The good news? The Super Bowl is now less than two weeks away. The bad? It is the last NFL game until next September. On the second-to-last meaningful weekend of football, four teams – three that were there last year – fought for the right to travel to New Orleans and play in Super Bowl XLVII.
The 49ers and the Ravens would come out on top after the Falcons couldn’t hold a big lead and the Patriots couldn’t produce a single point in the second half. What do the two winners have in common? They are coached by a pair of brothers – who will be facing off in the Super Bowl with a pair of quarterbacks who have never been there before.
It wasn’t a good day for the high seeds and home teams as both the Patriots (28-13) and Falcons (28-24) saw their respective seasons come to a close.
For the first time ever, the San Francisco 49ers have reached the Super Bowl as the conference’s No. 2 seed with a comeback from 17 down against the Falcons in Atlanta. They will be making their sixth ever appearance in the big game and are 5-0 so far. Matt Ryan threw for 396 yards while posting a 114.8 passer rating – both franchise playoff records – but his three touchdowns were accompanied by one big interception to Chris Culliver late in the game. His record fell to 34-7 in his career at home. Colin Kaepernick didn’t have nearly the game he had last week as he ran the ball just two times for a total of 21 yards and threw for 233 and a touchdown. Coming into the game, Atlanta had allowed 8.9 yards per rush to quarterbacks in 2012. Kaepernick averaged 10.5 yards on his two carries. His passer rating of 127.7 topped Ryan’s, though, as he helped San Francisco to become the first team to reach consecutive conference championship games with two different starting quarterbacks since the Redskins did it in 1986-87. This was the first time since the Falcons migrated from the NFC West in 2002 that they have fallen to the ‘Niners. They have only won two playoff games in a season once – in 1998 (the only year they made the Super Bowl).
The 49ers broke a five-game road playoff losing streak with their first win away from home during the postseason in 24 years. They improved to 3-9 all-time in road playoff games. In the previous 11 seasons, 10 different NFC teams had made the Super Bowl. The 49ers became the 11th different team in 12 years with only the Giants making it multiple times in that span. The Packers, Saints, Cardinals, Bears, Seahawks, Eagles, Panthers, Bucs and Rams have all made the Super Bowl for the NFC since 2001. Compared with the AFC, only five franchises have represented the conference since 2001: the Patriots, Raiders, Steelers and Colts were joined by the Ravens on Sunday. After 261 games in the NFL, Tony Gonzalez is believed to be calling it quits following the end of Atlanta’s season. He caught eight passes for 78 yards and a touchdown in just his seventh career playoff game as Ryan targeted the ‘Big 3′ with 35 of his 42 passes on the day. Gonzalez got the first playoff win of his career last week and has missed only two games in his 16-year career. Since 1990, No. 1 seeds are now 14-9 vs No. 2 seeds in conference championship games. Atlanta became just the second team to ever lose a home conference title game played indoors. Before the Falcons’ loss, No. 1 seeds had won six straight conference championship games that they were a part of.
Julio Jones caught 11 passes for 182 yards and two touchdowns in the game, breaking the previous Atlanta postseason record of 155 yards set back in 1981. Only Brandon Lloyd (190) had more receiving yards against the 49ers in 2012. Jones had 100 yards in the first quarter, the highest since Steve Smith had 106 in the 2005 Divisional Round. Vernon Davis led San Francisco with five catches for 106 yards and a touchdown. In his previous seven games, he caught seven for 105 yards combined. The comeback marked the first time this year that the 49ers have overcome a deficit of more than seven points to win. After going down 17-0, the ‘Niners scored touchdowns on three consecutive possessions. They improved to 2-27 since 2001 in games in which they trailed by at least 17 points in the first half. It was the third-largest road playoff comeback in NFL history. It was also the second-largest deficit overcome to win a conference championship game. The biggest was 18 in 2006 by the Colts. Atlanta had not lost a game it led by 17 points in the first half since 2003. LaMichael James scored the first rushing touchdown of his career. Ryan’s 271 yards at the half were more than he threw for in the Divisional Round against the Seahawks (250). The 38 combined points before the half were the most in an NFC Championship Game since 1995. Super Bowl XLVII will be just the 10th start of Kaepernick’s career – the third-fewest of any quarterback to start a Super Bowl. Interestingly, only one team has ever won the Super Bowl in the same season that they played to a tie – the 1974 Steelers. The 49ers tied the Rams in Week 10.
