Gore: 'We're not done yet'
Frank Gore, Vernon Davis and Colin Kaepernick led the 49ers' comeback effort after a slow start. (USA TODAY IMAGES)
ATLANTA -- The 49ers did not panic. They did not scrap the game plan.
The 49ers found themselves down by 17 points after the first play of the second quarter on Sunday, and the mindset did not change.
"Going out on the field frantic isn't going to help you score points," 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick said. "You have to try to lead your team."
The 49ers were rewarded for their patience. The organization will make its first trip to the Super Bowl in 18 seasons because the players and coaches remained cool under pressure.
The 49ers rallied all the way back for a 28-24 victory over the top-seeded Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome. It was the largest come-from-behind victory in NFC Championship Game history.
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The 49ers advance to Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans on Sunday, Feb. 3, against Sunday afternoon's AFC winner, either the Baltimore Ravens or New England Patriots. Coach Jim Harbaugh made his preference immediately known.
"I'm rooting for the Ravens," said Harbaugh, whose brother, John, is Baltimore's head coach. "Go Ravens."
Down 17-0 after Julio Jones' 20-yard touchdown catch from Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, it appeared as if the 49ers' would again fall one step shy of the Super Bowl. A year ago, the 49ers lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants, 20-17, in overtime.
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman, whose unit was held without a first down on the first two possessions of the game, opened the next drive -- perhaps, the most important 49ers drive of the season -- with four consecutive run plays.
"That touchdown drive, the ability for them to get it in the end zone, was key to me,' Roman said. "Once we broke the ice, it was time to go and we didn't have to get outside of ourselves. We stayed within the game plan."
After Frank Gore picked up 20 yards and two first downs on four rushing attempts, Kaepernick completed short passes to keep the chains moving. On a third-and-7, he found tight end Vernon Davis for 27 yards. Then, backup running back LaMichael James blasted through the right side for a 15-yard touchdown.
Kaepernick, making just his ninth NFL start, remained poised under pressure.
"We just knew we had to score on the next drive," Kaepernick said. "You can't let a team like this get any more than that. You can't worry about things like that. It's over. It's done with. You have to look forward."
The 49ers took a methodical approach. The defense eventually tightened, and the 49ers offense put together another two scoring drives in the second half to take the lead. And with the pressure on against an offense they could not slow down in the first half, the 49ers defense got the critical stop of the game in the closing minute.
The 49ers are heading to the Super Bowl for the sixth time in 49ers history. And through all of the accomplishments, there is one fact that everybody kept in mind in the winning locker room.
It's not over, yet.
"I think winning the George Halas Trophy is a huge accomplishment," Harbaugh said. "It's another flag. You want to get as many trophies and flags as you can. We said at the start of this (playoffs) there are three Super Bowls to win. We have won two so far, and we have one more in two weeks."
Said safety Donte Whitner, "I didn't get a chance to touch (the trophy), yet. I don't want to touch it. I want to touch the big one. The big one comes in two weeks in New Orleans."
The 49ers are moving on because of their ability to remain resilient. The defense, which Ryan and the Falcons tore to shreds in the first half, did not allow a point in the second half.
"We weren't frustrated from the simple standpoint that we know they're a great team, and we know we're not going to go on the road and shut everybody down," 49ers defensive tackle Justin Smith said. "The team coming back from it says a lot about everybody in there."
The defense made adjustments and came up with two Falcons turnovers. And the 49ers continued to use a mix of run and pass.
Kaepernick kept feeding the ball to Gore or hitting Davis when the 49ers needed two second-half touchdowns to win the game.
"Any time you win a game like this it's a team effort," Harbaugh said. "Everybody does a little, and it adds up to be a lot."
Kaepernick, who was elevated into the starting role only after Alex Smith was knocked from the lineup with a concussion, played another exemplary game. And there will not be any more question about the wisdom of Harbaugh's decision to move Kaepernick ahead of Smith on the depth chart.
"I'm just thankful he made that decision," Kaepernick said.
A week earlier, Kaepernick had a record-setting performance with his legs, rushing for 181 yards against the Green Bay Packers in a divisional-round game. This time, he was more than happy to feed the ball to Gore. Again, patience was the key word.
"When Frank's running for 5, 6, 7 yards, it's not hard to be patient at all," Kaepernick said. "I'll keep giving it to him if he keeps running like that."
Kaepernick ran just twice for 21 yards -- and only one of his runs was by design. On that play, he lost 2 yards. With the Falcons determined to force Kaepernick to give the ball to Gore, the 49ers gladly accepted the suggestion.
Gore carried 21 times for 90 yards and two touchdowns. He had touchdown runs of 5 and 9 yards to provide the only points in the second half.
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Kaepernick did plenty of damage with his arm, too. He completed 16 of 21 passes for 233 yards with a 4-yard scoring pass to Davis, who re-emerged as a threat in the 49ers' offense.
Davis caught five passes for 106 yards. He had just seven receptions in his previous seven games with Kaepernick at quarterback.
"As far as not getting as many catches as I wanted and you guys (media) expected me to have, it has been frustrating," Davis said. "But it's not about me. It's about the team. That's why we play this game. We play for the team, the organization. And everything that we dream of, like going to the Super Bowl, I mean, that's what it's about."
The defense came up huge at the end with the 49ers protecting a four-point lead. Outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks batted down a third-down pass at the line of scrimmage, and inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman broke up Ryan's fourth-and-4 pass to Roddy White at the 49ers' 10-yard line with 1:09 remaining.
Linebacker Patrick Willis surveyed the scene in the locker room.
"I'm looking around and all my teammates are just enjoying it," he said. "It's an unbelievable feeling. It really humbles me to be in the situation I am today.
"Man, we're going to the Super Bowl."