Our back-and-forth on the conference championship games covers San Francisco's stunning comeback win over Atlanta, and New England's error-filled loss to Baltimore.
Follow our panelists on Twitter: @tcare66 @JesseCampigotto @JasonD79.The San Francisco 49ers rallied from a 17-point deficit to defeat the Atlanta Falcons and reach the Super Bowl. What was most impressive about their NFC championship win? Jesse Campigotto:
I love coach Jim Harbaugh's ability to change on the fly. Coming into the NFC title game
, everybody was talking about Colin Kaepernick's devastating rushing performance in the previous week's win over Green Bay. Harbaugh knew Atlanta would centre its game plan around stopping the second-year QB's dangerous ground game, and he wisely didn't force Kaepernick into carrying the load against a defence stacked up to stop him. Instead, Harbaugh leaned on running backs Frank Gore and LaMichael James (combined 124 yards on 26 runs) as well as a forgotten man in the receiving game (see my answer to the next question) to propel the offence.Jason Davidson:
I think credit has to go to a few players. Gore was a beast in the backfield in the second half. He ran in two touchdowns, which really helped turn the tide for the 49ers. Vernon Davis also deserves some credit here. Late in the regular season, the tight end mentioned that he and Kaepernick had yet to develop a chemistry with each other, which is understandable as he was used to working with Alex Smith under centre. Well, there certainly isn't an issue now. Davis had five catches for 106 yards and a touchdown. Kaepernick for his part did not throw the ball a ton (only 21 attempts) but he still managed more than 200 yards. Those three on offence and the entire defence's second-half performance is what impressed me most.Tony Care:
This scenario that I had questioned for the entire season played out Sunday, and it's the reason Harbaugh made the switch to Kaepernick. With Smith at quarterback, there was no way the 49ers would've rallied against the Falcons. But Kaepernick displayed consistent and accurate downfield passing to go along with Harbaugh's patience for sticking with the running game. Kaepernick only rushed the ball two times, so his passing stat line -- 16/21, 231 yards, 1TD -- played a more important role.
The Falcons looked like they were going to blow away the 49ers in the first quarter. How did they let things fall apart?Jesse Campigotto:
It was just a matter of regression to the mean. Atlanta's defence is not good. It wasn't going to keep the 49ers at bay all game. So after San Fran was shut out in the first quarter, you knew the points would roll in over the final 45 minutes. The Falcons did a good job of neutralizing Kaepernick's rushing ability (he tried only two runs in this game after carrying the rock 16 times for a QB-playoff-record 181 yards the week before) but that may have come at the expense of opening up other options for the 49ers. Vernon Davis was the biggest beneficiary, making five catches for 106 yards and a TD. In the previous seven games combined
, Davis produced only 7 catches and 105 yards.Jason Davidson:
Atlanta lacked the killer instinct. I think the fact that they barely recovered from blowing a huge lead to the Seattle Seahawks
a week before got into their heads. They played a horrible second half in two consecutive games. Atlanta had numerous chances to put this game away and they simply couldn't get it done. Quarterback Matt Ryan's unfortunate fumble was key, and they had two good chances to score in the second half and came away with nothing. When that happens, you can't expect to win. You really do have to feel for Ryan and wide receiver Julio Jones, who both set franchise post-season records in the loss. Then there's Tony Gonzalez, who has more than likely played his last game in the NFL. One of the best to ever play the tight end position.Tony Care:
Matt Ryan deserves a lot of blame for the second-half swoon. With the Falcons at the San Francisco 47, Ryan threw an interception on second down that killed a potential scoring drive, one that could've salted the game away. Then on the next drive ,with the Falcons at the 49ers' 29, Ryan fumbled a snap from the shotgun, which San Francisco recovered. Turnovers kill you every time. The Baltimore Ravens exacted revenge on the New England Patriots after pulling away in the second half en route to a victory in the AFC title game. How were they able to make New England look so pedestrian after the Patriots' initial surge?Jesse Campigotto:
Baltimore won the turnover battle 3-0, and when you enjoy that kind of margin in a pro football game, you'll almost never lose. The Patriots outgained Baltimore on both a total-yards and per-play basis for the game, and found themselves within a touchdown (and two-point conversion) of tying the game when they got the ball at the start of the fourth quarter. But two turnovers in the final period killed New England (the third one, an interception with about a minute left, came when the game was already decided). First, Stevan Ridley fumbled on a concussive hit by serial Patriot killer Bernard Pollard, then, after Baltimore extended its lead to two touchdowns, Tom Brady was picked off on a tipped pass deep in Baltimore territory midway through the final quarter, all but sealing the Ravens' victory
. Jason Davidson:
Credit the Ravens defence for forcing those three turnovers, which went a long way in keeping the league's most potent offence off the scoreboard in the entire second half. Joe Flacco picked up where he left off against the Broncos in Denver
, as he continues to silence his critics. Three passing touchdowns in the second half, not to mention an excellent job of spreading the ball around. The Patriots, who don't exactly have the best defence, had no answer in the third and fourth quarters.
The Ravens have a bend-but-don't-break mentality on defence.They allowed the Patriots to consistently move the ball, but when the time came to make a play and stop Brady, they did. I also have to give credit to offensive co-ordinator Jim Caldwell. When he saw Pats CB Aqib Talib and safety Patrick Chung go down to injuries, he attacked with Flacco from the shotgun to burn the Pats with big plays down the field. Anybody still think it was a bad idea for coach John Harbaugh to fire play-caller Cam Cameron? Didn't think so. What was the most surprising aspect the Patriots' lacklustre performance on their home field?Jesse Campigotto:
That was not the Bill Belichick I know and love. On consecutive drives in the opening quarter, the Pats coach made a couple of strange (for him) decisions to punt. The first came on a 4th-and-9 from Baltimore's 35, the second on a 4th-and-2 from the Baltimore 45. Those are the kind of conservative moves I expect (and loathe) from shaky coaches like Ron Rivera and Chan Gailey, but not Belichick, who's a master of in-game strategy. Maybe the wind played a factor in his decisions, but Belichick's out-of-character "coaching not to lose" moves were pretty surprising.Jason Davidson:
New England's lack of offensive production surprised me immensely. Yes, Baltimore has a solid defence, but we're talking about Tom Brady here. Rob Gronkowski was clearly missed. Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd and Aaron Hernandez combined for 24 catches, but you can't help but think that Brady could have used that extra option at the tight end position. And then there's the questionable clock management from Belichick at the end of the first half. The Pats could have taken a 17-7 lead into halftime but instead they settle for a field goal that very much kept the Ravens in the game.
You don't often see the Patriots play such a sloppy game, and I'm including players and coaches. Why Belichick decided to let the clock wind down at the end of the first half and settle for a field goal instead of going for a TD is still a mystery. Then you have Welker -- he of the infamous Super Bowl drop -- failing to corral a key first-down catch in the third quarter well inside Baltimore territory. Instead, the Ravens march for a TD to grab a one-point lead. And when was the last time Brady and the Patriots were shut out in the second half of any game, much less the AFC title game? It was simply an uncharacteristic New England performance.
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