Atlanta, GA – The San Francisco 49ers are headed back to the Super Bowl for the first time since the 1994 season.
Frank Gore scored a pair of touchdowns in the second half and the 49ers rallied past the Atlanta Falcons, 28-24, in the NFC Championship Game.
San Francisco needed a big defensive stand after Gore's 9-yard rushing touchdown put the 49ers ahead by four with 8:23 to play.
And that's just what they got. San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh was steaming on the sideline after the officials upheld Harry Douglas' 22-yard juggling catch, which put the ball at the 49ers' 28. Atlanta moved the ball to the 10- yard line and the game came down to two plays. On 3rd-and-4, Ahmad Brooks broke up Matt Ryan's pass and NaVorro Bowman gave the 49ers the ball back after knocking down Ryan's throw to Roddy White on fourth down.
After the 49ers went three-and-out, Atlanta got the ball back at its own 41 with six seconds to play. Julio Jones caught a 24-yard pass as time expired.
"We rose up at the end. That was a great finish for our defense," Harbaugh said. "It put an exclamation point on the game."
The victory was sweet redemption for San Francisco, which lost to the Super Bowl champion New York Giants in the NFC title game last year.
John Harbaugh's Ravens beat the Patriots later Sunday to set up a Harbaugh brothers Super Bowl. Super Bowl XLVII will take place in New Orleans on Feb. 3.
San Francisco, which is a perfect 5-0 in the Super Bowl, will be trying to join Pittsburgh as the only teams with six Super Bowl titles.
Colin Kaepernick completed 16-of-21 passes for 233 yards and a touchdown for the 49ers, who took down the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round last weekend. The second-year signal-caller, who set an NFL rushing record for a quarterback with 181 yards last week, was limited to 21 rushing yards on Sunday.
"He just played great. He played great," Jim Harbaugh said. "I don't even know the words to say it. I mean, it was a great performance by the quarterback. And many others. Everybody chipped in this one, played their hearts out and thank you to them."
Gore carried the ball 21 times for 90 yards for the second-seeded 49ers, who trailed by 17 early in the second quarter. Vernon Davis hauled in five passes for 106 yards and a touchdown.
Ryan connected on 30-of-42 passes for 396 yards, three touchdowns and an interception for the top-seeded Falcons, who beat the Seattle Seahawks last week to make the NFC Championship Game for the third time in franchise history (1998 and 2004).
Jones caught 11 passes for 182 yards and two scores, White hauled in seven passes for 100 yards and Tony Gonzalez caught eight passes for 78 yards and a touchdown.
"We just didn't make enough plays to win the ballgame," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "We played hard and we had our chances for this to be a different outcome. We just came up short."
The Falcons scored a touchdown with 25 seconds left in the first half to take a 24-14 lead into the locker room.
However, the momentum shifted back to the 49ers early in the second half. Randy Moss caught passes of 21 and 17 yards around Delanie Walker's 20-yard catch. On 1st-and-goal from the five, Gore rumbled into the end zone.
San Francisco's defense followed with a big play, as Chris Culliver picked off Ryan at the 38-yard line of the 49ers. Davis caught a 31-yard pass on the first play. The 49ers got to the 20 before sending David Akers out to try a 38-yard field goal. Akers' attempt hit off the left upright and was no good.
Another big mistake by Ryan gave the 49ers another chance. On 2nd-and-9 from the San Francisco 28, Ryan fumbled the snap out of the shotgun. The 49ers recovered with less than a minute left in the third frame.
"It was just kind of a freak play. I took my eye off the ball for a second and it ended up on the ground," Ryan said. "Against a good team, you can't have those kind of mistakes."
A 15-yard roughing the passer penalty on third down gave the 49ers a fresh set of downs. Michael Crabtree followed with a 33-yard catch on the first play of the fourth quarter. Just two plays later, Crabtree caught a pass for four yards before Dunta Robinson stripped the ball. Atlanta recovered the ball at the 1-yard line.
After holding the Falcons to a three-and-out, Ted Ginn Jr. returned a punt 20 yards to the Atlanta 38. Crabtree caught an 8-yard pass following four straight runs. Gore then found a hole on the right side and scampered into the end zone for a 28-24 lead with 8:23 to play.
San Francisco's defense held strong to secure the come-from-behind victory.
The Falcons jumped out to a big lead for the second consecutive week. White kept Atlanta's first drive alive with a 16-yard catch on 3rd-and-9. Just two plays later, Ryan confused the defense with a play-action pass. Jones was wide open down the left side for a 46-yard touchdown.
The home team tacked on a field goal after San Francisco went three-and-out. Jones helped set up Matt Bryant's 35-yard field goal with a 27-yard catch.
Atlanta was driving again at the end of the first quarter. White hauled in a 23-yard pass on the final play to move the ball to the San Francisco 20. On the first play of the second stanza, Jones made a great catch in the left corner of the end zone to make it 17-0.
The 49ers' offense finally woke up on the ensuing possession. Gore started the series with four straight runs, which gave San Francisco its first two first downs of the contest. On 3rd-and-7, Davis caught a 27-yard pass. That set up LaMichael James' 15-yard TD run with 8:08 left in the half.
San Francisco put together another long scoring drive on its next possession. Davis' 19-yard catch, Kaepernick's 23-yard run, a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty on Atlanta and Davis' 25-yard catch put the ball at the four. From there, Kaepernick used the play-action pass to find Davis for a touchdown with 1:55 remaining.
Ryan and the Falcons responded with an impressive 80-yard drive that only took 1:30 off the clock. Ryan completed four passes of at least 13 yards to move the ball to the San Francisco 16. Gonzalez followed with consecutive catches, with the second resulting in a 10-yard score and 24-14 lead.
Jacquizz Rodgers carried the ball 10 times for 32 yards for Atlanta, which was trying to make it back to the Super Bowl for the first time since the 1998 season ... The Falcons led Seattle 20-0 at halftime in last week's playoff game ... Ryan set Falcons playoff records with 396 yards and a 114.8 passer rating ... James, a rookie out of Oregon, had zero touchdowns in the regular season ... Since 2001, including playoffs, the 49ers were 1-27 in games they trailed by at least 17 points ... Jones set a Falcons franchise record for the most receiving yards in a playoff game.