If you want to know why the NFL is the most popular sport in the country, all you have to do is find a replay of last weekend’s NFC Divisional Round playoff games. The No. 1 seed Atlanta Falcons and No. 2 San Francisco 49ers both kept alive the dream of proudly passing out 2013 SuperBowl tickets to their family and friends to watch them compete in the single biggest event in all of sports; but only one team will see that dream come to fruition, and first it's going to take the game of their lives in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game. Considering that both squads have shown that they have the heart of a champion in making it this far, we can expect nothing less than an epic showdown at the Georgia Dome.
This past Saturday night the 49ers (11-4-11) kicked off the NFC Divisional Round by hosting Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers (11-5) at Candlestick Park. Much of the talk heading into the game centered around a potential statement game coming from Rodgers in response to the 49ers passing over him for Alex Smith in the 2005 NFL Draft. Interestingly, the day belonged to San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick, the quarterback Coach Jim Harbaugh replaced Smith with in a controversial midseason change. In his postseason debut, Kaepernick certainly proved the foresight of Harbaugh is 20-20, as he led the Niners to a dominating, 45-31 victory in record fashion.
The game was supremely tight up until the middle of the third quarter, when Kaepernick broke open the flood gameswith a 56-yard touchdown run, igniting an onslaught that eventually capped at a 24-45 Niners lead. The second year QB out-dueled the Super Bowl MVP by rushing for a playoff quarterback record of 181 yards, including two TDs, while throwing for 263 yards and two more scores. Wide receiver Michael Crabtree hauled in both touchdowns and went on to gain 119 yards, while Frank Gore kept the Packers honest in the ground game with 119 yards rushing and a touchdown of his own. Kaepernick now has to lead the team on his first road playoff game, but his confidence, as well as the team's, couldn't be any higher.
The road to the NFC Championship Game was a bit more troublesome the Falcons (13-3), as they hosted the blazing-hot Seattle Seahawks (11-5) down in Atlanta. The buzz around this one was that Falcons’ Coach Mike Smith and quarterback Matt Ryan were 0-3 as a tandem in playoff games, so the pressure was on to buck the trend. By halftime, they'd seemingly silenced their critics with a 20-0 lead, but rookie standout Russell Wilson and the Seahawks put on a remarkable 4th quarter clinic to eventually snatch the lead, 28-27, behind a 2-yard Marshawn Lynch touchdown run with just 31 seconds left to play. The table was set for Matty Ice and crew to fall to 0-4 in the postseason, but, exemplifying why they were 13-3 on the season, the Falcons found a way to win.
Kicker Matt Bryant sealed the 30-28 win on a 49-yard field goal with just eight seconds remaining on the clock. Ryan shook his past by throwing for 250 yards and tying a franchise playoff record with three touchdowns, and now boasts a 34-6 record at home. The win was monumental in at least two other regards: It was Atlanta’s first playoff victory since 2004, and the sure-fire future Hall of Fame TE Tony Gonzalez earned his first playoff victory in 16 seasons. With the monkey off his back, Ryan is free to focus solely on his game, and against a sensational 49ers squad full of confidence, he'll need a clear mind to get it done.
San Francisco fans are hoping that Kaepernick can keep shredding defenses with both his arm and his legs, and the dome turf is perfect for his style of play. Frank Gore is sure to be a focal point of the Niners offense, but the Falcons mustn’t forget about the emerging Michael Crabtree, and there’s always the chance of a heroic Randy Moss sighting. For the Falcons, they’ll need Matt Ryan to keep up his poise and make sure to connect with his incredible core of receivers, especially Roddy White and Julio Jones. White and Tony Gonzalez combined for 17 catches, 186 yards, and two touchdowns against a solid Seahawks secondary on Sunday, so this should be a real chess match. We’ve got all the 2013 NFC Championship game tickets you need to see the action, and the game kicks off at 3:00 p.m. ET on Sunday, January 20th at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Make sure you claim yours now to see this extraordinary action live.