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The San Francisco 49ers Move On to Super Bowl

The San Francisco 49ers were one of the biggest road favorites ever in the playoffs heading into Atlanta, and they showed why in a gutsy come from behind 28-24 victory over the Falcons on Sunday.

“I take my hat off to Atlanta. They played hard. They’ve got a great team,” 49ers running back Frank Gore said. “But we fought, man. We fought and we deserved it.”

However, early on in the game’s going, it looked like it was going to be a blowout in Atlanta’s favor. The Falcons leapt out to a 17-0 lead, and their offense looked unstoppable heading into the half, up 24-14 on the Niners. However, San Francisco’s defense locked down after that and held the Falcons scoreless in the second half, including a key fourth down stop late in the game that iced it.

49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick destroyed the Green Bay Packers on the ground the week before, and the Falcons spotty track record against the read option rushing offense of the Carolina Panther’s Cam Newton this season led many to believe that Kaepernick would have a similarly explosive day on the ground. However, the Falcons did a pretty good job of shutting him down on the ground; he only rushed for a relatively measly 21 yards on two carries. However, he was close to perfect through the air, completing 16 of 21 passes for 233 yards, good for 11.1 yards per attempt.

“I kind of figured that coming in and they showed that on film, so I assumed Frank and LaMichael were going to have a big day,” Kaepernick said. “Frank ran hard today, and I can’t say enough about him.”

The Atlanta Falcons, meanwhile, will have to face another offseason full of troubling questions about their long-term viability as a Super Bowl contender. The Falcons have a reputation, deserved or not, for being choke artists in the playoffs, and they did nothing to alleviate those fears with their performance on Sunday. Matt Ryan played a dazzling game, throwing for 396 yards and three touchdowns, but he also threw an interception and fumbled an easy shotgun snap in the second half that killed two promising Falcons’ drives.

“We didn’t make the plays when we had the opportunity,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “There were five or six plays, like in most hard-fought games, that make a difference. There were ebbs and flows and changes in momentum, and they made more plays than we did.”

However, as much of the blame is going to fall on the shoulders of Ryan for the Falcons’ loss, the coaching staff should be the ones held accountable. The entire Falcons team appeared to have answer for the 49ers in the second half as Vernon Davis, previously almost invisible with Colin Kaepernick under center, exploded for 106 yards and a touchdown on five catches. There’s no reason that team as explosive as the Falcons should be shut out in a half of football, and yet they were. They outgained the 49ers in yardage and beat them in time of possession, yet in the end, Atlanta’s inability to stop San Francisco’s running backs and tight end doomed them.

“Tears started to fall, but I zipped them right up,” Vernon Davis said after the game. “I said, ‘I’ll save the tears for the Super Bowl.’ ”

The Super Bowl indeed. After the Baltimore Ravens beat the Patriots on Sunday, the Super Bowl will be an all Harbaugh-coached affair, and promises to be a dandy of a game. The Falcons can only shake their heads and wonder “what if.”

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