SANTA CLARA — If the third time is a charm for 49ers starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick in Seattle, he knows why he'll reverse his fortunes and win Sunday's NFC Championship there.

"We do have to protect the football," Kaepernick said. "It's something we haven't done well up there."

Kaepernick had three passes intercepted and lost a fumble on a second-quarter sack when the 49ers lost at Seattle 29-3 on Sept. 15.

He only had one pass intercepted in his 2012 debut at CenturyLink Field, but the 49ers got walloped 42-13 in that penultimate game of the regular season.

Kaepernick rebounded from that 2012 loss there to lead the 49ers to Super Bowl XLVII. So far in his playoff encore, he's sparked the 49ers to road wins at Green Bay and Carolina.

"For me it's experience and a comfort level with this offense," Kaepernick said of the differences since last season.

Wideout Anquan Boldin said of his quarterback: "This year he has an understanding of what (the playoffs) are like. Anytime you're in the playoffs a first time, it can be tough because it's amped up. He's a lot more comfortable. He's just confident in his ability and doesn't waver."

Facing the Seahawks' mighty defense is an experience Kaepernick hasn't forgotten.

"They have a good defense, so there are times they make plays," Kaepernick said. "The more times we can eliminate that and make plays ourselves, the better off we'll be."

The 49ers will take an eight-game win streak into Seattle, and coach Jim Harbaugh is firmly confident in his quarterback's ability to extend that streak, citing Kaepernick's poise, leadership and work ethic.

"The big games, the big challenge, the big task -- he has that special ability that the great ones have to elevate their game in those situations," Harbaugh said.

For more on the 49ers, see Cam Inman's Hot Read blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/49ers. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/CamInman.