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SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Richard Sherman's leaping deflection of a pass headed for Michael Crabtree in the corner of the end zone was the defining moment to seal last January's NFC championship game that sent the Seattle Seahawks on their way to a Super Bowl win.
The tip landed right in the hands of Malcolm Smith for the interception.
Sherman's mouthy response afterward — along with a choking gesture toward Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers bench — will certainly fuel San Francisco as the NFC West rivals face off Thursday night for the first of two important matchups in a three-week span.
"It was cool just to clinch the game like that," defensive end Cliff Avril said. "No better person to do it than Sherm and Malcolm getting it."
Sherman made the play, then patted Crabtree on the backside while extending his hand for a shake, prompting the 49ers wideout to shove the brash cornerback in the face.
After that 23-17 victory at CenturyLink Field, Sherman took it much further.
"I was making sure everybody knew Crabtree was a mediocre receiver," Sherman said. "And when you try the best corner in the game with a mediocre receiver that's what happens."
Sherman was later fined for unsportsmanlike conduct and taunting.
"Obviously you want to win that game, but it's in the past now," Kaepernick said. "We know we've been through this before. But it's a different year, a different season."
It's all still plenty fresh as the rivals play another meaningful game merely 10 months later, this time between a pair of 7-4 teams trying to stay alive in the playoff race with a chance to catch first-place Arizona (9-2).
"I remember just the feeling after we got that interception and sealing our trip to the Super Bowl," Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner said. "All that is in the past. They're trying to make it to the playoffs this year, just like we're trying to."
Kaepernick isn't about to get involved in any kind of back and forth with the emotional defensive back. He expects Crabtree to be focused, too.
"It's another game for him. I don't think he's worried about anything else," Kaepernick said.
Here are some things to watch for in the first of two matchups between the rivals in the next three weeks:
TWO GAMES IN THREE WEEKS: Seattle coach Pete Carroll is embracing how the schedule worked out, with two late-season matchups against the rival Niners in a three-week span.
Two teams that have captured the past three NFC West crowns need to keep winning, though Carroll insists these games are intense regardless of records or standings.
"We'd still be playing these games as championship games the way we look at it," Carroll said. "If we were here and our record was different than it is, we would play every one of these games like it's the last game we get to play all year.
"That's how we do it. ... We would never look for some cushy way into the playoffs. We don't want to be a playoff team, we want to be a division champion. So we're going to continue to fight for that as long as there's hope."
BEAST MODE BOUNCE BACK?: Marshawn Lynch managed just 39 yards on 15 carries in a 19-3 win against Arizona on Sunday, and needs to get his body healed up in a hurry. Quarterback Russell Wilson outgained him.
His troublesome sore back has hindered him this season.
Lynch ran for 124 yards the previous week facing the Chiefs and 140 the game before that against the Giants.
49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, for one, is counting on Lynch's best.
"'Beast Mode,' I've heard him referred to that complimentary," Harbaugh said. "Hard. Aggressive. Tough runner. Talented."
BOLDIN'S HANDS: Anquan Boldin has 86 receptions for 1,091 yards and three touchdowns in 14 games against Seattle, including the playoffs.
Seattle's secondary will have its hands full.
Boldin has at least five catches in each of his past six games, and had nine for 137 yards in last week's win against Washington.
BOWMAN NO GO: NaVorro Bowman certainly hoped to be back by now, in time to face Seattle again. He went down with a devastating left knee injury in the NFC title game and needed surgery.
While his 21-day window to be activated is into its second week, Harbaugh said the 2013 All-Pro still wasn't ready to practice and would continue with his rehab.
"I wouldn't say disappointing is the word. Obviously we want to have him back on the field, but it has to be when he's ready, when he's healthy," Kaepernick said.
AP Sports Writer Tim Booth in Seattle contributed to this report.
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