SEATTLE — All the San Francisco 49ers have known with Jim Harbaugh as head coach is playing deep into January with a trip to the Super Bowl at stake.
Three seasons, three trips to the NFC championship game.
“I don't know too many people who get rid of a coach that's gone to three consecutive NFC championship games and a Super Bowl, but crazier things have happened,” Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman said.
The debate whether Harbaugh remains as 49ers coach will only heighten over the final two weeks of the regular season after San Francisco was eliminated from contention following a 17-7 loss at Seattle on Sunday.
The Seahawks used another stingy defensive performance to shut out the 49ers in the second half. San Francisco was limited to 67 yards in the final 30 minutes and Seattle leaned on the running of Marshawn Lynch for its fourth straight victory.
Lynch finished with 91 yards rushing and a 4-yard TD run and Russell Wilson threw a 10-yard TD pass Paul Richardson as the Seahawks are back in the contention for a No. 1 seed in the NFC.
The 49ers have nothing to play for the final two weeks.
“I think that's our expectation that we're going to get to the playoffs and we're going to make a run, and to not have that opportunity this year is not something that we're used to,” San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick said.
The loss and Detroit's win eliminated San Francisco (7-7) from making the postseason. And for the second straight season, the 49ers hopes of a title ended in Seattle. Eleven months ago, San Francisco walked off disappointed after losing the NFC championship game.
This time, the stakes were far less, but the sting of being eliminated by their most-heated rival remained.
“This is not fun. This is my life. This is what I do. This is what I put all my work into. I don't just show up on Sundays and hope it goes well. This is my life, man,” 49ers left tackle Joe Staley said. “I don't play to lose a game. I don't play to not execute. I give everything I have to this game.”
Kaepernick was 11 of 19 for 141 yards, and rushed for 46 yards, but was constantly under pressure playing behind an offensive line missing two starters. Center Marcus Martin and right tackle Anthony Davis were both inactive with injuries. Kaepernick was sacked six times.
In a season filled with key injuries, the 49ers lost two more players late in the first half and another in the third quarter. Star running back Frank Gore, who scored on a 10-yard run in the second quarter, left with a concussion. Middle linebacker Chris Borland, the NFC defensive rookie of the month in November, hurt his ankle on the final play of the first half. He attempted to return, but was mostly a spectator and replaced by Nick Moody.
Gore's backup, Carlos Hyde, was bent backward and injured his right leg late in the third quarter.
“It is tough when you're down like the way we were,” San Francisco receiver Anquan Boldin said.
The absence of Borland was significant. Seattle rushed for 90 yards in the third quarter alone after having just 47 in the first half. Lynch had runs of 13 and 15 yards on his touchdown drive that was capped by strolling the final yard into the end zone.
San Francisco went three-and-out on the next possession, including Hyde's injury on first down. Seattle took possession at the 49ers 44 and Wilson immediately went for 19 yards on a designed keeper.
The drive was kept alive by a debated third-down roughing-the-passer call against Moody and two plays later, Richardson caught the first TD of his career. Referee Ed Hochuli told a pool reporter after the game he believed Moody hit Wilson with the hairline of his helmet and not the facemask, thus drawing the penalty.
“The crown is the top of the helmet, the hairline is up at the top of the forehead,” he explained. “That is still a foul when you hit the quarterback with that part of your head.”
“I think it was a bad call,” San Francisco safety Antione Bethea said. “It's so up and down with those types of calls.”
NOTES: Borland and Seattle LT Russell Okung (chest) were both injured on Eric Reid's interception return on the final play of the first half. Okung suffered a chest-wall bruise and was taken to a local hospital for further examination and released. … The 49ers had 178 total yards in the first half after having 164 for the entire game in the first meeting.