By Brady Henderson
The play was vintage Richard Sherman. So was the celebration and trash talking that followed.
Right after tipping a pass that fell into the arms of teammate Malcolm Smith to preserve the Seahawks' 23-17 win over San Francisco, Sherman slapped Michael Crabtree on his backside, derisively extended his hand to the 49ers receiver then directed a choking gesture at quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
And he was just getting started.
"You throw that, it's a mistake," Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman said of the pass he tipped to linebacker Malcolm Smith for the game-ending interception. (AP)
"I really appreciate that, Kaep," he said of the quarterback's decision to test Sherman with the game on the line. "I appreciate you ending it like that."
Kaepernick had thrown at Sherman once all game before San Francisco took over late in the fourth quarter, trailing by six points after a Seahawks field goal. When the 49ers drove 58 yards in eight plays, setting up a first-and-10 from Seattle's 18 with 30 seconds left, the Seahawks' playoff run was threatening to end in heartbreaking fashion again.
A year ago, Seattle had taken a late lead in Atlanta and was 31 seconds away from the NFC title game only to have the Falcons drive 41 yards in two plays to set up the game-winning field goal.
"None of us wanted to feel what we felt in Atlanta ever again," Sherman said. "We felt like we let the team down."
Not this time.
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When Kaepernick lobbed up a pass in the end zone for Crabtree hoping the receiver would come down with the game-tying touchdown reception, Sherman knocked it away with a perfectly-timed jump and an outstretched left arm, deflecting the ball right to Smith. It was the third turnover Seattle had forced in as many 49ers possessions, following an interception by Kam Chancellor and a strip-sack by Cliff Avril.
"It was fitting that we'd finish it there with another turnover and a great play by Richard and Malcolm to end the game," coach Pete Carroll said.
The interception came with some extra satisfaction for Sherman, who revealed that Crabtree had insulted him at some point over the offseason.
"He said something personally face-to-face," Sherman said, later declining to reveal the nature of Crabtree's comments. "He knows what he said and he knows it's going to be tough on him for the rest of his career."
While no player seems to be safe from Sherman's verbal assaults, don't expect him to spend much time leading up to the Super Bowl going after Denver's Peyton Manning, whom he's called the smartest quarterback in the league.
"You're not going to get in Peyton's head," Sherman said. "You get in Peyton's head, you'll get lost."
Follow Brady Henderson on Twitter @BradyHenderson.