Gonzalez leaves the field for possibly the final time.
The Falcons season ended with a 28-24 loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday in the NFC Championship Game. The Falcons got off to a strong start, going up 17-0 at the outset of the game before a 49ers comeback ended their Super Bowl hopes. The Falcons had a last minute opportunity for a game-winning touchdown deep in 49er territory, but were unable to convert on fourth down. The Falcons end their 2012 season with a 14-4 combined regular season and postseason record.
Matt Ryan led the team passing for 396 yards while completing 30 of 42 passes for 3 touchdowns and an interception. On the ground, Jacquizz Rodgers led rushers with 32 yards on 10 carries. Michael Turner also added 30 yards on 8 carries. Julio Jones had a dominant performance, catching a pair of Ryan’s touchdown passes for 182 yards and 11 receptions. Tony Gonzalez caught 8 passes for 78 yards and a touchdown as well. Roddy White (7 catches, 100 yards) and Harry Douglas (3 catches, 31 yards) also had notable performances in the air. Matt Bryant connected on his lone field goal try from 35 yards. Matt Bosher had a pair of punts for an average of 45 yards with 1 placed inside the 20-yard line. Harry Douglas had three punt returns for a total of 6 yards. The Falcons offense looked sharp in the first half of the game, putting up 297 total yards including 271 in the air. But the offense had much less success in the second half, as only 180 total yards were generated with 125 coming via the passing game.
Defensively, the Falcons got off to a strong start, holding the 49ers to just 160 total yards in the first half. However the team’s inability to get stops in the redzone contributed to their loss, as San Francisco scored touchdowns on 4 of 5 total redzone trips. Their lone stop in the redzone came on a Michael Crabtree fumble at the 1-yard line. The 49ers running game was highly efficient, racking up 149 total yards on the Falcons. Thomas DeCoud and Akeem Dent tied for the team-lead with 8 tackles each. DeCoud also broke up a pass, and Dent had a tackle for loss. Jonathan Babineaux (4 tackles); William Moore (5 tackles, 1 pass defended); Stephen Nicholas (3 tackles, 1 fumble recovery); Corey Peters (3 tackles, 1 sack, 1 pass defended); Dunta Robinson (5 tackles, 1 forced fumble); Asante Samuel (4 tackles); and Sean Weatherspoon (5 tackles) all had noteworthy games.
The Falcons offense roared to a brilliant start, generating a 7-play, 80-yard drive at the outset of the game. Matt Ryan was able to complete 2 of 3 pass attempts for 29 yards to help move the Falcons into 49er territory, before hitting Julio Jones who got behind the defense for a 46-yard score. That gave the Falcons a quick 7-0 lead just three and a half minutes into the game. The Falcons defense stepped up big and forced a 49er three-and-out on their opening possession, limiting their opponent to just 1 yard of offense. Ryan found Jones three times on the next Falcons series for a total of 41 yards. Overall, Ryan completed 6 of 8 passes for 64 yards on a 12-play, 65-yard drive for the Falcons. Ultimately the Falcons settled for a 35-yard field goal from Matt Bryant to go up 10-0, after Navorro Bowman broke up a throw in the flat to Jacquizz Rodgers on 3rd & 4 from the 49ers’ 17-yard line. Again, the Falcons defense held the 49ers without a first down on a three-and-out, where they generated just 3 total yards of offense after Corey Peters sacked Colin Kaepernick on third down to force an Andy Lee punt. The Falcons took over with less than 2 minutes remaining in the first quarter at their own 43-yard line. Michael Turner got a pair of carries for a combined 14 yards before Ryan hit a streaking Roddy White on a deep post for a 23-yard gain on the final play of the quarter. On the very next play to start the second quarter, Ryan found Jones again on a 20-yard scoring grab. Jones was able to make a clean catch over 49ers cornerback Tarell Brown in the back corner of the endzone, tapping his feet in bounds for the score. The Falcons now had a 17-0 lead with 3 quarters left to play. But the 49ers offense finally got into gear on their next drive, as running back Frank Gore started them off with four consecutive carries for a combined 20 yards. Then Kaepernick hit four short passes to get the ball into Falcon territory before a delay of game penalty set them up for a 3rd & 7 at the Falcons 42-yard line. But then Kaepernick hit Vernon Davis, who beat DeCoud for a 27-yard gain. Two plays later, the speedy LaMichael James ran off the right side virtually untouched for a 15-yard scoring run to get the 49ers on the scoreboard for the first time. The Falcons offense followed that up with a four-and-out and Bosher punted for the first time on the day. On the opening play from their own 18-yard line, Kaepernick hit Vernon Davis for a 25-yard gain, but it was called back due to a holding call on guard Mike Iupati. But two plays later, Davis would break free again for a 19-yard gain on a Kaepernick pass. Two plays later, Kaepernick would scramble down the left sideline for a 23-yard gain to put the ball in Falcon territory. Davis came up big again two plays later with a 25-yard gain to put the ball at the Falcon 4-yard line. On the next play, Kaepernick hit an open Davis in the flat for the 4-yard scoring pass and catch. The 49ers had now cut the Falcons lead to 17-14 with less than 2 minutes remaining in the first half. But the Falcons offense would respond with a 7-play, 80-yard drive to go up before the half ended. The drive began with Ryan hitting Roddy White for a 15-yard gain, followed by the team going into their no-huddle attack. Ryan would complete 3 of his next 5 passes for a total of 44 yards to get the ball inside the redzone. Tony Gonzalez would catch a pair of passes to end the drive, including a 10-yard touchdown catch working against double coverage to cap off the drive. The half would end after a LaMichael James 1-yard run, as the Falcons now had a 24-14 lead going into the intermission.
