NFC - San Francisco 49ers 28-24 Atlanta Falcons
The San Francisco 49ers came from 17-0 down to beat the Atlanta Falcons and secure their first Superbowl appearance since 1994.
The 49ers started off very slowly and were 17-0 down early in the second quarter. They rallied after that though and got back to 17-14 but the Falcons got another touchdown before half-time to lead 24-14 at the break. The 49ers defense came up big in the second half though. The Falcons were unable to add to the 24 points they had scored in the first half and the offense got the two touchdowns that were required to complete the comeback.
The defeat will have left some mental scars on the Falcons as they threw away a big league for the second week in a row. Last week they were able to respond with a field goal to win the game but this week a field goal was no use and they needed to get the ball in the end zone but they were unable to get beyond the San Francisco 10 yard line. They got one final chance when the 49ers went three and out and were forced to punt. The Falcons had six seconds on the clock and the ball on their own 41. The play had to be a Hail Mary or some sort of a lateral play but instead the Falcons played a mid range pass to Julio Jones at the 49ers 35 and he was tackled instantly which ended the game. The Falcons had no timeouts left and the pass was played into the middle of the field so I have no idea what they were thinking of. That play summed up the Falcons entire second half and they never really looked likely to score until the drive just after the 49ers scored. Much of the criticism should be handed to the coaches. They were having some success early on by being aggressive on offense. Once they got into the lead they changed styles and tried to protect their lead. They had all the momentum and let it slip but they are not the first team to make that mistake and certainly won't be the last.
Matt Ryan had a mixed game. He threw for 396 yards and 3 touchdowns but he was also responsible for two bad turnovers. He was intercepted after throwing the ball straight to Chris Culliver and he also lost a fumble when he took his eyes off the ball on a shotgun snap. Turnovers aside, he was excellent but everyone knows that turnovers will cost you games and it was the case yesterday. The Falcons weren't great on the ground, picking up 81 yards from 23 running plays. The Falcons were once again led in the passing game by their three big stars, Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez. Jones caught 11 passes for 182 yards and 2 touchdowns. White caught 7 passes for 100 yards and Gonzalez caught 8 passes for 78 yards and a touchdown.
The 49ers deserve a lot of credit for their performance. After falling behind so early many teams would have crumbled but the 49ers refused to panic. They stuck to their game plan and were rewarded with two touchdowns to get back to within three but conceded another touchdown just before the half to leave the deficit at ten points. They came out in the second half and continued to plug away and got the gap back to three points with a touchdown early in the third quarter. The teams then had a bit of a crazy spell were both had turnovers and the 49ers missed a field goal before San Francisco eventually took the lead thanks to a Vernon Davis touchdown with just over eight minutes remaining. The 49ers allowed the Falcons to get up the field but a field goal was no use at this stage and they managed to keep them out of the end zone to secure the win.
One man who deserves a lot of credit is quarterback, Colin Kaepernick. He had what I would say was the best game of his career. Everyone knows what he can do on the ground but I'm old fashioned and like a quarterback who can pass the ball. I've spent many an evening over the last month or two writing about how bad a passer he is so it's only right that I acknowledge how good he was in this game. He completed 16 of his 21 passes for 231 yards and a touchdown. Those numbers are very good but they don't do justice to how well he played. He left the running side of the game to the running-backs and stood in the pocket and made some fantastic passes. I have to be honest and say that I didn't think he had that kind of performance in him but he stepped up and played like a pure passer to lead his team to a Superbowl and I can't give him enough credit for that. He's still a young guy and if he can continue to improve as a passer and play with more consistency in that area, he could have a big career in the NFL. Other stars for the 49ers were Frank Gore who ran for 90 yards and 2 touchdowns from 21 carries and Vernon Davis who caught 5 passes for 106 yards and a touchdown.
For the Falcons, there will be a lot of soul searching in the off season. It looks as though Tony Gonzalez will retire which will be a big loss for them. They will also need to address what happened in these playoffs and why they gave away two big leads in their two games. In my opinion, it was bad coaching. They got themselves into good positions with aggressive play calling and then tried to hang onto the lead by relying on their defense and running game to kill time. Neither unit were good enough and the Falcons are at their best when they are going for the jugular and trying to beat teams instead of maintaining leads.
For the 49ers, it's two weeks of studying film, training, hard work and coming up with a plan to pick up a win in New Orleans in the Har-Bowl.
49ers Offensive Star : Colin Kaepernick - Vernon Davis and Frank Gore deserve this just as much but Kaepernick showed us a side to his game that we hadn't really saw before.
49ers Defensive Star : Patrick Willis - Twelve tackles including one for a loss was a good return from the linebacker.
Falcons Offensive Star : Julio Jones - Jones deserved to be in a Superbowl after picking up 182 yards and 2 touchdowns from his 11 catches.
