Up first on the schedule was the NFC Championship game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Atlanta Falcons. The 49ers were coming off a dominant 45-31 win over the Green Bay Packers and the Falcons were coming off a game in which they blew a 27-7 lead, but managed to pull out a 30-28 win over the Seattle Seahawks. 49er kicker David Akers kicked the ball deep for a touch-back and the Falcons started at their 20-yard line.
A three-yard run up the gut by running back Michael Turner and a 13-yard completion to Julio Jones got the Falcons a first down at the 36. On third and nine from the 37, quarterback Matt Ryan completed a pass to wide receiver Roddy White for a gain of 16 and a first down at the San Francisco 47. Two plays later, Ryan went deep for Jones who had gotten by safety Dashon Goldson and hit him in stride for a 46-yard touchdown. Kicker Matt Bryant made the point after and the Falcons had an early 7-0 lead with 11:24 to go in the first quarter.
The 49ers netted exactly one yard on their first possession and punter Andy Lee nailed a 62-yard punt that was fielded at the Falcon 17 and returned to the 18 by return man/wide receiver Harry Douglas. Completions of eight and six yards to Jones were followed by a five-yard catch by tight end Tony Gonzalez and a ten-yard catch by White. That made it first down at the 50. Then Ryan found Jones for 27 more. However, a two-yard loss on a run by running back Jacquizz Rodgers and an eight-yard completion made it third and four from the 17. Ryan looked for Rodgers on the right side and the pass was incomplete. That brought out Bryant for a 35-yard field goal attempt. His kick was good and the Falcons led 10-0 with 3:12 to go in the first quarter.
The 49ers followed with another three and out and the Falcons took over at their 43. Rushes of ten and four yards by running back Michael Turner and a 23-yard pass to White made it first and ten from the San Francisco 20-yard line. Ryan wasted no time in looking for the end zone. He put one up the left side and Jones did an excellent job of keeping his feet in bounds for another Falcon touchdown. Bryant made the point after and they went up 17-0 with 14:54 remaining in the second quarter.
It was time for the 49ers to get something going and they did just that. They started at their 20 and two runs by running back Frank Gore got them a first down at the 30. Two more carries got ten more yards and another first down at the 40. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick looked for wide receiver Randy Moss from the 40 and found him for a gain of eight. Two completions to wide receiver Michael Crabtree, a short one to running back LaMichael James and a 27-yard pass to tight end Vernon Davis gave them a first down at the Falcon 15. From the 15, James ran off right guard for an easy touchdown. Akers made the point after and the lead was cut to 17-7 with 8:08 to go in the first half.
This time, it was the Falcons who went three and out. Punter Matt Bosher punted the ball away and it was fair caught at the San Francisco 18 by return man Ted Ginn Jr. With just under six minutes to go in the half, the 49ers went to work. A short run by James and a 19-yard completion to Davis had them headed in the right direction. On second and ten from the 31, Kaepernick showed off his scrambling ability and took off up the left side for a gain of 24 yards and a first down at the Falcon 47. After a short gain by Gore, Falcon linebacker Stephen Nicholas was flagged for unnecessary roughness. That gave them a first down at the 29. Next, Kaepernick hit Davis who was wide open for a gain of 25 yards. He was open again on the next play for a four-yard touchdown. Akers made the point after and it was now 17-14 with 1:55 to go in the first half.
1:55 was plenty of time for the Falcons to get some more points. Ryan found White for 15, Gonzalez for 16 and White for 13 more. Jones caught another one for 16 and the Falcons called a timeout. On first down from the 16, Ryan hooked up with Gonzalez for a gain of six. On second and four from the ten, he found Gonzalez in the end zone for a touchdown. Bryant made the point after and the Falcons took a 24-14 lead into the locker room.
The 49ers started the second half from their 18-yard line. A 21-yard pass to Moss and two runs by Gore got them to the Falcon 44. On second and eight from the 42, Kaepernick completed a 20-yard pass to tight end Delanie Walker. On first down from the 22, Moss caught another one and was brought down at the five. Gore got the carry on the next play and easily made it into the end zone. Akers made the point after and that made it 24-21 with 10:47 remaining in the third quarter.
On the strength of two more receptions by Gonzalez and a couple of runs by Turner and Rodgers, the Falcons found themselves in San Francisco territory again. On the play after a short run by Rodgers, Ryan couldn’t get his receivers set and was forced to waste a timeout. On second and ten from the 47, Ryan looked to his right and fired a pass that was picked off by cornerback Chris Culliver at the 38. He returned it to the 44 and the 49ers were in business. They got down to the Falcon 20 and on third and five, Kaepernick looked for wide receiver Chad Hall. The ball was knocked away by safety William Moore. That brought Akers out for a 38-yard field goal attempt. His kick hit the left upright and it was no good.
