two years ago, lost to the Baltimore Ravens last year in the Super Bowl and again fell a step short of reaching the Super Bowl in 2014.
"I turned the ball over three times," Kaepernick said. "I cost us the win."
"Not many people get to be in this arena of competition at this level," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said in support of Kaepernick and his entire team.
"Our guys are great football players. Congratulations to the Seattle Seahawks, who are also in this arena and won the football game and are moving on. They made some very big plays. We made some very big plays. It was a 15-round fight right down to the last play."
Two days earlier, Kaepernick was asked how he and the 49ers would deal with a Seattle team that had beaten them by a combined 71-16 in their two previous meetings at CenturyLink.
"We're executing our plays well," he said. "We're going through things and think we have a good game plan."
After the 49ers' Aldon Smith knocked the ball out of Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson's hands and recovered the fumble to give San Francisco the ball at the Seattle 15 only 10 seconds into the game, Phil Dawson kicked a 25-yard field goal.
And when Kaepernick snaked through and around the Seahawks for a 58-yard run to set up Anthony Dixon's 1-yard touchdown run with 10:03 left in the second quarter, that plan looked brilliant.
But after intermission, Kaepernick and the 49ers couldn't figure out Seattle's defensive unit, especially its secondary, which calls itself "The Legion of Boom."
Whether they were spooked by the howling record crowd of 68,454 -- the so-called "12th Man" -- or simply by the Seahawks' defense, the 49ers were outscored 20-7 after halftime.
Kaepernick lost a fumble, then threw an interception. Finally -- and it hardly could be blamed on him, given the situation -- he threw another interception with 22 seconds left after San Francisco drove to the Seattle 18.
"He got flushed on the one fumble," Harbaugh said of his quarterback. "Did a nice job running the rim and stripping the ball. The first interception, the interception on the boundary Kam Chancellor got, Kap never saw him."