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49ers Beat Falcons, Advance to Super Bowl

Posted Jan 20, 2013



ATLANTA – In the biggest game of his life, Colin Kaepernick did it all for the San Francisco 49ers.

The second-year signal caller showed veteran poise in a 28-24 road victory over the Atlanta Falcons in Sunday’s NFC Championship game. Not only was it his ninth start, but Kaepernick looked like a player wise beyond his years.

He ran. He threw. He led and most importantly, he delivered the franchise’s sixth trip to the Super Bowl, set to be played in New Orleans on Feb. 3. Kaepernick led the 49ers back from a 17-0 deficit to unleash timely passes and bring the 49ers back with 14 unanswered points in the second half.

“You have to stay calm,” Kaepernick said of his first-half mindset. “You have to try and lead your team.”

The 17-point comeback marked the second-largest comeback rally in conference championship history. Kaepernick had a big hand in it, so did Vernon Davis. Kaepernick completed 16 of 21 passes for 233 yards, with one touchdown and a 127.7 quarterback rating. Davis led the 49ers with five receptions for 106 yards and a 4-yard touchdown catch.

“We rose up at the end,” a clearly exhausted Jim Harbaugh said after reaching his first Super Bowl as a player or coach. “It was a great finish by our defense.”

Oh yes, the 49ers defense certainly did their part, too.

With the Falcons looking to add a go-ahead score trailing four points at the two-minute warning, the 49ers quarterback came out on the field to inspire his defense who had not given up a point in the second half.

“I went there and talked to them, told them this is for a Super Bowl,” Kaepernick said in his postgame remarks. “They said, ‘We got you.’”

It was certainly appreciated.

After giving up 297 yards in the first half, 211 passing yards to Matt Ryan and 18 completions to his top targets (Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez), the 49ers defense silenced Atlanta’s high-powered offense when it mattered most: the fourth quarter.

The defense followed their quarterback’s leadership.

“For sure, Kap’s a good football player and he’s doing a good job of stepping up and leading,” safety Dashon Goldson said. “He just came in and told us to settle down.”

After Kaepernick’s words of encouragement, the 49ers went on to force a turnover on downs. The offense had an opportunity to run out the clock, but was forced to punt the ball back to the Falcons. No matter, a last-second throw over the middle to Jones was quickly tackled by cornerback Perrish Cox.

The clock struck 0:00 and hysteria ensued.

“Tremendous win for us,” Harbaugh said after he and Kaepernick became the first quarterback and coach tandem to reach a Super Bowl within their first two NFL seasons. “It showed the heart of the team.”

In fact, San Francisco’s character was tested early.

Ryan put the Falcons on the board first, completing a 7-play, 80-yard scoring drive with a 46-yard deep ball to Jones.

The 49ers response: a three-and-out.

Right after, Ryan moved Atlanta back into 49ers territory. A 12-play scoring drive, however, didn’t reach the end zone. Matt Bryant connected on a 35-yard field goal to give the Falcons a 10-0 lead. By the way, Jones had five catches, 100 yards and a touchdown in just two Atlanta drives. He would finish the game with 11 receptions for 182 yards and two touchdown catches.

At the end of the first quarter, the 49ers were out-gained 182 to -2. The Falcons had nine first downs, the 49ers had none.

Jones added a second touchdown catch to cap Atlanta’s third possession. The second-year wideout wrestled the ball away from Tarell Brown in the back left corner of the end zone to haul in a 20-yard score from Ryan.

The Falcons took a 17-0 lead, but the 49ers didn’t flinch.

It all started with Kaepernick’s sideline energy, he never backed down from the deficit.

“He competes like a maniac all the time,” Harbaugh said of his quarterback. “In practice, in games, it stays the same.”

Frank Gore also played a big role in the comeback. He ran 21 times for 90 yards, but really got things going when San Francisco trailed by 17.

Thanks to Kaepernick and Gore, the 49ers marched down the field, picking up five first downs on an 11-play, 80-yard scoring drive. LaMichael James recorded his first career touchdown on a 15-yard run.

The rested 49ers defense provided a stop and Davis got the 49ers in the end zone with a 4-yard touchdown catch.

“It felt like our lives were on the line,” said Davis, who now has five touchdown receptions in four postseason games.

Suddenly, Atlanta’s 17-point lead was trimmed to 3.

The Falcons, however, showed resiliency of their own and marched in response. An 80-yard scoring drive led by Ryan lasted just 1:30. Gonzalez capped it with 10-yard touchdown catch over the middle.

Atlanta took a 24-14 advantage into the locker room.

Davis and Harbaugh, however, made sure to keep the energy and focus right in the locker room. San Francisco responded with an impressive drive to start the third quarter.

An 82-yard scoring drive coming out of the locker room was much-needed. Gore capped it with a 5-yard touchdown run, set up by a 20-yard Delanie Walker catch and a 17-yard Randy Moss reception.

The 49ers now trailed 24-21.

With Atlanta crossing midfield once again, San Francisco recorded the game’s first turnover when Chris Culliver stepped in front of a Ryan pass intended for Harry Douglas.

The 49ers, however, could not capitalize. David Akers missed a 38-yard field goal attempt when the ball bounced off the left upright.

Aldon Smith made up for the miss – he got the ball back to the 49ers on a fumbled snap from Ryan, who was unable to receive a shotgun snap cleanly.

With new life, Michael Crabtree hauled in a 33-yard pass to get the 49ers first and goal at the 10, but two plays later he was hit at the goal line by Falcons safety William Moore as he tried to reach out and cross the plane of the goal line. Linebacker Stephen Nicholas recovered the ball at the 1-yard line.

San Francisco was 1-yard away from its first lead, it had to wait.

Gore cashed in with 9-yard touchdown run, his second of the day, following a Falcons three-and-out.

“My O-line did a great job and I fought,” said Gore, who was given the highest compliment by his head coach following the game.

“I really believe he’ll be in the Hall of Fame someday,” Harbaugh said. “He’s one of the greatest competitors I’ve met.”

With 3:23 left to play and a 4-point lead, the 49ers defense allowed the Falcons into the red zone, but no further.

Following Kaepernick’s talk, the 49ers sealed the deal.

Now, they’ll head back to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1994.

“We’re not done yet,” Gore said at the podium decked out in NFC Championship gear. “We’ve got one more.”


Game Pass: San Francisco 49ers