In what was expected by some to be a war of attrition, the Atlanta Falcons seemed poised for a massive beat down of the San Francisco 49ers in the first half; the Falcons had contained Colin Kaepernick, something they would do for most of the game; they were scorching and gassing the 49er defense; finally, they were winning on all three aspects of the game.
However, watching the game with my dad, he said something prophetic as the Falcons led 17-0: if you remembered what happened last week, you know you can’t count on anything the Falcons have right now. Sure enough, the 49ers began coming back, with their offense finally getting on the board. The defense began stopping Matt Ryan and the potent Falcons offense, getting a few turnovers and forcing a few three-and-0uts. However, the Atlanta offense continued to produce.
The 49ers won the game because they began, in war terms, turning Atlanta’s flank. They weren’t outscoring the Falcons by leaps and bounds, but rather catching up, and/or keeping pace. Finally, Atlanta was stopped, with the Niners down by three, and Kaepernick, who was orchestrating the offense brilliantly at this point, began connecting with Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree; Frank Gore began running over defenders, and then suddenly, the Niners were up in the game for the first time, up 28-24.
However, Atlanta had time. Suddenly, the 49er defense, gassed, gashed, and bleeding (okay, not really, but run with me on this one) played like their careers depended on it. Atlanta, needing a touchdown, got into the red zone, then failed to convert down after down after down after down; the 49ers ran three run plays, then punted, giving the Falcons time for one play, which failed miserably.
I’d argue that the key to the game was the play of Vernon Davis. Everyone else is talking about Frank Gore, and he rightly deserved all the accolades he got; however, Vernon Davis had been forgotten in recent weeks, and his ability to produce under pressure spoke volumes to the depth of the 49ers offense; hell, Randy Moss made plays, and showed why even if he doesn’t catch a lot of balls, he is a valuable asset to his team. It was Vernon Davis, though, who showcased the ability of the 49ers to overcome their bad start.
Matt Ryan and the Falcons played quite well, and like the 49ers made mistakes, which were capitalized on and turned into points. Unfortunately for the Falcons, they couldn’t match the Niners towards the end of the stretch. After the Seattle game, I wonder if maybe they felt a little too confident being up early in the game; unlike last week, they couldn’t kickstart themselves back into gear in time.
I suppose that the best way to conclude is by looking at the coaching staffs. Both have been successful in their times at their current places. Mike Smith has had a great run at Atlanta, and even taking into account their playoff struggles, he still remains a great coach worthy of great praise. Jim Harbaugh has done wonders in his two years with the Niners, taking them to the NFC title game in his first season, and the Super Bowl in the second.
Finally, neither team is young anymore; they are now the experienced, battle-hardened veterans; they have been there, they have done that; they have tasted the bitterness of defeat, which allows them to appreciate the sweetness of victory. And so, off we go to the Super Bowl, and beyond.