We're one win away from adding a 6th!!!

We’re one win away from adding a 6th!!!

*With a tip-of-the-hat to my favorite Giants and Jets fan who is also an author, George R.R. Martin.

The San Francisco 49ers will be playing in Superbowl XLVII against the Baltimore Ravens.

This will be the first time to a Super Bowl for the Niners since Steve Young and Co. ANNIHILATED the San Diego Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX in 1995.

This was the first AWAY playoff game the 49ers have won since Joe Montana was quarterback.

The 49ers have NEVER lost a Super Bowl. Ever.

I am EXCITED.

Part 1 of The Game: Painful

I arrived late due to a traffic stop in V-town which I might detail later if I’m feeling particularly chatty, or drunk. We’ll just say this traffic stop left me with something like a quart of adrenaline in my bloodstream, and so I arrived, shaky-kneed and wild-eyed at Lyle’s house for the NFC Championship game.

Lyle’s first words to me were “I hope you brought some good juju because we need it.” I looked at the screen to see my 9ers down 7. Apparently Julio Jones had been lighting them up for most of the first quarter. Within a minute or two of my arrival they were down 10.

We immediately sent some beer in to go check on my adrenaline, because I wasn’t feeling much like cheering.

We were greeted by more Niners stalled drives and more solid Atlanta defense, and next thing I knew it was 17-0. I’ve commented in the recent past that Kaep and the 49ers offense has tended to stall for something like 1 quarter per game. We steeled ourselves with another beer and a shot of something, and decided that the 49ers needed a touchdown RIGHT HERE ON THIS DRIVE, or they were in severe trouble.

Mental Toughness

I will digress for a moment here. Mental toughness is a big part of all sports, and futbol norteamericano is no exception.

Mental toughness is critical to staying in a game when you get behind. If you feel defeated in your head, the emotion simply won’t let you play at 100%. You have wash away the memory of the hits you’ve taken, the points they’ve scored on you, or the bad decisions you’ve made, and play through it. This is one of the major keys to championship-level play in all sports, because it’s not always going to go your way.

The 49ers have shown several weeks in a row that they have the extreme mental toughness required to compete at a championship level. All season they’ve come off of tough losses (or a tie) to win their next game. In the post-season, they recovered from a very early pick-six vs. Green Bay to win the game at home handily.

Then, they went to Atlanta.

Digression over.

Part 2 of the Game: Amazing made almost entirely of Awesome

We were down 17-0 and we were just over a quarter into this NFC championship game.

At this point, we 49ers fans only had hope. Being down three scores would have crushed the spirit of a lot of teams in the NFL these days. The 49ers buckled down and played very solid fundamental football on both sides of the ball for the rest of the game. As I mentioned, they NEEDED a TOUCHDOWN on their very next drive. Not just for them, but for their fans. Lyle moved the 49ers Lawn Gnome. I put my 49ers hat on. We took another shot. We needed something, anything to chew on to bolster our hopes, and our Niners delivered.

Every weapon was instrumental in the Niners’ next drive. Kaep, Gore, James, Vernon “VD” Davis, Randy Moss, and King Crabtree all made key plays, culminating in a LaMichael James TD on the zone read option.

With that, it was back to a two-score game. Finally, we fans got to see that 49ers offense roar to life and march down the field.

Lyle and I were cautiously optimistic at this point, but pretty excited. He commented that halftime adjustments would clearly come into play, and that Harbaugh and the Niners had the advantage there. We screamed for DEFENSE as the Niners D came on the field. They forced a 3-and-out. We got more excited. With 6:32 left in the half, we got the ball back.

Again, the Niners rolled down the field. Atlanta had made some defensive adjustments so it wasn’t as pretty as the previous drive, but still, all the weapons got involved. Kaep didn’t rush as much as he did vs. Green Bay, but he got flushed out of the pocket at one point on 2nd and 10 and went 23 yards down the sideline for a first down.

We got really close on an Atlanta unnecessary roughness penalty, and with a couple tosses to Vernon Davis, we scored our second touchdown of the half just after the two minute warning.

Suddenly the noisy ATL crowd got quiet, looked around and it was 17-14–looking a lot more like a ball game!

Atlanta drove hard on their next possession, with only 1:55 left in the half. Matt Ryan looked just like he had all season, hitting Tony Gonzalez twice at the end of the drive, the second time for a TD. 24-14 now. This was a mighty quick response by Matt Ryan and the Falcons.

