USA TODAY Sports
The San Francisco 49ers found themselves in a deep hole, but unlike their division rivals, they managed to dig themselves out.
A team from the NFC West found themselves in an early hole against the Atlanta Falcons. If you watched the first quarter of Sunday's NFC Championship between the San Francisco 49ers and Atlanta Falcons, it could have been easily mistaken for last week's playoff game featuring the Seattle Seahawks. However, the 49ers learned from their division rival's mistakes -- and ensured they wouldn't get stuck in that early hole. What ensued was two second half touchdowns that tipped the balance and ensured the 49ers would move on.
Wide receiver Julio Jones was the difference-maker in the first half. Finishing with over 100 yards and two touchdowns, his receptions of 46 and 20 yards helped put the Falcons on top early. San Francisco looked helpless in the secondary.
Unlike last week's contest though, the 49ers battled back with two unanswered touchdowns to keep the game close at halftime. Rather than use Colin Kaepernick's legs to attack the center of the field, instead they leaned heavily on tight end Vernon Davis and banked on Atlanta's inability to stop the athletic pass catcher. It worked, and despite allowing a late touchdown to Tony Gonzalez, the 49ers kept it close.
The second half was a mixed bag, but a successful drive and a score by running back Frank Gore meant San Francisco got off to a fast start. With just a three point lead, the pressure was back on Atlanta to stop this becoming a game like Seattle's where they allowed the Seahawks get entirely too close.
The turning point should have been back-to-back Atlanta turnovers by Matt Ryan. He threw an interception to Chris Culliver, trying to target Roddy White. He then fumbled on the following drive. However, the 49ers were unable to capitalize as David Akers missed a field goal (somewhat commonplace), and Michael Crabtree fumbled at the goal line (less commonplace). So those Ryan turnovers went for naught. An eventful third quarter didn't reflect it on the scoreboard.
With just under ten minutes remaining in the game, San Francisco finally struck. A second Frank Gore rushing touchdown gave the 49ers their first lead of the game, and once again Atlanta found themselves in the all too familiar position. A deep completion to wide receiver Harry Douglas gave Atlanta a chance to win the game, but unlike their victory last week, they couldn't find the end zone, and a field goal wouldn't have been enough.
In just his second season as an NFL head coach, Jim Harbaugh now has the chance to lead the San Francisco 49ers to a Lombardi trophy.
Box score hero
A pair of fantasy studs dominated Sunday's game, as Julio Jones of the Atlanta Falcons finished with a team playoff record eight receptions for 148 yards and two touchdowns.
Meanwhile, tight end Vernon Davis had a huge days against Atlanta, as he totaled five catches for 106 yards and a touchdown.
Falcons' RB Michael Turner left the game, and his return was questionable. There were no further updates.
Did they cover?
The San Francisco 49ers were favored by 3.5 points, and their four-point victory meant they covered.
The San Francisco 49ers will meet the winner of Baltimore and New England in the Superbowl.