Conference Championship Round Recap
Get ready to hear the terms “Harbaugh Bowl” and “HarBowl” ad nauseam over the next two weeks leading up to Super Bowl XLVIII in New Orleans. The game’s dominant storyline by far will be the first-ever Super Bowl meeting of opposing head coaches who also happen to be brothers.
Both Jim Harbaugh’s San Francisco 49ers and John Harbaugh’s Baltimore Ravens won road Conference Championship games on Sunday. The second-seeded 49ers were five-point favorites at NFC top seed Atlanta. The Falcons jumped out to a 17-0 lead early in the second quarter and would take a 24-14 advantage into halftime. However, San Francisco running back Frank Gore scored from five yards out early in the third quarter and from nine yards at the 8:43 mark of the fourth to give San Francisco its first lead.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan tried to lead a game-winning drive in the final minutes as he did in the wild card round against Seattle, but his pass to Roddy White on fourth-and-4 at the 49ers’ 10-yard line was broken up by San Francisco linebacker NaVorro Bowman with 1:09 remaining. The 49ers then ran out most of the clock and Ryan was unable to attempt a deep Hail Mary pass on the final play of the game – perhaps because Ryan separated his left shoulder on the previous drive. Ryan threw for a Falcons postseason franchise-record 396 yards and three touchdowns but had two very costly turnovers in the second half. Receiver Julio Jones was dominant with 11 catches for 182 yards and two touchdowns.
San Francisco’s 17-point rally to win was the largest in NFC Championship game history and second-biggest in any conference title game. Niners QB Colin Kaepernick was held in check rushing by the Falcons with just 21 yards on two carries as Atlanta focused on eliminating his running threat. Kaepernick instead beat the Falcons with his arm, going 16-for-21 (76.2%) for 233 yards, a touchdown and no turnovers. Gore rushed for 90 yards and those two touchdowns on 21 carries. It will be San Francisco’s first Super Bowl trip since the 1994 season.
In the AFC, Baltimore was a 10-point underdog at Foxboro in a rematch of last season’s AFC Championship game against the Patriots. The Ravens outplayed the Pats last year but lost 23-20. This year’s game saw New England take a 13-7 lead into the half but get dominated in the second half. Joe Flacco had three second-half touchdowns and the Baltimore defense held off the NFL’s No. 1 scoring offense after intermission for a stunning 28-13 victory.
For the second-straight postseason meeting, Flacco vastly outplayed Patriots counterpart and future Hall of Famer Tom Brady. Flacco finished 21 of 36 for 240 yards, three scores and no turnovers. Anquan Boldin caught five of those passes for 60 yards and two scores. Ray Rice was held to 48 yards on 19 carries but scored Baltimore’s first-half TD. Flacco is just the second quarterback to beat both Brady and Peyton Manning in the same postseason. It’s the Ravens’ second Super Bowl trip, with the team winning XXXV against the New York Giants.
Brady finished 29-for-54 for 320 yards but just one TD pass and two interceptions. He had been 67-0 in his career when leading a home game at halftime. Stevan Ridley led the Patriots with 70 yards rushing on 18 carries, but he also committed a huge fumble on a crushing hit by Bernard Pollard in the fourth quarter. Wes Welker, in perhaps his final game as a Patriot, had eight catches for 117 yards and a touchdown. New England lost an AFC Championship Game at home for the first time in five tries.
The 49ers opened as four-point favorites (total 47.5) over the Ravens for the Super Bowl. The teams last played on Thanksgiving Night in 2011, a 16-6 home victory for Baltimore in the first Harbaugh Bowl. Jim and John are the first pair of brothers to be head coaches in the NFL.