Kaepernick: 'This is a great team win'
Colin Kaepernick only rushed for 21 yards on two attempts, but was 16-for-21 with 233 passing yards and a touchdown. (USA TODAY IMAGES)
The 49ers rallied from a 17-point deficit over the top-seeded Atlanta Falcons, as the defense pitched a shutout in the second half and Colin Kaepernick continued his improbable journey to Super Bowl quarterback.
The 49ers have not lost in five previous trips to the Super Bowl, with their last victory coming in Super Bowl XXIX, a 49-26 victory over the San Diego Chargers in January 1995. The 49ers rallied from a 17-0 deficit to take their first lead of the game with 8:23 remaining in the fourth quarter on Frank Gore's 9-yard touchdown run when quarterback Colin Kaepernick handed it off a read option.
The quartet of quarterback Matt Ryan and pass targets Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez were unstoppable in the first half, as the Falcons built a 17-point advantage and led 24-14 at halftime.
The 49ers could not generate enough pressure on Ryan with a four-man pass rush, and Ryan got rid of the ball quickly to torch the 49ers' pass coverage.
Jones caught seven passes for 135 yards and two touchdowns, while White added 91 yards on six receptions. And Gonzalez had five catches for 45 yards, including a 10-yard scoring catch with :25 remaining in the half.
The Falcons wasted no time in taking the lead after the 49ers won the coin toss and elected to defer. Ryan hit White for a 16-yard gain on a third-and-9 against safety Dashon Goldson.
Then, the Falcons took advantage of a blown coverage in the 49ers secondary, as Ryan found Jones all alone for a 46-yard touchdown. Jones got behind Goldson for the touchdown, but it appeared as if Goldson expected a cornerback to carry Jones down the field.
On the first play of the second quarter, 49ers cornerback Tarell Brown had good coverage on Jones, who went up in the corner of the end zone to make the grab and get both feet in-bounds for a 20-yard touchdown. That play gave the Falcons a 17-0 lead.
In the first quarter, the 49ers had two possessions for minus-2 total yards. But the next time the 49ers touched the ball, they put together a drive.
Frank Gore carried four consecutive times and the 49ers picked up their first two first downs of the game. Colin Kaepernick hit Vernon Davis on a 27-yard pass on a third-and-7 after a delay-of-game penalty.
Two plays later, Kaepernick handed to LaMichael James on a read option, and James found a crease on the right side and sprinted into the end zone for a 15-yard touchdown.
The 49ers cut the Falcons' lead to three points, as tight end Vernon Davis re-emerged as a factor in the passing game. In Kaepernick's first start, he and Davis hooked up for six completions for 83 yards. Since that game, Davis averaged one catch for the next seven games.
Davis had four receptions for 75 yards in the first half, including a 4-yard touchdown grab on the first play after the two-minute warning. But the 49ers left enough time on the clock for Ryan to go to work to extend the lead to double digits at halftime.
The 49ers came out strong in the second half with a seven-play, 82-yard scoring drive. Randy Moss caught Kaepernick passes of 21 and 17 yards to set up Gore for a 5-yard touchdown run. That cut the Falcon's advantage to 24-21 with 10:47 remaining in the third quarter.
The 49ers made two critical second-half mistakes after they generated takeaways.
The 49ers considered replacing Akers as the team's kicker prior to the divisional playoff game against the Green Bay Packers. But coach Jim Harbaugh awarded Akers the job, based on his practice-field competition against veteran Billy Cundiff.
The 49ers waived Cundiff on Friday, prior the team's charter flight to Atlanta.
Then, receiver Michael Crabtree fumbled at the goal line after catching a short pass from quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Cornerback Dunta Robinson stripped Crabtree of the ball, and linebacker Stephen Nicholas recovered. Crabtree was just inches from giving the 49ers, trailing 24-21 at the time, their first lead of the game.
THIS 'N' THAT: Wide receiver Chad Hall, promoted Saturday from the practice squad, was among the 46 players in uniform. Hall was put into the game in place of rookie A.J. Jenkins, who did not play. On Hall's only play, he could not come up with a third-down pass from Kaepernick. . . . The 49ers' inactive players were quarterback Scott Tolzien, safety Trenton Robinson, running back Jewel Hampton, linebacker Cam Johnson, guard Joe Looney, and defensive tackles Tony Jerod-Eddie and Ian Williams . . . Since 2001, including playoffs, the 49ers were 1-27 in games they trailed by at least 17 points. The lone victory was in 2011 against the Philadelphia Eagles.