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Yasinskas: Looking Ahead To 49Ers-Falcons


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Looking ahead to 49ers-Falcons

Jan 14 1:38 PM ET

By Pat Yasinskas | ESPN.com

ATLANTA -- I’m getting ready to fly back to NFC South blog headquarters. I’ll check back in late this afternoon with updates on what Falcons coach Mike Smith had to say in his Monday news conference and anything else that pops up.

But, as I travel, let me leave you with some nuggets from ESPN Stats & Information to look ahead to Sunday’s NFC Championship Game between the 49ers and Falcons:

  • This will be the second postseason meeting between the two teams. The first was when the Falcons beat the 49ers, 20-18, in the divisional round in the 1998 season. That’s the season the Falcons went to their only Super Bowl.
  • The Falcons and 49ers used to be NFC West rivals. Since leaving for the NFC South in 2002, the Falcons are 4-0 against the 49ers.
  • This will be the 14th NFC Championship Game for the 49ers. They’re 5-8 in those games and have lost two straight and five of their last six.
  • The 49ers set a postseason franchise record with 579 yards of total offense in their divisional round victory against Green Bay. That’s the fourth-highest postseason total in NFL history.
  • San Francisco’s 323 rushing yards against Green Bay were the most in the postseason by any team since the Falcons in the 2004 divisional round.
  • San Francisco’s Jim Harbaugh is the fourth coach in history to reach a championship game in each of his first two seasons. George Seifert and Barry Switzer each went 1-1 in those games and Rex Ryan went 0-2.
  • In the win against Green Bay, the 49ers gained 176 yards on 16 read-option rushes. In quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s seven previous starts, the 49ers gained 140 yards on 26 read-option runs.
  • Since Kaepernick became the starter in Week 11, Michael Crabtree ranks fifth in the league with 50 catches, fourth with 714 receiving yards and is tied for second with seven touchdowns. In the first 10 weeks of the season, Crabtree was tied for 41st in the league with just 59 targets.
  • In their history, the Falcons are 7-11 in the postseason. They’ve won two playoff games in a season only once. That came in the 1998 season.
  • Including Sunday’s victory against Seattle, Atlanta’s Matt Ryan has completed 70 percent of his passes in the final two minutes of either half this season. In the first four seasons of Ryan’s career, he completed only 50 percent of his passes in the final two minutes of either half.
  • Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez got the first playoff win of his 16-year career against Seattle. Gonzalez went into the game with 254 regular-season appearances, the most ever without a playoff victory.
  • Including the Seattle game, the Falcons have allowed 8.9 yards per rush by quarterbacks (excluding kneeldowns) this season. That’s the worst average in the NFL. Kaepernick has averaged 8.7 yards per rush, the best average by any quarterback with at least 30 rushes.

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Quick Take: 49ers at Falcons

Jan 13 6:59 PM ET

By Pat Yasinskas | ESPN.com

1. Same thing all over again? At least on paper, this matchup looks awfully similar to the one Atlanta won against Seattle on Sunday. Like the Seahawks, the 49ers have a young quarterback in Colin Kaepernick who can run out of the read option and a strong defense. The last time the Falcons and 49ers played, the game ended in a very similar way to the victory against the Seahawks -- with a decisive last minute field goal. In Week 4 of the 2010 season, San Francisco defensive back Nate Clements had a late interception of Matt Ryan. If Clements simply went down, the 49ers would have been able to run out the clock. But Clements attempted to return the interception and Atlanta receiver Roddy White made a great hustle play. White chased down Clements and stripped the ball. Guard Harvey Dahl recovered and Ryan led a quick drive that ended with Matt Bryant kicking a 43-yard field goal for the win.

2. New territory: The Falcons, who came into the league in 1966, are going to the NFC Championship Game for only the third time in franchise history. They won it in the 1998 season and lost it in the 2004 season. This will be the first time the Falcons have hosted an NFC Championship Game. That could weigh heavily in Atlanta’s favor. Since the arrival of coach Mike Smith in 2008, the Falcons are 34-8 in the Georgia Dome (regular season and postseason).

3. It's up to the O-line: One of the biggest keys to the game will be Atlanta’s offensive line. The Falcons did a great job protecting Ryan against the Seahawks. He wasn’t sacked while attempting 35 passes. But the 49ers thrive on their pass rush and it’s a big part of the reason why they’re in the NFC Championship Game. In their divisional round victory against Green Bay, the 49ers put Aaron Rodgers under duress or sacked him on 11 of his 43 dropbacks, according to ESPN Stats & Information. In those situations, Rodgers completed just two of nine passes for 13 yards.

4. Pounding on the ground: Atlanta’s running game, which struggled through most of the regular season, might be coming together at the right time. The Falcons rushed for 167 yards against the Seahawks, with Michael Turner leading the way with 98 yards on 14 carries. The Falcons had 88 rush yards after contact. The Falcons had 76 rush yards after contact in the first half, which is the most Atlanta has had in an opening half in the last four seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

5. Opening the airways: The improved play from the running game might mean more play-action passing against San Francisco. Against Seattle, play action worked very well. Ryan was eight of 12 for 87 yards and three touchdowns when using play action.

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