The 49ers went into halftime trailing 24-14, which as a fan is a LOT easier to take than 17-0. The halftime adjustments got the passing game going even more, which got the running game going even more, and they were able to claw their way back into the game one score and stop at a time. On their first possession of the second half, the Niners moved 82 yards down the field in 7 plays ending with a Frank Gore touchdown. 24-21 with 10:47 left in the 3rd.

On the Falcons’ next drive Michael Turner went out with an injury. I don’t like to see injuries but writing as a crazed fan I definitely thought it improved the 49ers chances at defense. He wasn’t THAT productive thus far but the threat of his big runs kept us from playing crazy coverage defense.

Also significant, on the Falcons’ next drive, Roddy White fell and Chris Culliver snatched Matt Ryan’s pass out of the air.

The Niners took over with great field position, on their own 44 with 7:38 left in the 3rd. Plenty of time left to get ahead and stay there. We definitely felt that the momentum was in our favor at this point in the game.

There was a bit of nervousness on the drive following the pick. After a huge pass to Vernon Davis, we sputtered out and had to go for a FG. We were nervous because Akers had been spotty during the last part of the season. He had apparently beat Billy Cundiff in the kicker competition and earned the right to play, but he bounced this 38 yard field goal off the right upright. This is the same kicker that made a 63 yard field goal at the beginning of this season, the same kicker that set a record with 41 field goals last season.

It took the wind out of our sails, but the “Defense” chants began anew as Atlanta took over on their 28.

On the next drive, Atlanta got some momentum. Some big defensive hits, and some big plays got Atlanta in scoring range. At the SF 28, a bad snap (or butterfingers, or wandering QB eyes) caused a Matt Ryan fumble, which the Niners recovered! We went nuts, because once again our defense came up huge.

On the next drive, a couple of big passing plays and penalties got the Niners within scoring range. An accurate pass to Michael Crabtree near the goal line, and in his effort to get over the goal line, the ball was exposed just enough for a defender to rip it out. At the 1. Ouch.

The Falcons took over deep in their own territory, and once again the Niners D held strong, forcing a 3-and-out. Ginn returned the punt to the 38, giving good field position. A whole lot of hard running sprinkled with a couple nice passes, and Frank Gore once again crossed into the end zone, low socks and all, for a TD. We went nuts. This was the Niners’ first time leading the game with only 8:32 remaining in the 4th.

Whatever adjustments the Niners made on the defense at halftime were amazing. They allowed ZERO POINTS by the Falcons in the second half, including some hard core drive-ending hits and batted-down passes. I attribute a teeny tiny part of that success to a technique Lyle and I co-invented, which consisted of turning OFF the 49ers Christmas light string whenever Atlanta’s offense stepped up to the line of scrimmage, resulting in LIGHTS OUT defense by our team.

There were several moments where we freaked out during that last 8 minutes, not least of which was this questionable reception call/challenge/ruling upheld for an Atlanta gain of 22 yards, getting Atlanta to the SF 28. Harbaugh was PISSED.

There was a moment where it was 2nd and 9 from the SF 15. Then it was 3rd and 4 from the SF 10. Two subsequent passes from Ryan were broken up, and the Niners took over on downs.
Immediately thereafter, the Niners need a first down. 1:09 left in the game, JUST enough time for Atlanta to take another shot if SF doesn’t get the first down since they have two timeouts.
So of course, it’s looking like we could get the first down, and then we got flagged for delay of game. Gore got called two more times with long yardage, and in the moment we were wondering WTF Harbaugh was thinking. Then Lyle pointed out that keeping the clock running and burning ATL’s timeouts was more important than the first down.

This proved out, as SF called its final time out with 13 seconds left. The punt drove the clock down to 6 seconds left on the ATL 42. I knew at that moment that we were all remembering the ATL last-second stand against the Seahawks crazy comeback attempt from last week, but none of us mentioned it.

Matt Ryan seemed to have suffered some kind of shoulder injury in the last few minutes of the game, so his final pass to Julio Jones didn’t seem to have the trademark Matt Ryan zip on it. It’s possible that this injury was WHY they didn’t go for the Hail Mary into the end zone–maybe Matty Ice didn’t have enough strength left in the arm to make it possible. Julio Jones caught the pass deep, but not deep enough, was quickly brought down, and the NINERS WERE ON THEIR WAY TO THE SUPER BOWL!!!

This was possibly the most entertaining game of football yet witnessed for a Niners fan. Again with the emotional rollercoaster, again with the tough gritty comeback, again with standout performances from all weapons on both side of the ball, and for even higher stakes than last week’s game against Green Bay.

Can’t wait for New Orleans!