They haven’t been here before, or at least this year’s group of San Francisco 49ers haven’t.
The 2012 bunch earned a trip to Super Bowl XLVII with a 28-24 comeback victory over the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship on Sunday.
How did it happen? It sounds like a silly question, but it’s warranted because San Francisco came back to win a game from a significant deficit for the first time all season. It was practically unbelievable at times. The 49ers were down 17 points in the first quarter, 10 at the half, and then pitched a shutout in the second half to punch their ticket to New Orleans.
Albeit, Matt Ryan aided San Francisco’s cause with a pair of turnovers. However, the 49ers didn’t get any points off the ensuing drives (one saw David Akers’ miss a field goal and the other featured Michael Crabtree’s fumble close to the goal line). What they did was take the ball out of Ryan’s hands, the last turnover setting up the Falcons at their own 1-yard line. The drive ended in a punt, setting up San Francisco at its own 42-yard line. Frank Gore capped off the drive with go-ahead touchdown.
What ultimately proved the difference? The Falcons had an answer for Colin Kaepernick at every single snap. The linebacker or defender who spied Kaepernick must have been the person assigned to cover Vernon Davis, because the tight-end was often a good 5 to 10 yards open. On the touchdown runs by Gore and LaMichael James, the defense seemed more concerned about Kaepernick’s willingness to run as opposed to his arm.
Oh yeah, that thing, Kaepernick flamethrower of an arm – it hurt Atlanta the most, as the QB finished 16 of 21 for 233 yards and a touchdown. The second-year quarterback, thrown into action after an injury to Alex Smith and kept in place once Smith was healthy to return, led a team to the Super Bowl in his first real season of action.
The QB switch was far from planned. Starting Kaepernick certainly didn’t seem like a decision that would get the 49ers this far, but it has. It makes Jim Harbaugh look like an absolute genius, and deservingly so.
I remember covering Kaepernick at the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl his senior season at Nevada. He had an arm with promise, but with his side-winder throwing motion, he needed to be fine-tuned. Harbaugh did that. Nobody expected him to be thrown into the midst of a playoff hunt to show it. He’s lived up to the hype, obviously.
There wasn’t a doubt Kaepernick would be starting at same point because second round draft picks aren’t wasted, especially on a quarterback and definitely not after what Harbaugh did with Smith, turning the former “bust” into one of the most efficient passers in the NFL. In a conversation with a peer last year, the thought arose, “If Harbaugh sees he can do this with Alex, he has to be thinking what he can do with someone else.”
That isn’t banter anymore. That’s what is happening with Kaepernick, and it’s gotten the teacher, pupil and the 49ers to the Super Bowl.
Reach Peter Fournier at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/p_fournier.