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Kings of the road

by Jeremy Ledbetter

49ers and Ravens win on road to New Orleans

The same two teams, who lost on Championship Sunday a year ago, righted those wrongs this year. With impressive road victories, they earned trips to Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans on February 3.

It will be the 13-4-1 San Francisco 49ers, 28-24 winners over the Atlanta Falcons, versus the 13-6 Baltimore Ravens, 28-13 winners over the New England Patriots, squaring off for the World Championship of Professional Football. San Francisco will be making their sixth appearance, while Baltimore will be making its second with the Ravens. Neither franchise has lost in a Super Bowl.

The 49ers came into Atlanta as the favorite, something said to have served as motivation for the consistently underappreciated Falcons. Early on, the Falcons were flying high and the experts were scrambling for towels to wipe the egg off of their faces.

In the first quarter, Atlanta racked up 182 yards of offense to San Francisco’s -2, and a 10-0 lead. Once the second quarter began, Matt Ryan found Julio Jones for a 20-yard touchdown on the first play, pushing the advantage to 17-0. But as we had seen a week earlier versus Seattle, the Falcons were vulnerable, especially against a mobile quarterback.

Making just his ninth NFL start, Colin Kaepernick showed the poise that would make the great 49ers quarterbacks of yore very proud. Fresh off an NFL QB record 183 yards rushing against the Packers, Atlanta focused on Kaepernick’s running ability. He rushed only twice for 21 yards. It was through the air where Colin shined on this afternoon. Kaepernick completed 16-of-21 for 233 yards and no turnovers on his part. Atlanta’s keying on the QB run opened up things for Frank Gore who rushed for 90 yards and two scores, including the winner in the fourth.

The Falcons were shutout in the second half, becoming largely one-dimensional after RB Michael Turner left with an ankle injury in the third quarter. Matt Ryan, who suffered a shoulder injury of his own, struggled to find the downfield throws so readily available in the first half. Atlanta’s only threat in the second half came late when NaVarro Bowman batted away a fourth down pass at the 49ers 10.

As for the Baltimore Ravens, they too started slowly, but took control in the second half. The Patriots just could not make the big play when they needed it—or even some of the little ones. A clock management error by Tom Brady likely cost New England four points and kept the Ravens within one score, 13-7 at halftime. The second half belonged to Baltimore.

Joe Flacco was brilliant in winning his record sixth road playoff start, passing for 240 yards and three second half touchdowns, two to Anquan Boldin. The Ravens defense provided some signature moments as well, shutting out New England after halftime. Under Bill Belichick, with Brady at QB, the Patriots were 67-0 at home when leading at the half. Make that 67-1.

Of the many compelling storylines leading up to the big game, you are likely only to hear of one. But I will give you another. At first glance, Ravens/49ers looks to be old-time defensive football at its finest—a true game for purists.

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