Little things added up to epic 49ers win
Published: Monday, January 21, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 21, 2013 at 10:13 p.m.
ATLANTA — Years from now, 49ers fans looking back on their team's dramatic 28-24 victory over the Falcons in the NFC championship game will remember wide-open Vernon Davis hauling in passes downfield. They'll probably recall Chris Culliver's third-quarter interception, and certainly NaVorro Bowman's pass breakup that doomed Atlanta with 1:09 left.
But in a game of wide swings and shifting momentum, a hundred small pieces came together to form a championship mosaic.
“This is a team effort,” coach Jim Harbaugh said at the podium after the game, before he knew he would be scheming against his brother John in Super Bowl XLVII. “Everybody does a little and it adds up to a lot. It is not just about one person.”
Or one play, or one drive, or one strategy.
These were some of the little things that helped propel the 49ers to their sixth Super Bowl, and their first in 18 years:
Bowman's other deflection
The 49ers' all-pro inside linebacker ultimately punctuated the win by hugging close to wide receiver Roddy White on a crossing route and knocking away the ball to end the Falcons' last real threat. Less gaudy was a play Bowman made in the first quarter when, on third-and-4 from the San Francisco 17-yard line, he denied a pass from Matt Ryan to halfback Jacquizz Rodgers.
That forced Atlanta to settle for a field goal, a score sandwiched between two Falcons touchdowns. If they had converted the pass to Rodgers and gotten into the end zone again — well, it isn't hard to calculate the difference four points would have made in this game.
Kaepernick's tightrope walk
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who had destroyed the Packers with 181 rushing yards a week earlier, ran the ball just twice against Atlanta. He scrambled only once, but it was a graceful execution.
Down 17-7 late in the second quarter, Kaepernick fled the pocket and took off around the left end. It was a nice little play that became something more when the QB tiptoed along the sideline, managed to stay inbounds while avoiding speedy linebacker Sean Weatherspoon's tackle and strode for 23 yards.
That put the 49ers into Atlanta territory, and they scored moments later on Kaepernick's short pass to Davis, which cut the deficit to 17-14.
Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones might have been the best player on the field Sunday; he finished with 11 catches for 182 yards and two touchdowns. Davis, with five for 106, did most of the aerial damage for the 49ers. But for one drive, 35-year-old Randy Moss was the man.
With the Niners trailing 24-14, Moss began the second half by getting open in the short zone, accepting a pass from Kaepernick and showing his reserves of speed by taking off for 21 yards. After three Frank Gore runs and a completion to tight end Delanie Walker, Moss worked the short middle again and hauled in a pass for 17 yards, down to the Atlanta 5-yard line.
Gore scored on the next play. Now Moss gets another chance to add a Super Bowl championship to his Hall of Fame statistics.
Rogers makes a push
Giving up a third-down completion isn't normally a bragging point for a cornerback. But Carlos Rogers showed some veteran savvy on a third-and-6 play early in the fourth quarter, as Ryan hit Tony Gonzalez on an out route. While Rogers didn't get there soon enough to knock down the pass, he rode the big tight end laterally and pushed him out of bounds a yard shy of the first-down marker.
Clinging to a 24-21 lead, the Falcons had to punt the ball away. And Rogers, who gives up 55 pounds to Gonzalez, had some bragging rights.
The punt return
On the next snap after Rogers' play, San Francisco's Ted Ginn fielded Matt Bosher's punt at his 42-yard line, found some room around the right edge and zipped downfield for a 20-yard return. Until that point, the 49ers' key special-teams moment was a missed field goal by David Akers. Ginn's scamper evened the ledger.
That return, combined with the previous defensive stop, set up the 49ers at the Atlanta 38, easily their best field position of the game. They were able to score a touchdown without a double-digit gain on the drive, finishing with a Gore run that gave them their first lead of the game at 28-24.
The score would hold up, punching the Niners' tickets to New Orleans. It's possible they will blow out the Baltimore Ravens, as another 49ers team did to the Chargers in January, 1995. More likely, it will be a Harbaugh-style slugfest, the type of game that comes down to a multitude of modestly important plays. A game like the one we just saw.
You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or firstname.lastname@example.org.