Falcons Defensive Star : Thomas DeCoud - The Falcons safety made 8 tackles and also deflected a pass.
Baltimore Ravens 28-13 New England Patriots
The Baltimore Ravens secured an unlikely passage to the Superbowl after a big win over the New England Patriots last night. Nobody has earned a place in the Superbowl more than this Baltimore Ravens team. They came into the playoffs as the fourth seed and beat the Indianapolis Colts who had a better regular season record than them, the Denver Broncos who looked like the best team in the AFC by quite some distance and finally, the New England Patriots who have more experience of Championship games than any other team in recent years. I did expect them to prevail against the Colts but I gave them next to no chance against the Broncos and the Patriots and on both occasions they have gone into hostile atmosphere's and done the business.
Statistically the game was fairly tight but there were a few key differences between the sides and it turned out to be the difference between winning and losing. I have been banging on all year about turnovers and once again this game was evidence of the fact that it's very hard to win in this league if you turn the ball over. The Patriots turned it over three times and the Ravens managed to avoid any turnovers. The first turnover was costly as the Patriots were eight behind and had drove to midfield and then lost the ball to a fumble. Not content at stopping the Patriots from scoring, the Ravens turned the turnover into points and got a touchdown to extend their lead to fifteen points. The last two were interceptions when the Patriots were in desperation mode. The first was in Ravens territory and the Patriots looked like reducing the gap to eight points with around half the fourth quarter to play. Instead Tom Brady was picked off and the Ravens managed to drive down the field and take 4:44 off the clock. That left the Patriots fifteen behind and just over two minutes left. The Pats were moving the ball down the field but got intercepted again and that left the Ravens in the position were they could take two kneels to finish off the game. The other difference was their success in the red zone. The Ravens went four from four in the red zone and the Patriots only went one from four. They had to kick two field goals and also turned another one over on downs.
Baltimore were once again led by quarterback, Joe Flacco. Flacco has been outstanding in the playoffs and had another fantastic game, throwing for 240 yards and 3 touchdowns. His main targets were Torrey Smith, Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta. Smith caught 4 passes for 69 yards, Boldin caught 5 for 60 yards and 2 touchdowns and Dennis Pitta caught 5 passes for 55 yards and a touchdown. The ground game wasn't hugely effective and the Patriots done a good job of stopping Ray Rice. He did get a touchdown but they restricted him to just 48 yards from 19 carries. Bernard Pierce was a bit more dangerous and ran for 52 yards from 9 carries.
Tom Brady didn't have a great game for the Patriots, completing 29 of 54 passes for 320 yards, a touchdown and 2 interceptions. When Brady gets to throw 54 passes you expect a lot more than thirteen points to show for it. His leading receivers were Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez and Brandon Lloyd. Welker led the way with 8 catches for 117 yards and a touchdown. Hernandez caught 9 passes for 83 yards and Lloyd caught 7 passes for 70 yards. Stevan Ridley was the leading rusher and picked up 70 yards from his 18 carries. He was also the man responsible for the fumble that led to the Ravens fourth touchdown so it wasn't a great day for the running-back.
To be honest, I'm not sure were the Patriots go from here. Eight seasons have passed since they last won the Superbowl and for guys like Tom Brady and Bill Belichick who set their standards so high, it's not good enough. They have been in the playoffs in seven of those eight seasons and their regular season record has never been worse than 10-6 but for some reason they keep falling short in the big games. Belichick will undoubtedly look to see what he can do to fix things as they are clearly not far from the right formula but these guys are born winners and anything other than a ring at the end of the season is good enough for the Patriots.
The Baltimore Ravens will be delighted to be going back to the Superbowl after so many close calls in recent years. They won it in 2000 and have made the playoffs in eight of the twelve seasons that have passed since then. This is their fifth consecutive year in the playoffs and in each of those years, they have won a game but failed to reach the Superbowl, until this season. It will be a very special occasion for the entire franchise and especially their legendary linebacker, Ray Lewis. Lewis announced a few weeks ago that he will be retiring at the end of this season and surely there is no better way for a true NFL legend to go out than with a Superbowl appearance.
Ravens Offensive Star : Joe Flacco - Who is this new guy playing under center for the Ravens? We have saw a completely different Flacco in the playoffs and long may it continue.
Ravens Defensive Star : Ray Lewis - Lewis has been in the conversation in the last two games but he gets the nod this week after a massive 14 tackles.
Patriots Offensive Star : Wes Welker - The Patriots need to get Welker's contract situation sorted as he is a huge player for the franchise.
Patriots Defensive Star : Rob Ninkovich - 8 tackles, two of which were for a loss and 2 sacks were not enough to send the Patriots back to the Superbowl.