49ers head to Super Bowl, beat Falcons, 28-24
ATLANTA -- Make way Joe Montana and Steve Young. Colin Kaepernick is leading a brash new group of 49ers to the Super Bowl.
Frank Gore scored a pair of second-half touchdowns and San Francisco, after falling behind 17-0 by the first play of the second quarter, pulled off a record rally for a 28-24 victory over the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC championship game Sunday.
Helped by the defense in the final minutes, Kaepernick didn't put up the same dazzling numbers he did in the divisional playoff against Green Bay. But he was solid enough to justify coach Jim Harbaugh's decision to bench Alex Smith and go with the youngster.
San Francisco (13-4-1) moves on to face either New England or Baltimore at New Orleans in two weeks. The 49ers will be trying to join Pittsburgh as the only franchises with six Super Bowl titles.
"This is what we play for. We play for this moment," 49ers tight end Vernon Davis said. "We put in all the hard work and get the opportunity to play on the big stage. So, it's not about me. It's all about the team."
Montana led the 49ers to four Super Bowls wins and Young took them to No. 5. It's up to Kaepernick to get No. 6 when the 49ers play in the NFL title game for the first time since 1995.
The top-seeded Falcons (14-4) tried to pull out another season-saving drive at the end, but Matt Ryan's fourth-down pass for Roddy White with 1:13 remaining was knocked down by San Francisco linebacker NaVorro Bowman.
The 49ers (13-4-1) will meet the winner of the AFC title game between New England and Baltimore.
The victory was sweet redemption for the 49ers, who lost an overtime thriller to the New York Giants a year ago in the NFC title game.
The 49ers pulled off the biggest comeback victory in an NFC championship game, according to STATS. The previous NFC record was 13 points -- Atlanta's victory over Minnesota in the 1999 title game, which sent the Falcons to what remains the only Super Bowl in franchise history.
In the AFC, the record is 18 points, when Indianapolis rallied New England in 2007.
Gore's 9-yard run midway through the fourth quarter completed the comeback from a 17-0 first-half deficit. The run came at the end of a short 38-yard drive set up by Ted Ginn Jr.'s 20-yard punt return.
Gore had a 5-yard touchdown run to cap an 82-yard drive to open the second half.
The high-scoring pace of the first half continued as the 49ers began their run of points. Colin Kaepernick had passes of 21 and 17 yards to Randy Moss in the drive. The 17-yarder moved the 49ers to the Falcons 5, setting up Gore's scoring run.
Matt Ryan threw three touchdown passes in the first half, including a 10-yard toss to Tony Gonzalez with 25 seconds remaining in the half. The score answered San Francisco's two straight touchdowns as Atlanta led 24-14 at halftime.
Ryan also threw touchdown passes of 20 and 46 yards to Julio Jones.
Ryan was hurt by two third-quarter turnovers. His pass for Roddy White was intercepted by cornerback Chris Culliver early in the third quarter. The 49ers couldn't take advantage of the game's first turnover when David Akers' try for a 38-yard field goal hit the left upright.
Later in the third quarter, Ryan fumbled a shotgun snap. Again the 49ers were denied when receiver Michael Crabtree fumbled at the goal line when stripped by Dunta Robinson. William Moore helped on the hit and Stephen Nicholas was credited with the recovery.
The Falcons led 17-0 following Ryan's 20-yard touchdown pass to Jones on the first play of the second quarter.
Ryan completed 18 of 24 passes for 271 yards and three touchdowns in the half. Jones had seven catches for 135 yards and two touchdowns.
The Falcons had a strong start for the second straight week of the postseason. They led Seattle 20-0 at halftime in last week's divisional playoff game and lost the lead before winning 30-28.