SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The San Francisco 49ers' reward for beating the Green Bay Packers and Carolina Panthers on the road is another game in an unfriendly environment. And the upcoming game against the Seattle Seahawks won't be played in just any venue.
CenturyLink Field has turned into a house of horrors for the 49ers of late, with the Seahawks beating the 49ers last season and this season by a combined score of 71-16.
Yet, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said Monday that he feels the path to Sunday's NFC Championship game prepared his team for the challenge that lies ahead.
"Our team has been in a lot of good primers, been through a lot of situations, been through tough environments, whether it be weather or opposing stadiums," Harbaugh said.
Indeed. The 49ers are 8-2 on the road this season, including a 23-20 victory over the Packers in an NFC wild-card game and a 23-10 win in Charlotte on Sunday.
They beat the Packers despite frigid weather and brutal conditions. A week later, they dominated the Panthers after flying cross country and playing before a partisan crowd for the third time in three weeks--they played in Arizona in the regular-season finale.
The Packers and Panthers enjoy a distinct home-field advantage. The Seahawks are on a different level, though, Harbaugh conceded.
"There's a lot of loud venues; I wouldn't want to disrespect any of the loud venues," Harbaugh said. "But I would have to say that that's the loudest, yes."
The Seahawks have lost only one game at home the past two seasons. That came against Arizona late this season.
Harbaugh likened his well-traveled team--the 49ers played in London earlier this season--to a country song.
"Been everywhere, man," Harbaugh said. "Just like something from a Johnny Cash song, 'We've been everywhere, man.' Everywhere. A lot of situations."
--One of the key plays from Sunday's game came when 49ers linebacker Ahmad Brooks stuffed Panthers quarterback Cam Newton shy of the goal line on a fourth-down play in the second quarter.
What most people probably were unaware of is that the 49ers switched from a standard six-linemen, two-linebacker goal-line scheme to a 5-3 look on the play. Brooks is the guy that defensive coordinator Vic Fangio moved as part of a new wrinkle for the Panthers.
"That's been our defense on the goal line for the (three) years that we've been here," Harbaugh said of the 6-2 alignment. "We've never shown a 5-3. And we'd taken Ahmad and moved him to the center to create the 5-3, which was unscouted. We had not shown that. It was a great move by Vic Fangio."
Overall, the 49ers held firm on four plays from their 1-yard line during two first-and-goal series in the first half. Three plays netted no yards. The other resulted in a loss of 1 yard.
"The game, for anyone that watched it, came down to two foot-to-go (situations) at the goal line, and penalties," Panthers tight end Greg Olsen said after the game. "If you start doing the math to know how all that adds up, the score's a different ballgame.
"Offensively, you can't have two goal-to-go opportunities at the foot line and get a grand total of three points."
--Much is being made about the Seahawks restricting ticket sales to people who live in states near Washington but not including California.
Harbaugh isn't one of those up in arms about the exclusionary practice, which the Denver Broncos also are doing for their home game against the New England Patriots.
"Well, it's within the rules," Harbaugh said. "It's within the spirit of the rules of the National Football League. 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."
The NFL said that its teams are allowed to use such a practice and that it's not unique.
The Seahawks, of course, are trying to make it as difficult as possible for any 49ers fans to infiltrate Seattle's rabid fan base and cut into its considerable home-field advantage.
Seattle is 16-1 at home the past two seasons, including a victory over the New Orleans Saints on Saturday. They beat the 49ers in Seattle 29-3 on Sept.15. Last season, the Seahawks beat the 49ers 42-13 at CenturyLink.
-- Fullback Will Tukuafu had an MRI exam Monday to determine the extent of the left knee injury he suffered Sunday at the end of a reception. Harbaugh said he is "encouraged" by the way Tukuafu moved Monday morning.
--Quote of the day from Harbaugh, on portraying the 49ers-Seahawks game as Harbaugh vs. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll: "I haven't seen that. I haven't seen where that's really even talked about anymore. That's probably something four or five years ago, but really haven't seen it as of late. . . . So irrelevant, irrelevant."
-- The Pro Football Writers Association selected 49ers left offensive tackle Joe Staley to its All-NFL and All-NFC teams. Brooks and strong safety Donte Whitner joined Staley on the All-NFC squad.
-- Quarterback Colin Kaepernick guided the 49ers to victories in his first three career road playoff games. Former Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme is the only player in history with more (four).
-- When the 49ers play the Seahawks on Sunday, it will be their 15th appearance in the NFC Championship game. They will join the Pittsburgh Steelers for most conference championship game appearances in league history.
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