Who's Hot, Who's Not Heading into Super Bowl XLVII?
Excitement abounds from each roster, as momentum entering Super Bowl weekend carries with it an epic clash between perennial talents of both the “Hot” and “Cold” variety.
Making it to the Super Bowl is about getting hot at just the right time. This applies to individual players just as much as it applies to entire teams.
The stage is finally set for one of the most story-filled matchups in Super Bowl history. Only two teams remain, ready to stand toe-to-toe for the right to hoist the ever-elusive Vince Lombardi Trophy.
For some, this will be the last chance they’ll ever have at a Super Bowl; for others, this could be the beginning of a new legacy.
Hot: Vernon Davis, 49ers
After several weeks of virtual invisibility, Vernon Davis emerged in a big way as Colin Kaepernick's go-to guy.
Against the Falcons, Davis led San Francisco in receiving with 106 yards on five catches, including the team’s only touchdown through the air. He played a part in the 49ers' comeback after falling behind 17-0 in the first half.
Without Davis' offensive spark early on, the city of Atlanta would likely be celebrating the conference championship. Instead, it's San Francisco heading to the Super Bowl hoping to win the franchise's sixth title in history.
Not: Michael Crabtree, 49ers
Michael Crabtree, normally the most consistent and reliable offensive weapon on the roster, was off in the conference championship.
The emerging star's on-field performance wasn't what we've grown accustomed to recently, as he was held to a relatively humble (compared to his recent numbers) 57 yards receiving. This after tallying 119 yards on nine catches, two for TDs, against a better Packers secondary in the Wild Card Round.
Crabtree also coughed up the ball on the one-inch line as he attempted to power his way into the end zone, and it was recovered by the Falcons. The 49ers would have taken their first lead of the game had they scored on that play.
Hot: Colin Kaepernick, 49ers
Colin Kaepernick may not have broken any records this week (16-of-21 for 233 yards and a touchdown), but he did do something more important.
After falling behind 17-0 against the No. 1 seed amidst deafening crowd noise, the 25-year-old signal-caller didn't so much as flinch in the face of adversity. Kaepernick treated the situation like business as usual, being mindful not to force balls downfield in attempts to do too much.
His poise and pinpoint accuracy helped the 49ers capture the lead and keep it.
Perhaps one of the more impressive facets to his game was his ability to hang in the pocket and get the ball downfield without committing a single turnover.
All week, Kaepernick had been praised for his prowess as a runner after setting the single-game rushing record for a quarterback. Against the Falcons, Kaepernick only attempted to rush two times, gaining much respect for his ability as a pure passer.
Not: Mike Iupati, 49ers
Mike Iupati struggled at times against the Falcons, committing a few costly mistakes. He was called for holding on one play, and that took back a big completion down the field.
Later in the game, Falcons defensive tackle Corey Peters beat Iupati with a beautiful stutter-step and go, which led to Atlanta's only sack of the game.
It only takes a couple critical errors for an offensive lineman's day to be classified as a negative one. Iupati's mishaps were costly for sure, but luckily, the team was able to overcome the early struggles.
Hot: Chris Culliver, 49ers
Chris Culliver was one of the few bright spots in the 49ers secondary against the Falcons. No. 29 helped turn the momentum in San Francisco's favor with a key interception of Matt Ryan.
Ryan threw for 396 yards against the 49ers secondary, but very little of that came against Culliver. He did a solid job in coverage, both in the slot and at times against Tony Gonzalez.
The speedy second-year corner also showed up big as a tackler, finishing the game with four solo tackles, good enough for third on the defense.
Not: Aldon Smith, 49ers
Aldon Smith's sack drought ran to five games after yet another lackluster performance in the pass-rush department against the Falcons.
Smith did manage to recover a crucial unforced fumble by Matt Ryan, but aside from that, he was more or less invisible. There were a few decent displays of pass-rushing throughout the game, but more often than not, Smith was completely shut down.
Matt Ryan and the Falcons threw for almost 300 yards in the first half alone; meanwhile, Smith could be seen stalemated at the line with little success throughout the game. This was clearly not the same guy we saw rack up 5.5 sacks in one game against the Chicago Bears in Week 11.
Hot: Frank Gore, 49ers
When the Falcons committed their resources to preventing the QB runs out on the perimeter, they put the game into the reliable hands of the 49ers' all-time leading rusher, Frank Gore.
Gore was able to keep drives alive in typical fashion, using his elite vision and power running style. He continued to prove difficult to bring down with arm tackles while bursting fearlessly through the crowded trenches.
Kudos to the Falcons for holding Gore to a game long of only 11 yards, but this also means he was incredibly consistent in gaining positive yards with every carry. The veteran back ran for 90 hard-fought yards on 21 carries, including two key touchdowns on the day.
Not: David Akers, 49ers
David Akers has been iffy for the better part of the season. This is an interesting contrast to just one year earlier, where he set the 49er franchise record for most points in a season.
