ATLANTA – The clutch quarterback. The genius coach. The big-play defense.
The San Francisco 49ers are ready to start a new dynasty with a familiar formula.
Next stop, the Big Easy.
Colin Kaepernick and Frank Gore led San Francisco to a record comeback in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday, overcoming an early 17-0 deficit to beat the Atlanta Falcons, 28-24, and send the 49ers to their first Super Bowl since 1995.
Gore scored a pair of touchdowns, including the winner with 8:23 remaining for San Francisco’s first lead of the day, and the 49ers defense made it stand up. A fourth-down stop at the 10-yard line denied Atlanta another stirring comeback after blowing a big lead.
“Everybody does a little,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said, “and it adds up to be a lot.”
San Francisco (13-4-1) moves on to face Baltimore at New Orleans in two weeks, looking to join Pittsburgh as the only franchises with six Super Bowl titles. It will be a brother-vs.-brother matchup, too, since John Harbaugh coaches the Ravens.
Joe Montana led the 49ers to four Super Bowl wins and Steve Young took them to No. 5. It’s up to Kaepernick and Co. to get No. 6.
“He just competes like a maniac all the time,” said Jim Harbaugh, whose much-debated decision to bench Alex Smith at midseason now looks like the best move of the year.
Harbaugh was hoppin’ mad when a disputed call went against the 49ers on Atlanta’s potential winning drive. He leaped in the air, screamed at the officials and had to be restrained by his staff from charging the field.
No complaints when it was over.
“We rose up there at the end,” Harbaugh said.
His second-year quarterback, Kaepernick, shredded the Falcons through the air by completing 16 of 21 for 233 yards, including a 4-yard touchdown to Vernon Davis, and had them so worried about his running ability out of the spread option that Gore and LaMichael James had plenty of room.
James scored the first touchdown of the day for the 49ers on a 15-yard run with 8:08 left in the second quarter.
“I take my hat off to Atlanta. They played hard. They’ve got a great team,” Gore said. “But we fought, man.”
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 their only Super Bowl trip in franchise history.
The AFC Championship Game record is 18 points, when Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts rallied past New England in 2007.
“We’ve come full circle,” said Denise DeBartolo York, whose family has owned the 49ers since their championship days, “and the dynasty will prevail.”