49ers book Super Bowl place
The San Francisco 49ers will play in the Super Bowl for the first time since 1995 in New Orleans after coming from 17-0 down to beat the Atlanta Falcons 28-24 at the Georgia Dome.
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Matt Ryan threw three touchdowns, two to Julio Jones as the Falcons overpowered the visitors early on, but coach Jim Harbaugh made some fine adjustments with Franke Gore running the ball more and quarterback Colin Kaepernick turning to tight end Vernon Davis.
LaMichael James ran in a score and Davis caught a four-yard pass but Ryan then hit Tony Gonzalez to make it a ten-point lead at half time, but Gore's first TD after the break signalled a big switch in momentum.
The 49ers defence kept the Falcons without a score in the second half as Ryan threw an interception and also lost a fumbled snap, but the Niners failed to take advantage with David Akers missing a field goal and Michael Crabtree losing a fumble right on the goalline.
Gore ran in a second TD in the fourth quarter and the following defensive stand sent the 49ers to Super Bowl XLVII as they go in search of a record-equalling sixth Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Roared on by a boisterous home crowd at the Georgia Dome, the Falcons made a flying start as they scored on the opening drive as Ryan found a wide-open Jones with a 47-yard strike and the home fans had their perfect start.
With Kaepernick and the 49ers offence struggling in the noise, the Falcons also added a Matt Bryant field goal before the Falcons made it 17-0 right at the start of the second quarter with Ryan and Jones repeating the trick by combing for a 20-yard TD.
San Francisco reverted to their traditional power running game and that back to basics move worked out well as they went on a six-minute drive of 80 yards before James found the end zone with a speedy 15-yard run.
Kaepernick then broke out for his first real run of the game, and that then enabled him to use the play-action to connect with tight end Vernon Davis on a four-yard TD strike and after a second 80yard drive the Niners trailed by just three.
Two-minute drill specialist Ryan still had a minute and 55 seconds of the half left though, and he needed just 90 seconds to quickly move the ball 80 yards and fire to veteran Tony Gonzalez from ten yards to make it a ten-point game at half time.
San Francisco got the ball at the start of the second half and for a third consecutive drive the visitors scored a touchdown to get the deficit back down to three at 24-21 as Gore rushed in from five yards out.
Then the errors started to creep into the game - Ryan threw his first interception of the day down Chris Culliver's throat, but the 49ers could not capitalise as David Akers, who missed a record 13 field goals during the season, then rattled the right hand post with a 38-yard effort.
Ryan fumbled the snap on his next possession, but again San Francisco could not make Atlanta pay as Michael Crabtree had the ball stripped for a fumble on the one-yard line as he tried to muscle his way over into the end zone.
Coming so agonisingly close did not affect the Niners defence as a quick stop gave Kaepernick excellent field position and the 49ers this time took it all the way with Gore scampering in from nine yards to put San Francisco in front for the first time in the game.
The Falcons had their chance again late on, but the San Francisco defence stood up strong right at the death and a superb stop inside the red zone managed to put them through to another Super Bowl appearance in New Orleans.