The 49ers started the second half with a four-minute, 7-play, 82-yard scoring drive. Kaepernick completed all 3 of his pass attempts on the drive for a combined 58 yards, while Frank Gore pounded the ball for 4 carries and 24 yards. That included a 5-yard scoring run off the right side to cap the drive to cut the Falcons lead back to three points. On the Falcons ensuing drive, Ryan found Gonzalez on his first two passes for 14 yards each. But then as the Falcons had just moved the ball into 49er territory, his pass to Roddy White was intercepted by Chris Culliver after White slipped on the comeback pass allowing the defender to jump the throw. The 49ers took over at their own 44-yard line. On the very next play, Kaepernick hit Davis for a 31-yard gain after he beat linebacker Stephen Nicholas. But after that play, the Falcons defense held a few plays later on 3rd & 5 thanks to a pass breakup by William Moore on a pass from Kaepernick to Chad Hall. David Akers came on the field to attempt a 38-yard field goal, but it hit off the left upright for the miss and the Falcons retained their lead. The Falcons looked to try and establish their ground attack on the next drive. Jacquizz Rodgers carried the ball 3 times for a combined 18 yards while Jason Snelling had a single carry for 12 yards. After the next play, Ryan tried to go for it all on a deep pass to White but Carlos Rogers broke up the pass. Two plays later, Jones was able to convert on 3rd & 10 with a 13-yard grab. After a 1-yard run by Rodgers, Ryan muffed a shotgun snap which Aldon Smith was able to fall on for a second straight Falcon drive ending in a turnover. The Falcons defense looked to hold as Kaepernick’s 3rd & 7 pass to Vernon Davis fell incomplete. But the refs threw a flag on Cliff Matthews for roughing the passer for a blow to the head of Kaepernick giving San Francisco new life and a fresh set of downs at the Falcons 45-yard line. After a 2-yard run by Gore, the fourth quarter began. To start the quarter, Kaepernick hit Michael Crabtree on a crossing pattern who broke a couple of tackles for a 33-yard gain. That put the ball at the Falcons 10-yard line. Following a 5-yard run by Gore, Kaepernick found Crabtree again on a quick slant, but Dunta Robinson was able to strip the ball before he could reach across the goalline and Stephen Nicholas was able to recover at the 1-yard line. However the Falcons had little success moving the ball out of their own territory and had a three-and-out on their subsequent possession. After a 42-yard punt by Bosher was returned 20 yards by Ted Ginn, the 49ers had very favorable field position to start their next drive, beginning at the Falcons 38-yard line. The 49ers ran the ball four straight times for a combined 21 yards to put the ball at the Falcon 17-yard line. Crabtree caught an 8-yard pass to get inside the 10, which was followed by a 9-yard run by Gore for another score. That gave teh 49ers their first lead of the game, 28-24 with 8:23 left in the game. On the third play of the next Falcon series, Ryan looked for Jones deep but the pass was broken up by Tarell Brown. Ryan would complete his next three passes for a combined 16 yards to get the ball to midfield. Then Ryan found a wide open Harry Douglas down the right sideline for 22 yards, however Douglas slipped on the turf on what might have been a possible scoring play had he managed to keep his feet. The 49ers challenged the catch on the play, but the call was upheld upon review. The Falcons had 1st down at the 49er 28-yard line with under 4 minutes left. After a pair of Rodgers runs for 10 yards and another Ryan pass to Douglas for 3 yards, the two-minute warning hit. The Falcons now had the ball at the 49er 15-yard line on 2nd & 9. Pressure forced Ryan to check down to Jason Snelling on second down for a 5-yard gain. On 3rd & 4, Ryan’s pass to White was broken up by linebacker Ahmad Brooks. On 4th & 4 from the 49ers 10, Ryan’s pass to White fell incomplete. There was contact between White and NaVorro Bowman, but no flag was called on the play and it was a turnover on downs. Now the Falcons needed a quick stop with 1:09 left in the game and only a pair of timeouts. They were able to get it with a three-and-out, but without the third timeout the clock bled down to just 13 seconds when Andy Lee came on the field for his third punt of the game. Douglas lost a yard on his return, leaving just 6 seconds on the clock with the Falcons having the ball at their own 41-yard line. Ryan took a deep shot to Jones which was completed for 24 yards, but 35 yards shy of the endzone as time expired.
The 49ers will face the Baltimore Ravens in the Super Bowl, who defeated the New England Patriots 28-13 following the Falcons defeat.