Jim Harbaugh and Colin Kaepernick strategize against the Falcons in the NFC championship game.
In the end, it was Colin Kaepernick, Vernon Davis and Frank Gore leading the offense for the 49ers. The Falcons had their way with the 49ers in the first half, as they held a 24-14 lead at halftime.
Prior to the half, the 49ers defense was being cut to shreds by Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan and the triumvirate of Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez. The San Francisco pass rush was unable to get to Ryan and the Falcons receivers were making plays all over the field.
The second half was a different story for the 49ers defense. Led by linebackers Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman and Ahmad Brooks, the 49ers blanked the Falcons over the final 30 minutes.
The Patriots and Tom Brady held a 13-7 lead at halftime and looked in control of the game. However, the Ravens took control in the third quarter and never relinquished their hold on the game.
Baltimore, behind some stellar play from quarterback Joe Flacco, scored the final 21 points of the game to win, 28-13.
The Ravens' victory sets up a Super Bowl matchup between two brothers, Jim and John Harbaugh. John's Ravens defeated Jim's 49ers in 2011 by a score of 16-6 on Thanksgiving Day.
Super Bowl XLVII will be a different story. The 49ers are a much more dynamic team than they were a year ago.
Let's take a look at five key factors that give the 49ers the edge in the upcoming game.
Frank Gore scored two touchdowns against the Falcons.
The San Francisco 49ers have one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL. In the postseason, the 49ers have rushed for 472 yards on 72 carries, an average of 6.56 yards per carry. They have also scored seven touchdowns on the ground.
During the regular season, the 49ers were the fourth-best rushing team in the league, averaging 155.7 yards per game. The 49ers have done even better in the playoffs.
In the postseason, Frank Gore has rushed for 209 yards and quarterback Colin Kaepernick another 202. Against Green Bay, Kaepernick set an NFL record for most yards rushing by a quarterback with 181.
The Falcons were so intent on stopping Kaepernick from running, they were susceptible to bursts up the middle by Gore. The Falcons' focus on containing the 49ers ground attack also opened up the passing game for Kaepernick. He completed 16 of 21 passes for 233 yards and one touchdown.
The Ravens defense was once one of the best in the league, but it has slowed a bit, largely due to age finally catching up with it. The Ravens allowed 122.8 yards per game on the ground, which was ranked 20th in the NFL.
The 49ers will utilize Gore, Kaepernick and rookie LaMichael James to control the game on the ground. This will also open up some passing lanes. If the 49ers can control the clock and the tempo of the game, they stand an excellent chance to win.
Aldon Smith has gone four full games without a sack.
The best counter to a good passing attack is a strong pass rush. The 49ers have not had a great pass rush since Justin Smith went out with his arm injury. Even though Smith returned for the postseason, the 49ers are still having trouble getting to the quarterback.
In order to slow down Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco and the Ravens passing game, the 49ers must come through with a strong pass rush. If the 49ers can pressure Flacco, make him throw before he wants to and get some good hits on him, it will slow the Ravens passing attack.
Aldon Smith leads the 49ers with 19.5 sacks on the season. However, he has not gotten one in over four full games. Part of the issue was that Justin was injured and opposing offensive lines could focus on Aldon.
Aldon has been battling a sore shoulder that has limited him in practice. He also may be a little worn down, as he was an every-down player this year, while he only played on passing downs in 2011.
The Ravens offensive line allowed 38 sacks during the regular season. This is 20th in the league. The Ravens have made improvements in pass protection over the past few weeks. They will need to protect Flacco if they hope to win.
In addition to having more time for Justin and Aldon to rest and get healthier, the extra week off will allow defensive coordinator Vic Fangio a lot of time to prepare.
Fangio is a master tactician on the defensive side of the ball. He will have the 49ers defense well-prepared and ready to play.
Justin and Aldon will be fresh for the Super Bowl. Look for Fangio to employ some blitz packages. which will help the 49ers put more pressure on Flacco. If the 49ers defense can harass Flacco into mistakes, San Francisco stands an excellent chance to win.
Patrick Willis and the 49er linebacking corps will need to stop Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce.
The San Francisco 49ers have an excellent defensive front seven. They will need to contain Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce on the ground.
Led by linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman, the 49ers defense is fast and hard-hitting. It ranked fourth in the NFL, allowing only 94.2 yards per game.
The 49ers will need to contain Ray Rice, the Ravens' top running back. He rushed for 1,143 yards during the regular season. In addition to Rice, rookie Bernard Pierce also gives the Ravens an excellent No. 2 running back.
Pierce rushed for 532 yards during the regular season. Both he and Rice are also dangerous catching the ball out of the backfield.
If the 49ers can slow the Ravens running game, they will force Flacco to pass more than he wants. This could enable the 49ers pass-rushers to get to Flacco and wreak some havoc.
Colin Kaepernick can beat you with his arm or his legs.
When Jim Harbaugh decided to promote Colin Kaepernick over Alex Smith as the starting quarterback, there were several risks associated with that move. Smith had played decently and led the 49ers to the NFC title game the previous year.
However, Harbaugh determined that Kaepernick could take the 49ers a lot farther. Kaepernick has a much stronger arm than Smith does and can make throws downfield that can result in larger chunks of yardage.
Kaepernick is also a much more explosive runner. In the 49ers' first playoff game this year, Kaepernick ran for 181 yards against the Packers. When the Falcons concentrated too much on Kaepernick, he wisely handed the ball to Frank Gore for a big score.
Kaepernick has thrown the ball very well in the postseason. His decision-making is good and he has the arm to fit the ball into some very tight spots. Outside of the interception in the Green Bay game, Kaepernick has done a great job.
Colin Kaepernick ran the Pistol offense at Nevada.
The Baltimore Ravens have faced two running quarterbacks this year in Michael Vick and Robert Griffin III. They lost both of those games.
When the 49ers utilize the Pistol offense, it will be something that the Ravens have seen only against the Redskins and Griffin III. The Redskins use a lot of the same read-option technique that the 49ers employ. In Washington's game against the Seahawks, the Redskins rushed for 179 yards.
The Pistol offense takes time for defenses to learn how to contain. Kaepernick runs the read-option component of the offense extremely well. The Ravens have not faced a quarterback with the run-pass option skills that Kaepernick has.
Kaepernick is extremely comfortable running the offense in this manner. He makes good decisions and has the multidimensional skills to take over a game.
Kaepernick's ability to make it very tough on an opposing defense is an outstanding trait. His great speed is often under-estimated by opposing defenses.
If Kaepernick has success with his offensive game plan, he can control the ball and the tempo of the game.
Jim and John Harbaugh meet for the second time.
The San Francisco 49ers have five Super Bowl trophies and are trying for a sixth. If successful, they will tie Pittsburgh as the team that owns the most victories.
The 49ers have never lost a Super Bowl and they are the only franchise to win multiple Super Bowls without losing. Although the 49ers are the better team, anything can happen in a one game, winner-take-all contest.
My prediction: SF 30-27, with David Akers kicking a 38-yard field goal late in the game to give the 49ers the victory.