Jim Harbaugh, 49ers eliminated from playoff contention

Cam Inman
San Jose Mercury News

Seattle -- For a second straight season, the 49ers' Super Bowl dreams died at CenturyLink Field, home of their archrivals, the Seattle Seahawks.

As was the case in last season's NFC championship game here, the 49ers couldn't hold a halftime lead Sunday, leading to a 17-7 defeat and their official elimination from playoff contention.

"To not get that (playoff) opportunity this year is not something that we're used to," quarterback Colin Kaepernick said.

The 49ers (7-7) now switch from perennial NFC contenders to potential spoilers, as they finish out the season at home against the San Diego Chargers on Saturday and Arizona Cardinals on Dec. 28.

That closing stretch could also mark the end of coach Jim Harbaugh's otherwise successful tenure, which included trips to the NFC championship game in each of his three previous seasons and a Super Bowl appearance two seasons ago.

Harbaugh reportedly is a candidate to succeed Brady Hoke as Michigan's coach.

Any shot of a second straight wild-card berth evaporated when Sunday's loss to the Seahawks (10-4) was coupled with a victory by the Lions (10-4) over the Vikings.

The 49ers didn't go down without a fight -- but they did go down without several players who left Sunday's game with injuries, including running backs Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde and leading tackler Chris Borland.

"They fought like champs," said Harbaugh, acknowledging that he'll eventually meet with CEO Jed York and general manager Trent Baalke to discuss a future that likely won't see Harbaugh returning to finish out five-year contract.

Several players divorced themselves from questions regarding Harbaugh's future, other than Kaepernick reiterating his "full support."

"That's something I can't fully wrap my mind around why that would be the situation," Kaepernick said of Harbaugh's potential exit.

Wide receiver Anquan Boldin steered clear of such speculation about the 49ers' next step, stating: "You're asking me? I don't answer those questions. Those things come from way above my head. I get paid to play."

A record-crowd of 68,526 saw the Seahawks surge ahead 10-7 late in the third quarter with a 4-yard touchdown run by Marshawn Lynch. That set the stage for the 49ers' fourth consecutive loss here, the previous being a 23-17 defeat in the NFC championship game.

The Seahawks padded their lead with a 10-yard touchdown pass from Russell Wilson to Paul Richardson with 13:20 remaining. That score came two snaps after a roughing-the-passer penalty against Nick Moody for hitting Wilson as he threw a third-down incompletion.

A fourth-quarter comeback was not to be, as if that should be any surprise with the 49ers' season-long late-game issues.

Kaepernick (11 of 19, 141 yards) remained winless in four starts at Seattle, and although he didn't commit a turnover for the first time here, he still hasn't thrown a fourth-quarter touchdown pass this season.

In the end, the 49ers failed to score more than 17 points for the seventh time in eight games. They took a 7-3 lead when Gore dashed 10 yards for a fourth-down touchdown run in the second quarter.

Any momentum seemed to leave once Gore exited with a concussion on the next series. His backup, Hyde, injured his back when tackled awkwardly on the 49ers' first snap after the Seahawks went ahead in the third quarter.

"It's a down year for us," defensive tackle Ray McDonald said. "We make mistakes that we don't usually make. You have years like that in the NFL. It's hard to win every week."