This past weekend marked the annual sacrament that determined the contestants for the 2013 edition of the American Holiday known as the Super Bowl. To commemorate and observe this gridiron rite that opened at 3 pm with the San Francisco 49ers visiting the Atlanta Falcons (where I picked the Niners to win) I hosted my yearly Conference Championship Sunday BBQ. I boasted a feast of chicken and ribs that would have fed an NFL-sized offensive line. But once Atlanta QB Matt Ryan put the Falcons up 17-0 with around 13:00 left in the 2nd Quarter and chalked up 271 yards and 3 TDs in the 1st half alone, it seemed that my menu needed another bird to serve instead of chicken . . . crow.
The Dirty Birds came out flying down the field by exploiting their strength; twin top-flight WRs Julio Jones and Roddy White supported by Future Hall of Famer TE Tony Gonzalez. It seemed that the game plan set by their Head Coach, Mike Smith, was a smart one since Jones posted 2 1st half TDs on 11 catches gaining 182 yards on the day while White had 7 receptions for 100 yards, and Gonzalez posted 8 touches for 78 yards and a first half TD of his own. The featured air attack exploited 1-on-1 matchups and was supplemented by a reliable running presence just as was suggested in my previous article leading up to the game. This approach rendered a win for the Vikings in Week 4 against San Francisco and it posted Atlanta a 24-14 halftime lead.
Considering that the 49ers opened the game on offense with a pair of “3 and out” drives, a 10 point deficit going into the intermission was a comparatively strong showing under those circumstances. A running TD by Oregon rookie RB LaMichael James as well as a TD catch from Pro Bowl TE Vernon Davis enabled them to revive from the early 17 point difference, the widest gap in the history of the NFC Conference Championship game according to STATS LLC.
The Red and Gold came out with more luster in the 2nd half closing within 3 points off of a TD by their top RB Frank Gore on the 3rd Quarter’s opening drive. The defense then began to do their part by clipping the wings of the previously prolific Falcon production on offense. With the corps on both sides of the ball finally doing their jobs well, San Francisco still had to exercise the demons from last year’s NFC Championship where mistakes ended up sending them home to watch the New York Giants win the Super Bowl instead of playing in it themselves.
This game too had its share of miscues for Head Coach Jim Harbaugh and his squad. With a chance to tie the game 24 all, Niner kicker David Akers continued his composure conundrum as he shanked a 38 yard FG attempt. The kick smacked directly into the left upright with a “DOING” sound that reverberated the reality of a wasted opportunity after the 49ers picked off Matt Ryan on the game’s only interception.
Staying steadfast, the Niner defense then forced Ryan to fumble the ball and recover from the drive’s previous miscue. Advancing down the field and into the 4th quarter, QB Colin Kaepernick hit WR Michael Crabtree inside the 5 yardline. While fighting to break the plane of the goal line and take the lead for his team, Crabtree fumbled the ball away leaving more points on the field instead of lighting them up on the scoreboard. With 10 points worth of evaporated chances, the defense answered the call once again as the Atlanta offense that was so dominant to start the contest was served their first and only “3 and punt” drive of the game.
Sparked by a 38 yard return by WR Ted Ginn, the 49ers went back to mistake free football and ran with Gore, James, and RB Anthony Dixon for the go-ahead score that made it 28-24. The Falcons defense paid for over-compensating for Kaepernick’s running ability around the edge thereby making it easy for Gore and company to share the aforementioned “inconvenient truth” and score on a drive that consisted of 6 rushing plays with 4 that earned between 7-9 yards.
With 8:23 left in the match and on his own 35, Ryan was given an opportunity to earn his “Matty Ice” moniker that he’s been bestowed through his alleged coolness in the pocket in high pressure situations and take the Falcon franchise to its 2nd ever Super Bowl. While the Niners were looking for the pass, Atlanta began the first 4 plays dialling up their ground attack. After drawing the defense back upfront to account for the run, Atlanta gashed them with a 22 yard pass to WR Harry Douglas.
While the call was challenged by Harbaugh and replays showed evidence that the ball touched the ground, it wasn’t compelling enough evidence for the officials to overturn their previous completion ruling meaning that Matty Ice had converted a second consecutive 3rd down on the drive. From that point, the Dirty Birds migrated the ball to the San Fran 10 yardline facing 4th and 4 down by 4 points. Needing a TD to win, Ryan’s pass to Roddy White was incomplete. While it looked liked LB Navarro Bowman contacted White before the ball arrived in his vicinity, there was no flag thrown on the play.
After the turnover on downs, the Niners ran down the clock and punted it back to the Falcons with only 6 seconds remaining. They failed to materialize a score in the final half as the clock expired to set in stone that Atlanta had crashed and burned fuelling the flame of hype towards a Jim Harbuagh vs. John Harbaugh matchup to decide this season’s World Champion.
While I was relieved that I wouldn’t endure the bitter taste of crow consumption during my BBQ as a writer who picked the San Francisco victory and a fan of the team at heart ready to watch the “Harbaugh Bowl”, I was still filled with a bitter taste as an NFL fan. This game represented the last one by the legendary Tony Gonzalez. While most of his time and fame in the league was accrued with the Kansas City Chiefs, this game represented the farthest he ever advanced into the post season where he would fall short of the ultimate goal. This will slot him alongside of Miami Dolphin QB Dan Marino with the dubious distinction of being among the best players of all time to never get a ring.
Written by Kyle Nash
Founder of The Student of the Game
Lead NFL Writer for The Sports Chronicles
Senior Contributor forThe Football Reports Online
On Special Assignment to Pro Player Insiders
More stories you might like