How San Francisco 49ers stopped Atlanta Falcons cold


The Atlanta Falcons gained 477 yards Sunday, with 27 first downs. They were just 16 yards away from a potential Super Bowl berth with 2:23 remaning in the NFC Championship Game, but they stalled at the worst time possible.

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NFL Replay will re-air the San Francisco 49ers' 28-24 win over the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship Game on Tuesday, Jan. 22
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With the game on the line, the San Francisco 49ers' defense won the physical battle. Here's how the 49ers did it.

First down: The 49ers had just six defenders "in the box." That should be a good situation for the Falcons, but they struggled to run the ball all day. Matt Ryan handed off to Jacquizz Rodgers, who only got 1 yard. Ray McDonald blew up the play, and Patrick Willis got the tackle.

Second down: The 49ers' pass rush didn't win a lot Sunday, but they won here. Linebacker Ahmad Brooks beat left tackle Sam Baker quickly around the blind side, making Matt Ryan throw before he wanted. Ryan did a great job just to find Jason Snelling for 5 yards and took a big hit afterward, apparently injuring his left (non-throwing) shoulder.

Third down: Brooks made the play again. Ryan stared down Roddy White, and Brooks jumped to deflect the pass. If the pass had made it through, I think the 49ers would have knocked it down or picked it off. They read the play.

Fourth down: Ryan saw White matched up against a linebacker and never looked anywhere else. Navorro Bowman made a lot of contact with White, but it was inside 5 yards. Ryan double-clutched and threw the ball slightly behind White. He didn't need to let go of the ball so fast if he wanted to look at other options. Tony Gonzalez appeared to be open on the outside for a moment, but Ryan never looked in the tight end's direction. The 49ers were doubling Gonzalez with a safety over the top, so it's not like Ryan made a bad read.

I came into the weekend talking about the incredible versatility of the 49ers' linebackers. It made the difference with a trip to Super Bowl XLVII on the line.

Willis stuffed the run. Brooks got the key pass rush on second down and deflected the third-down pass. Bowman covered a Pro Bowl receiver on fourth down. It's a special linebacker group, with Brooks too often being overlooked. Everyone should know his name now.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.