By Jerrell Richardson
The 49ers find themselves in familiar territory, back in the NFC Championship Game for the second time in as many years, but the setting will be very different than a year ago. Last year the team was relatively new to the playoffs and coming off an emotional win over the New Orleans Saints the week before and playing at home. Standing in their way of a NFC Crown were the New York Giants who, with an elite defense and more dynamic offense, were able to out physical and out last San Francisco, essentially beating the 49ers at their own game. This time around the tables are turned as they will be on the road, and the only team whose style of play would give the 49ers problems were the Seahawks. With the Falcons the last NFC team standing in their way, San Francisco should be able to pull off the upset and earn a berth in the Super Bowl.
Falcons Must Avoid Emotional Let Down
The Falcons entered the post season win-less under the reign of quarterback Matt Ryan, and had a lot of pressure to get a win to not only silence the critics, but for Tony Gonzalez. No matter what they say now, the goal entering this season was to win a SINGLE playoff game. Now that they have reached their goal, how will they respond? Atlanta’s reaction after the game was understandably emotional, but it looked as though they won the Super Bowl, and not barely held off Seattle. They could have a let down, and let the satisfaction of getting a win lull them into not taking this next game seriously, but chances are the importance of this game will not be lost on Atlanta who will make the next game a fight to the last whistle.
Match Up Resembles Last Game
The teams are the top seeds in the division for a reason, but the Falcons are very much like the Packer team the 49ers just dominated. Atlanta does has a running game to compliment their passing game, but they are an offensive powered team, with an suspect defense. If the San Francisco defense can play like they did against Aaron Rodgers, they should be able to have success shutting down Atlanta’s multiple offensive threats, and leave it to the offense to again control the ball and score points. If the 49ers can do this, then they will be able to wear down an Atlanta team that wants to avoid a physical game, and be in control in the 4th quarter, which is all they can ask for heading into a road playoff game.
Luck Of The Draw
Despite the uphill battle that they will face, San Francisco may have dodged a bullet when Seattle was eliminated. Like the Giants’ team that knocked out the 49ers from last year’s playoffs, the Seahawks can beat the 49ers at their own game. The payback factor would have been present, and San Francisco would have been fired up for the 3rd meeting of the season with their division foe, but the teams confidence would be a question mark after Seattle pounded San Francisco a few weeks ago, after the two teams played a thriller at Candlestick earlier in the season, and the reality is that the Seahawks, towards the end of the season was the better team.
Falcons Better Be Ready
The 49ers got the team that they wanted, and more importantly, avoided the team they didn’t want. Playing the Seahawks would have meant being favored and at home, but the match up would be a legitimate reason for concern. There were some who wanted a chance at payback, but on the flip side, if the Seahawks beat the 49ers with a Super Bowl berth on the line, it would give all the momentum between the two teams to the Seahawks, which is something the 49ers can now worry about next year. San Francisco will be facing a team that could very well suffer an emotional let down, as Atlanta could not hide the relief on their faces after their first playoff win under Matt Ryan, and will need to rediscover their desire as they gear up for their next game. What can be assured is that the 49ers will enter the game with a ton of confidence, clicking on all cylinders, and hungry to erase the memories from their performance on this very stage a year ago. The Falcons had better match their opponents intensity and desire, or they could find themselves on the wrong end of a blowout.
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Jerrell Richardson is a Bay Area native who due to a college career at San Diego State University has grown an appreciation for all things sports related in California. His heart will always remain in San Francisco though where he currently resides and covers everything from the San Francisco 49ers and Giants to the San Jose Sharks and California Bears Baseball team. His work can be found on Examiner.com.