NFC Championship Preview: 49ers Falcons

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (12-4-1) at ATLANTA FALCONS (14-3) (Sunday, FOX, 3:00 PM ET)

San Francisco and Atlanta will meet for the 76th time. The 49ers hold a 44-29-1 edge in the regular-season series, but the Falcons won the lone playoff meeting between the two clubs, earning a 20-18 Divisional playoff win en route to their Super Bowl XXXIII appearance.

Last week, Atlanta built a 20-0 first-half lead that was quickly erased by the red-hot Seahawks, who had won eight of their past nine entering the Divisional round. Seattle’s MARSHAWN LYNCH nearly capped off the incredible comeback with a two-yard touchdown run with 31 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter to give the Seahawks a 28-27 lead.

But MATT RYAN of the Falcons completed a 22-yard pass to wide receiver HARRY DOUGLAS followed by a 19-yard strike to tight end TONY GONZALEZ to set up Bryant’s game-winning kick.

“Wow. We talk all the time about playing a 60-minute game and finishing those games. That’s exactly what we did today,” says Atlanta head coach MIKE SMITH. “Our quarterback is a special player. He did a great job there on that last drive.”

Ryan passed for 250 yards and three touchdowns, both career-highs in the postseason, and earned his first playoff win.

“I think the one thing that I’ve learned in my five years, and specifically in the postseason, is that it’s hard,” says Ryan. “I thought that collectively as a team, and as a coaching staff, nobody flinched. We just kept battling, kept doing what we do, and that’s just kind of been the makeup of our team this season.”

The 49ers advanced to their 14th NFC Championship Game, tying the Dallas Cowboys for the most since 1970. Only Pittsburgh (15) has more conference championship appearances during that span.

Kaepernick set the tone in the 49ers’ 45-31 victory against Green Bay, accounting for four total touchdowns (two rushing, two passing) and 444 of San Francisco’s 579 total yards. In addition to his 263 passing yards, Kaepernick rushed for 181 yards, the most ever by a quarterback in an NFL game, regular season and playoffs included.

“He’s that new-style quarterback in the NFL that can run the read option, that can pull the ball down, run it and take it the distance from anywhere on the football field. Extremely strong-armed, accurate,” says San Francisco safety DONTE WHITNER. “He’s our quarterback, he’s our leader and he did a great job out there today.”

Kaepernick’s most popular target against the Packers was wide receiver MICHAEL CRABTREE, who became the third player in club history with at least nine catches (nine), 100+ receiving yards (119) and two or more TD catches (two) in a playoff game. Pro Football Hall of Famer JERRY RICE and TERRELL OWENS are the only other 49ers to accomplish the feat.

“It doesn’t stop here,” says Pro Bowl linebacker PATRICK WILLIS. “We got a big one next week.”

Source: NFL Media