The NFC Championship Game featured two teams that won their divisions, combined for two dozen wins, and averaged only 3.5 losses. The journey to the opportunity to win an NFC division title and a Super Bowl berth included numerous risks, close calls, and, of course, solid football. How did the Atlanta Falcons and the San Francisco 49ers reach the NFC Championship Game? Multiple factors helped each team reach their conference title game.
The Immediate Past
Sports are often about what just happened, so the 2013 divisional playoffs are freshest in fansâ€™ minds. Atlanta fended off a late rally by the Seattle Seahawks, kicking a field goal with 8 seconds remaining in regulation to overcome the Seahawksâ€™ lead produced by Seattleâ€™s 3 touchdowns scored in the 4th quarter. The 49ers pulled away from the Green Bay Packers in the second half of their divisional playoff, scoring three consecutive touchdowns to put the game beyond reach of the Packers. The Falcons helped restore their post-season reputation, which had taken a hit by their recent inability to win a post-season game. The 49ers proved that a risk taken by Coach Harbaugh was the right decision after all.
Risk and Reward
Coach Harbaugh took some heat from fans and pundits when he pulled QB Alex Smith in favor of relative new-comer Colin Kaepernick in the 2nd quarter of the 49ersâ€™ eventual tie with the St. Louis Rams. Fans may remember Kaepernick as the quarterback who led his Nevada team to an upset of Boise St. in 2010, but he was still a relative unknown when compared with Smithâ€™s 6 more years of professional experience. Since taking over as starting quarterback, Kaepernickâ€™s team has only lost twice (to the Rams by 3 in OT and to Seattle 42-13). Playing Kaepernick has seemed to give the 49ers the spark that has led them to the NFC title game.
The Atlanta Falcons were 0-3 in the post-season with Coach Matt Smith and QB Matt Ryan in charge, so the Falconsâ€™ win puts an end to that narrative. The Falcons had not won a post-season game since defeating St. Louis in 2004, so the Falcons headed into the championship game looking for a chance to make it back to the Super Bowl for the first time since Super Bowl XXXIII.
Tales of the Tape
The 49ers came into the game with a defense and rushing game that ranked 4th in professional football. The Falcons were not as impressive on paperâ€”except in terms of their passing game, which ranked 6th in professional football. The Falcons did, however, best the 49ers in the highly important statistic of wins, carding two more than San Francisco.
Congratulations again to the San Francisco 49ers. Time to stock up with some great San Francisco 49ers Conference Champions gear, 49ers Super Bowl XLVII shirts, and other San Francisco 49ers 2012 NFC Conference Champs apparel.