ATLANTA – In the biggest game of his life,
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
“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
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
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
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.”
Thanks to Kaepernick and Gore, the 49ers marched down the field, picking up five first downs on an 11-play, 80-yard scoring drive.
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
The 49ers now trailed 24-21.
With Atlanta crossing midfield once again, San Francisco recorded the game’s first turnover when
The 49ers, however, could not capitalize.
With new life,
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.”