With Michael Turner out with a sore ankle, the running chores now belonged to Rodgers and running back Jason Snelling. The two of them combined for 30 yards on four carries and the Falcons moved into San Francisco territory again. On third and ten from the 42, Ryan completed a 13-yard pass to Jones for a first down at the 29. On second and nine, the 49ers showed blitz and Ryan bobbled the snap. It rolled to the left side of the field and was recovered by linebacker Aldon Smith.
That gave the 49ers the ball at their 37. On third and seven from the 40, the Falcons were flagged for a personal foul and that set up the 49ers with a first down at the Falcon 45. On second and eight from the 43, Kaepernick found Crabtree again and he got loose for a gain of 33 yards. On second and goal from the five, Crabtree caught another one and headed for the end zone. He was flattened by Moore just short of the goal line. Cornerback Dunta Robinson knocked the ball loose and it was recovered at the one-yard line by Nicholas.
From their one, Ryan looked for White on first down and the ball was knocked away. On second down, fullback Mike Cox took it up the middle for four yards. That made it third and six. On third down, Ryan found Gonzalez on the left side, but he was brought down short of the first down. Bosher punted and the ball was returned 20 yards by Ginn to the Falcon 38. That gave the 49ers excellent field position and this time they would take advantage of it. Gore capped off a six play, 38-yard drive with a nine-yard touchdown run. Akers made the point after and the 49ers now led 28-24 with 8:23 to go in the game.
Starting at the 20, Ryan went to work and found White for a gain of nine. Rodgers netted a first down at the 31 with a two-yard run. A six-yard pass to Douglas and a five-yard pass to Jones moved the ball to the 42. A three-yard scramble by Ryan, a five-yard completion to Jones and a 22-yard completion to Douglas had the Falcons at the San Francisco 28. On the pass to Douglass, cornerback Carlos Rogers fell down and Douglas was wide open with no one around him. Unfortunately for him, he also lost his balance and fell down after making the catch. The initial ruling was a catch, but it looked like the ball may have come loose. 49er head coach Jim Harbaugh challenged the play, but the ruling was upheld. A nine-yard run by Rodgers and another short completion to Douglas got them a first down at the 16. From the 16, Rodgers was stuffed for a gain of one by linebacker Patrick Willis. On second down, Ryan completed a five-yard pass to Snelling. After he got rid of the ball, he was brought down hard on his left shoulder and was in obvious pain. That made it third and four from the ten. White was open on the next play, but the ball was knocked down by Brooks. It all came down to this play. On fourth and four, Ryan threw a pass down the middle of the field for White and it was broken up by linebacker NaVorro Bowman. There was definitely some contact going on, but no flag was thrown.
The 49ers took over at their ten with 1:09 remaining in the game. Gore ran for three yards and the Falcons called their second timeout. If you recall earlier in the game, Ryan had to waste a timeout. They sure could have used it now. Two more runs by Gore didn’t get a first down and Lee punted with 13 seconds on the clock. The Falcons took over at their 41 and Ryan completed a 24-yard pass to Jones. He was brought down by Rogers and that ended the game. Final score: 49ers 28 Falcons 24. The 49ers came back from a 17-point deficit and held the Falcons scoreless in the second half.
For the 49ers, Colin Kaepernick completed 16 of 21 for 233 yards, one touchdown and zero interceptions. Unlike last week where he ran all over the Packers, he only had 21 yards rushing on two carries. Michael Crabtree led the team in receptions with six and Vernon Davis had the most receiving yards with 106 and one touchdown. Frank Gore led the ground game with 90 yards on 21 carries and two touchdowns. As a team, they racked up 149 yards on 29 carries and three rushing touchdowns. Defensively, Patrick Willis was the leader in solo tackles with 11. He also had one tackle for a loss.
For the Falcons, Matt Ryan completed 30 of 42 for 396 yards, three touchdowns, one interception and one lost fumble. Julio Jones caught two of those touchdown passes, had the most receptions with 11 and the most receiving yards with 182. The ground game never really got going for the Falcons. Jacquizz Rodgers had the most rushing yards with 32 on ten carries. As a team, the Falcons rushed for a grand total of 81 yards on 23 carries. Defensively, safety Thomas DeCoud and linebacker Akeem Dent tied for the team lead in solo tackles with five apiece. Dent had one tackle for a loss and DeCoud had one pass defensed.
So, the NFC champion has been crowned. The 49ers will meet the winner of the Ravens-Patriots game in the Super Bowl on February 3rd. I’ll be back tomorrow morning with a recap of that game.