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Make no mistake: Errors may decide NFC title game

Whether Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson can avoid the costly turnover will be a major factor on Sunday. (AP)

By Danny O'Neil

The four quarterbacks playing in Sunday's conference championship games are from two distinctly different generations.

So are the offenses.

The AFC game between New England and Denver is the NFL equivalent of quarterback porn. Two aging legends in this era of increasingly airborne offense going head to head for the 15th time in a game that will be determined by the quarterback who makes the most plays.

The number of mistakes is what may decide Sunday's game in Seattle, though. While the Seahawks and 49ers start a pair of next-generation quarterbacks, they're a pair of throwback offenses in how infrequently they rear back and throw. Only one team attempted fewer passes than Seattle this season, and it was San Francisco.

These are two teams that reflect each other as much as they resent each other. Two coaches who want to bludgeon the opponent with the running game when they have the ball and to bludgeon the opponent with their defense when they don't have it.

The Patriots and Broncos will be like a fencing match between two Olympians while the Seahawks and 49ers will be more akin to a pair of guys out back of a bar taking turns slugging each other in the stomach until one gives up.

And that's where the quarterbacks enter into the equation because it's not just their ability that will be tested but their resiliency. Perseverance might be as important as performance. At least that has been coach Pete Carroll's tendency over the course of this season.

Look back to Week 8 when the Seahawks were stumbling their way through a Monday night win in St. Louis – a game in which Seattle gained 80 of its 135 yards of total offense on a single play – and the Rams had the ball driving toward a potential game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Carroll thought about using his timeouts, saving some time in case the Rams scored. He decided against it. He wanted everything piling up on top of the Rams and their backup quarterback, Kellen Clemens, from the down and distance to the time remaining on the clock. The result: St. Louis was stuffed on the final play, a yard short of the game-tying touchdown.

Seattle's approach wasn't all that different when it hosted San Francisco in Week 2. The Seahawks led that game 5-0 at halftime, which was fitting not just because it was so low scoring, but the first score was literally the result of a San Francisco mistake. A holding penalty against the 49ers resulted in a safety.

The mistakes stacked up even higher in the second half, Kaepernick intercepted twice over the final two quarters and finishing with three in the game. That accounted for more than a third of the eight passes Kaepernick had picked off during the regular season.

Will he hold up any better this time? The 49ers have scored a total of one touchdown in the eight quarters Kaepernick has played at CenturyLink Field.

On the other side, Wilson has never passed for so much as 200 yards in the four games he has started against San Francisco. He hasn't ever been picked off more than once, either.

It's not just the plays the quarterbacks make that will decide this game, but the mistakes they don't.


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