49ers through to third championshiop game in a row

 Anquan Boldin  of the San Francisco 49ers tries to make a catch against Quintin Mikell of the Carolina Panthers last night. Photograph: Kevin C Cox/Getty Images

Anquan Boldin of the San Francisco 49ers tries to make a catch against Quintin Mikell of the Carolina Panthers last night. Photograph: Kevin C Cox/Getty Images


The San Francisco 49ers beat the NFC South champion Carolina Panthers 23-10 in a bruising battle yesterday to advance to the NFC Championship game for the third year in a row. The victory, the eighth in a row for the 49ers, sends San Francisco to top-seeded Seattle for the title game next Sunday.

The wild card 49ers overcame a 10-6 deficit in the hard-hitting contest with a one-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Colin Kaepernick to tight end Vernon Davis 14 seconds before intermission for a 13-10 lead.

Davis was initially ruled out of bounds before the on-field call was reversed after a video review.

10-point cushion
San Francisco scored again after another long drive on their first possession of the second half to build a 10-point cushion as Kaepernick ran in from four yards out after setting up the score with a 45-yard strike to Anquan Boldin.

The fierce San Francisco defense kept Carolina out of the end zone four times from the one-yard line in the first half, at the end of two separate drives, with the home-standing Panthers only able to score three points from those TD opportunities.

“It was a great football game,” said Niners coach Jim Harbaugh, who steered his team into the Super Bowl last year.”

Big hits
The game was marked by big hits and jawing between the players, but following the first 30 minutes, San Francisco took charge and shut down the Panthers.

“When you go on the road in a playoff game and beat another good team in their stadium, it makes you feel like a strong, mighty man,” said Harbaugh, the first coach in the Super Bowl era to reach the conference finals in his first three seasons.

Kaepernick completed 15 of 28 passes for 196 yards, hitting Boldin eight times for 136 yards.

Carolina quarterback Cam Newton connected on 16 of 25 throws for 267 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Newton, who also rushed for 54 yards on 10 carries, was sharp in the first half but after the break was harassed by a furious 49ers pass rush, which totaled five sacks in the game.

LeGarrette Blount rushed for four touchdowns as the New England Patriots pounded the Indianapolis Colts 43-22 on Saturday to advance to the AFC Championship game for a third straight year.

Perfect record
Coming off a first-round bye and playing at Gillette Stadium where they have not lost all season, the Patriots kept their perfect home record intact and now play either the Denver Broncos or San Diego Chargers.

The Patriots, who have traditionally relied on the arm of their future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady to get the job done, used a punishing ground game to subdue the Colts, with Blount powering his way into the end zone for four scores, including a 73-yard rumble, and Stevan Ridley two more.

Brady, who has thrown 42 career post-season touchdown passes to sit third on the NFL all-time list, completed just 13-of-25 pass attempts for 198 yards and no touchdowns.

The Seattle Seahawks, led by powerful running back Marshawn Lynch, beat the New Orleans Saints 23-15 on a rainy Saturday to advance to the NFC conference championship next Sunday.