Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers show they'll never quit


ATLANTA -- With just enough time for the Atlanta Falcons to make one last desperate effort on offense, San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore wasn't interested in watching. He wanted so badly not to watch, in fact, that he searched for a way to avoid the game entirely.

So he spotted a folding chair far from the bench, opened it up and sat down in a strangely discreet area while the rest of the stadium focused on Atlanta's last shot Sunday.

"I couldn't handle it," Gore told afterward.

So why didn't he just look down while standing up? Or turn around? Or close his eyes? Did he really have to get a random folding chair?

"Man, that game was hard," he said. "I was tired!"

This is what a man feels like in the wake of a grinded-out, 28-24 win, near the end of a grinded-out season, deep into a grinded-out career. This is what a man who rushed for two second-half touchdowns Sunday -- in the biggest comeback in NFC Championship Game history -- does when he's tired of the suspense: He sits and stares down. He waits. And he waits. Until the crowd's reaction in an eventually dismal Georgia Dome tells him it's OK to look up.

Now, go catch a nap, Gore. In fact, maybe everyone -- including the fans -- should rest up. If the past two weeks of the playoffs are any indication, well, we're all going to need every ounce of energy for the dramatics that await when the Niners meet the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII.

"We felt that pressure," 49ers safety Donte Whitner said, following a win that required San Francisco to come back from a 17-0 deficit. "But like we say in our locker room, when there's more pressure, we give pressure. And that's what we did. We sucked it up, and when it came down to that last fourth down, we got the football."

But the beginning of the game -- which felt so distant, literally and figuratively -- had been defined by a very different vibe. The Falcons came out firing. They put the 49ers on their heels, as quarterback Matt Ryan picked apart a secondary that couldn't decide how to cover Atlanta's many weapons.

The 49ers, meanwhile, were struggling to carry any momentum over from their divisional-round win against the Green Bay Packers one week earlier, when the read-option had worked so well that it sparked conversations about if we've officially entered a new era of football. However, after the first quarter ended Sunday, San Francisco had -2 yards of offense to show for it.

"But going out on the field frantic isn't going to help you score points," quarterback Colin Kaepernick said. "You have to stay calm. You have to try and lead your team."

As the Falcons found ways to stop the option, Kaepernick found ways to counter them. He finally looked toward one of his best weapons, tight end Vernon Davis, who had been nearly invisible since Kaepernick replaced Alex Smith as the starting quarterback in Week 11. The team also started incorporating some more traditional running plays, using Gore to gain momentum.

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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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Last week, 49ers cornerback Carlos Rogers said Kaepernick is so much more than an option quarterback -- that he's perfectly comfortable under center when the situation requires it. Suddenly on Sunday, the situation did. And suddenly, the offense was back on track, capable of reestablishing the option after the more traditional approach had put the Falcons in a bind.

If there's one major reason to fear this 49ers team in the Super Bowl (and there's plenty more than just one), it might be San Francisco's resolve in moments like that. It took guts for coach Jim Harbaugh to replace Smith with Kaepernick back in November; the fight and firepower that resulted during the second half Sunday showed exactly why he did it.

Of course, the Baltimore Ravens carry their own absurdly high level of tenacity, which is the very reason that the result on Feb. 3 will be so difficult for anyone to predict. But the way San Francisco rallied back against the Falcons, on the road, fully demonstrated how tough it will be to beat the 49ers.

"We could have pushed the panic button, but we know what we're capable of," linebacker Aldon Smith said. "Everybody's on the same page. In the first half, we were playing bad -- but we got ourselves together at halftime."

The 49ers had struggled on the road lately, giving up far too many points to make a third-ranked defense comfortable. There were reasons to wonder about their vulnerability, especially against a team with as much firepower as the Falcons, and Sunday's first quarter was a perfect indication as to why.

Yet in the second half -- and, really, starting with the second quarter -- the 49ers kept clawing, despite costly turnovers committed by both teams. San Francisco kept hanging around, positioning itself for another dramatic conclusion.

It's no wonder that Gore, who finished the game with 21 carries for 90 yards, was tired. It's no wonder that he preferred to find a seat of his own toward the end of that game, somewhere that would let him escape the stress of the moment, with the result no longer in his hands.

Gore and his teammates now have two weeks to rest, two weeks to prepare for the biggest game of their lives. The Super Bowl is almost here. So take Gore's advice and take a seat. Because soon enough, we'll all surely be back on our feet.

"We're not done yet," Gore said. "We still have one more."

Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @jeffdarlington.



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