In a rematch of last year’s AFC Title Game, there was no opposing kicker to help the Patriots return to the Super Bowl. There was just a team inspired by their leader, determined to write the final chapter of a mixed legacy as the Ravens shocked the Patriots at Gillette Stadium, 28-13. New England had been 7-1 all-time in conference championship games and 5-1 under the combination of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. Brady tied the record for the most conference championship game starts with seven, but couldn’t get to his sixth Super Bowl, which would have set an all-time record. Each of the previous three times they were the AFC’s No. 2 seed, New England had made it to the Super Bowl. It was the first time that New England has ever lost a home playoff game it led at halftime (12-1). A 13-7 halftime lead turned into a 28-13 loss as the league’s No. 1 (gimmick) offense failed to produce a single point in the second half. With the Baltimore win, No. 4 seeds improved to 7-1 in conference championship games since 1990. Baltimore was also the No. 4 seed in 2000 when they won the Super Bowl. Ray Lewis, in his last game against Brady, has still never picked him off and has only sacked him once. He has at least one of each against every other quarterback he’s faced five or more times. Brady’s 63.1 QBR against the Ravens since 2008 is his second-worse against any opponent; he finished Sunday’s game with a 45.1 QBR.
The game was the first conference championship game rematch since the Cowboys and 49ers met in three straight from 1992-94 and the first rematch in the AFC since the Browns and Broncos in 1986 and 1987. The Pats were the first team since the 2003 Eagles to host a conference championship game after a 3-3 start to the season. Baltimore became just the second team to ever beat both Brady and Peyton Manning in the same postseason, joining the 2010 Jets. Joe Flacco now has more touchdowns (12-6), fewer interceptions (4-9) and a higher total QBR (70.7-60.1) than Brady in six career games against him. Baltimore improved to 13-7 in its postseason history. Their .650 postseason win percentage is the best in NFL history. Their nine playoff road wins are tied for the second-most ever and Flacco’s six playoff road wins are the most ever. New England had been 4-0 at home in AFC Championship games and 14-3 in home playoff games. With the 42nd of his career, Brady needs just four more postseason touchdown passes to break the all-time record of 45 held by Joe Montana. John Harbaugh had been 0-2 in conference championship games before getting off the snide with this win.
Brady did tie the record with the 24th playoff start of his career. In the previous six rematches of AFC Title games, the winner of the previous year’s was 5-1 before the Pats’ loss. New England lost its first game of the year when rushing for 100 or more yards as a team (13-1). Flacco had been 1-16 when trailing at the half of road games in his career. His eight playoff wins in his first five seasons are tied for the second-most in history behind – you guessed it – Brady. The Patriots had been 67-0 at home in games that Brady had started and they were leading at the half. Flacco has thrown eight touchdowns and no interceptions this postseason. After leading the AFC with 41 takeaways in the regular season, New England had none in the title game. Brady did pass Brett Favre‘s record of 5,855 postseason passing yards and now has 5,949 for his career. Flacco became the fifth quarterback to throw three touchdown passes against the Patriots in a playoff game. Brady fell to 7-7 in his last 14 postseason games after beginning his playoff career 10-0. He has thrown just eight touchdowns to 10 interceptions in eight career starts against Baltimore, his worst touchdown-interception differential against any team in the NFL. His second-half QBR of 22.6 was the worst for him in his last for postseasons and New England fell to 0-4 when his second-half QBR was less than 50 in that span. Wes Welker has dropped six passes in the last two postseasons.
Ryan and Brady, the two quarterbacks with the best home records in the Super Bowl era, each lost on their home field on Sunday. Brady fell to 86-16 and Ryan fell to 34-7. The last time both road teams won on championship weekend was in 1997 when the Broncos and Packers each did it. The road teams outscored the home teams by a combined score of 35-0 in the second half of Sunday’s games.
Super Bowl XLVII will be the second to feature two teams that had lost in the conference championship the previous year.
Baltimore is 3-1 all-time against the 49ers and have won the last three meetings by a combined score of 69-19.
Kaepernick will become the sixth quarterback to start a Super Bowl after not starting any of his team’s first five games of the same regular season.
The Patriots had been in three of the last four Super Bowls played at the Superdome. The 49ers were in the other.
Elite Division I college football schools, such as Texas, USC and Ohio St. have never produced a quarterback that went on to start a Super Bowl in the NFL. The University of Delaware has now had two (Flacco and Rich Gannon).
If Lewis wins his second Super Bowl, it will become the longest span for any player between Super Bowl victories at 12 years.
It will be the 49ers and the Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII on Feb. 3 from New Orleans. John and Jim Harbaugh will become the first set of brothers to ever match up as coaches in a playoff game in NFL, NBA, MLB or NHL history.
Some information taken from ESPN Stats & Info.
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