Last week it was COLIN KAEPERNICK (16 of 21 for 233 yards 1 touchdown pass) and his dual-threat gifts that sent the Seattle Seahawks home. But this week it was former Penn State linebacker NAVORRO BOWMAN who took the torch as the hero. His knockdown of a fourth down desperation pass just six yards from the Atlanta end zone, gave his 49er team the impetus to pull out a near improbable 28-24 victory over the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome today. Bowman and his 49er defensive mates, did not allow one score in the second half which included holding Ryan to a 4 of 7 for only 46 yards, no touchdown, and 1 interception performance. Meanwhile, with this win the 49ers will be playing in their first Super Bowl since the 1994 season.
Atlanta took over first and ten on their own 20, for both teams’ first offensive drives of the game. This drive was kept alive by an acrobatic and leaping 16 yard reception by RODDY WHITE versus safety DASHON GOLDSON, which advanced the ball to SF 47 yard line. Two plays later, MATT RYAN (he was as hot as an Arizona summer by halftime, as he was 18 of 24 for 271 yards, 3 touchdowns and no interceptions) fired a 46 yard touchdown pass to star receiver JULIO JONES (who also had a hot first half, as he caught 7 passes for 135 yards and 2 scores). On the play, Jones badly beat Goldson who was supposed to be the deep cushion man for cornerback TARELL BROWN. MATT BRYANT came on for the successful extra point and now it was 7-0 Atlanta.
On San Francisco’s connecting drive, hard hitting safety THOMAS DECOUD ended the drive with a diving, pass breakup of a Kaepernick pass intended for tight end VERNON DAVIS (5 catches for 106 yards and 1 score) on 3rd down and 9.
Atlanta took over at their own 18 yard line after the ANDY LEE punt. The key play on this drive was a drive continuing 27 yard reception by Jones on 3rd and 10, which advanced the ball all the way to the SF 23 yard line. But the 49ers’ Bowman made sure the Falcons only got a field goal out of this drive, with his knocking away a pass intended for running back JACQUIZZ RODGERS who if he [Rodgers] would have caught the pass, it would have been a sizeable gain for the Falcons. Bryant came on to make a 35 yard field goal to put his team up 10-0.
Atlanta got some help from their fans and an unrelenting pass rush on their next defensive series. As on 3rd down and 4, defensive tackle COREY PETERS and defensive end KROY BIERMANN combined to sack Kaepernick for a 9 yard loss back to the SF 17 yard line.
Atlanta took advantage of the sack and their fans’ support, by scoring on the connecting drive. Ryan (for the game he was 22 of 31 for 317 yards, 3 touchdown passes, and 1 interception) threw a 20 yard touchdown pass to Jones (for the game he caught 8 passes for 148 yards and 2 scores), who secured the ball high and then tip-toed his way in bounds then out of bounds for an eventual and seemingly insurmountable 17-0 lead.
After a delay of game penalty at the 9:32 mark of the second quarter on the 49ers, Kaepernick went to work with a 27 yard completion to Davis who took the ball to the ATL 15 yard line. That play set up a LAMICHAEL JAMES untouched 15 yard touchdown run down the right side, that was heavily keyed by a Davis block. DAVID AKERS came in to boot the extra point and now it was 17-7 Atlanta.
Just when everyone thought this game was headed for a blowout, the 49ers went on an 8 play 82 yard scoring drive. This drive was led by a left side Kaepernick 23 yard run to the ATL 46 and a 25 yard Davis catch all the way to the ATL 4 yard line. One play after his 25 yard catch, Davis came through big again for his team as he took into his custody a 4 yard rollout pass from Kaepernick. Now it was 17-14 and time for the Falcons to REALLY worry.
Then with just under 30 seconds left in the first half, Atlanta scored an insurance touchdown to get the lead to 24-14. This insurance touchdown was scored by tight end TONY GONZALEZ, who caught his first touchdown of the game and second of the playoffs from 10 yards out with him landing on his left shoulder at the beginning of the end zone.
But with 10:51 left in the third quarter, running back FRANK GORE (18 carries for 80 yards and 2 scores) pulled his team within three as he scored from 5 yards out at the end of an 82 yard seven play drive. The score was now 24-21 Atlanta. The 49ers then received a gift as well the first turnover of the game for both teams, as cornerback CHRIS CULLIVER picked off Ryan at the SF 38 yard line and he returned the theft 6 yards. But the 49ers couldn’t take advantage of Culliver’s theft as they went four plays and out, coupled with Akers missing a 38 yard field goal on 4th and 5.
Eventually one of the biggest plays of the game occurred in the third quarter, as Ryan mishandled a snap from center TODD MCCLURE and the ball ended up in the hands of defensive end ALDON SMITH at the SF 37 yard line. On the drive Smith’s recovery led to, the 49ers’ cause was helped by a roughing the passer penalty on Falcons defensive end CLIFF MATTHEWS who slapped Kaepernick on his chin by accident in the midst of pass rushing. But at the end of this 63 yard drive, receiver MICHAEL CRABTREE was stripped of the ball by Atlanta cornerback DUNTA ROBINSON near the 49ers goal line and the ball was recovered by safety WILLIAM MOORE near the 1 yard line.
But Crabtree’s bacon was saved by teammate CARLOS ROGERS, who tackled Gonzalez one yard short of the first down on 3rd and 6 to force a MATT BOSHER punt. Rogers was one of the key players in this game as he earlier saved a potential huge gain by knocking away a pass intended for White deep in Falcon scoring territory. Gore took advantage of Rogers’ big play as he scored on a 9 yard run with 8:27 left in the game. Gore’s score gave the 49ers their first lead of the game at 28-24 after Akers’ successful extra point.
On the Falcons’ next offensive series Ryan, with his mouth bleeding, threw a contested then confirmed by the officials first down strike to receiver HARRY DOUGLAS to the SF 28 yard line. But later in the drive and on 4th and 4 with 1:10 left in the game, Bowman again came up huge as he helped break up a pass intended for White near the SF 6 yard line.
The Falcons after the 49ers were forced to punt, took over with 6 seconds left in the game at their 41 yard line. Ryan completed a 24 yard pass to Jones who was knocked down at the SF 35 yard line which ended the game.