The Bee's Matthew Barrows analyzes the 49ers' 28-24 victory over the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship Game
SANTA CLARA The 49ers defense was opportunistic in its 28-24 victory over the Falcons in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday, but in no way did it shut down Atlanta's offense, even in the second half.
The Falcons finished with 477 yards, the second most against San Francisco this season (520 vs. Patriots on Dec. 16).
Quarterback Matt Ryan and the Falcons were driving into 49ers territory when they committed both of their turnovers, neither of which was caused by San Francisco. On one play, Roddy White slipped and Ryan's pass was picked off by Chris Culliver, who was behind White. On the other, Ryan took his eye off a shotgun snap.
On the flip side, the 49ers didn't convert either turnover into points. One led to David Akers' missed field goal, The other to Michael Crabtree's fumble at the 1-yard line. That is, the 49ers still were able to win despite zero points off of turnovers. Moreover, the defense forced a three-and-out after the Crabtree fumble, the Falcons punted deep in their own territory and the 49ers quickly turned that into the go-ahead touchdown.
It's all right
The 49ers have been right-handed in the playoffs when it comes to the read-option play. All four San Francisco touchdowns were run to the right side, as was Colin Kaepernick's 56-yard run against the Packers in the divisional playoffs.
Vernon Davis usually lines up on that side, and he had several key blocks to go along with his key catches in Atlanta, including the most critical block on LaMichael James' 15-yard touchdown run in the second quarter against Atlanta.
Behind the stats
Ahmad Brooks was the only defensive starter who did not get credited with a tackle against the Falcons. But Brooks made three big plays, knocking down two Ryan passes at critical junctures and then knocking Ryan down and separating his left, non-throwing shoulder.
Brooks' second batted pass was the big one because it set up NaVorro Bowman's critical pass breakup on fourth down. If Brooks hadn't gotten his left hand on the ball, however, it's questionable if cornerback Carlos Rogers would have made a play. Rogers was breaking on the ball, and while he may not have made the interception not the greatest hands in the world he seemed in position to at least break up the pass himself.
Kaepernick has to be the offensive MVP of the game. He wasn't flashy like he was against the Packers, but he made all the right decisions. He only had five incompletions and finished with a 127.7 passer rating.
Perhaps more important, he consistently made the right read on the read-option. If the 49ers win a Super Bowl, perhaps Chris Ault, Kaepernick's college coach, deserves a ring.
Chad Hall, who was on the practice squad at this time last week, not only was in uniform Sunday but had a play designed especially for him.
Hall was lined to the right of the formation on third down in the red zone. James went in motion to Hall's outside. The play seemed designed to have one of them matched against a linebacker. Kaepernick made the right read in going toward Hall, but the Falcons had the play well sniffed out, and the ball was tipped incomplete.
Pattern of problems
Left guard Mike Iupati was put on a pedestal for his game against the Packers, but he struggled early against the Falcons.
Iupati can be overaggressive in pass protection, causing him to get off-balance and fall forward as the defender runs past. This invariably has been the scenario in Iupati's sacks allowed this year, including the one he gave up in the first quarter.
Who's got it better?
Injured wide receiver Kyle Williams was on the sideline for Sunday's championship game. The 49ers not only take their practice squad members on the road with them unlike most teams they take the players on injured reserve as well.
Yet another reason why the 49ers' locker room is so strong.