Akers attempted only one field goal on the day from 38 yards out, which would have tied the game at 24 in the third quarter, but the ball hit the top of the upright and bounced out.
This comes after the 49ers brought in veteran Billy Cundiff to compete with Akers but then waived him before the NFC Championship Game.
One has to wonder whether Akers will be suiting up in two weeks when San Francisco plays for the chance to win its sixth Super Bowl in franchise history.
Hot: Bernard Pollard, Ravens
Bernard Pollard came to work on Sunday looking to hit anything and everything wearing a silver helmet. Pollard may have been called for unnecessary roughness, but when a Super Bowl is on the line, his level of roughness might just have been very necessary.
His physical play in the secondary set the tone for the Ravens defense and climaxed late in the game when he delivered one of the hardest hits of the postseason, which separated Stevan Ridley from both the ball and his own consciousness.
Pollard came flying in to make the tackle when his helmet smashed full speed into the temple of the unsuspecting ball-carrier.
This fumble turned out to be perhaps the biggest defensive play of the game, as it came when the Patriots were driving to tie the game early in the fourth quarter. The Ravens capitalized on this turnover with another touchdown, ultimately clinching a Super Bowl berth.
Not: Bryant McKinnie, Ravens
Bryant McKinnie had a difficult time protecting Joe Flacco. He allowed some disruptive pressures on the quarterback, as well as a sack by Rob Ninkovich.
McKinnie has struggled to create any leg drive in his run-blocking and has deferred to simply trying to wall off defenders. The aging veteran has had a tough year and has even been benched at times.
He should have his hands full in the Super Bowl trying to slow down the intimidating front seven of the 49ers defense.
Hot: Anquan Boldin, Ravens
This is now the second time this postseason where Anquan Boldin has come up huge on the road. Boldin managed to snag two pivotal touchdowns in the second half and finish with 60 yards receiving.
The difficulty in stopping Boldin is that even though a defender may have perfect coverage on him, his size and strength are often great enough to pull down any ball within reach, regardless of who is defending him.
His two touchdowns on the day helped the Ravens separate from New England and eventually proved to be the icing on the cake.
Not: Ed Reed, Ravens
Yes, even legends and future Hall of Famers can be cold in the postseason.
Reed missed a couple of tackles on the day that ended up costing the Ravens big on defense.
In regards to the passing game, he was surprisingly absent in making his presence felt while Brady threw 54 passes for 320 yards. Despite all of those opportunities for plays in passing game, Reed was held to only two tackles and often seemed to be going half-speed by the second half.
Ray Lewis may be in the final moments of his career, but on Sunday, it was Reed who appeared to have one foot in the grave.
Hot: Joe Flacco, Ravens
Is anyone in the playoffs having a better run than Joe Flacco?
Flacco has been red-hot the last few games, hitting on almost every pass more than 20 yards downfield.
Against the Patriots on Sunday, Flacco went 21-of-36 for 240 yards and three touchdowns. Perhaps the most important number of the day for Joe Cool is zero, which is the number of turnovers he was responsible for on the day.
Flacco's arm strength has been a valuable asset thus far, allowing the Ravens to stretch the field, primarily to Torrey Smith. This has also opened up other opportunities for the offense.
With one game left in the season, Flacco continues to make his case on the field for consideration as an elite NFL quarterback. The timing couldn't be better for him personally, as he's finishing up a contract year and is sure to receive a hefty deal.
Not: Ray Rice, Ravens
Baltimore really wanted to establish the running game against New England by feeding the rock to Ray Rice with stubborn persistence.
Ray was held to just 48 yards on 19 carries, which is less than three yards per carry. By contrast, rookie running back Bernard Pierce carried only nine times but racked up 52 yards on the day.
Rice did have a touchdown and ran hard when he had his chances, but the Patriots defense was clearly focused on stopping the run and forcing Baltimore to beat them on the arm of Joe Flacco.
The good news for Rice is that he did manage to hold on to the ball the entire game without a fumble for the second week in a row. You may remember he fumbled twice in the Wild Card Round against the Indianapolis Colts.
Hot: Dennis Pitta, Ravens
Tight end Dennis Pitta has been a reliable target all season long for Joe Flacco and the Ravens. Sunday was another productive outing for the third-year pro out of BYU.
Pitta hauled in five impressive catches for 55 yards, including a five-yard touchdown strike in the third quarter to give the Ravens their first lead of the day. They would hold on to that lead for the rest of the game.
Not: Jacoby Jones, Ravens
Jacoby Jones has done a fantastic job in his first year with the Ravens as both a receiver and kick returner. But in the conference championship game against the Patriots, Jones was a complete non-factor.
On offense, he had only one catch for six yards. In the return game, Jones was held to 11 yards per return on four attempts.
Jones may be one of the fastest guys on the Ravens roster, but he really wasn't given a chance to get anything going all day long.
Last week against the Broncos, he made the catch of the day, hauling in a 70-yard bomb to send the game into overtime in the final minute of regulation. Luckily, against the Patriots, the game was well in hand by the time the final two minutes arrived.