July 23, 2014

Medina
Cloudy
76°F

Brothers to lock horns as Ravens, 49ers reach Super Bowl

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Oh, brother!

John Harbaugh and his Baltimore Ravens set up a family reunion at the Super Bowl, shutting down the New England Patriots 28-13 Sunday in the AFC championship game.

The Ravens reached their first Super Bowl in 12 years, thanks to three touchdown passes from Joe Flacco and a defense led by Ray Lewis that made Tom Brady look downright ordinary.

New England’s Shane Vereen is tackled by Baltimore’s Haloti Ngata (92) and Ray Lewis. (AP PHOTO)

Next up for Harbaugh and the Ravens is baby brother Jim and the San Francisco 49ers, who beat Atlanta 28-24 earlier in the day for the NFC title.

They’ll meet in two weeks in New Orleans — what a place for a party to celebrate the first brother-vs.-brother coaching matchup in Super Bowl history.

It also will be quite a last game for Lewis, the emotional linebacker who will retire after the matchup with the 49ers, who opened as a 5-point favorite.

Driven by Lewis’ pending departure from the NFL, Baltimore’s defense stepped up in the playoffs. Brady was 67-0 at home when leading at halftime, but this was no contest in the second half.

It also was a first for the Patriots, who hadn’t lost an AFC championship at home.

After they had avenged last year’s AFC title game loss at Gillette Stadium, many of the Ravens gathered on the field jumping, chest-bumping and whooping before several thousand fans wearing Ravens jerseys — mostly Lewis’ No. 52 — who remained in the stands.

As in the previous two playoff wins against Indianapolis and Denver, the Ravens (13-6) were brilliant offensively in spots. This might be 17-year-veteran Lewis’ team, but it’s also Flacco’s, and the quarterback’s six road wins are the most in playoff history.

“It was pretty awesome,” Flacco said. “We were here last year and thought we had it, but came up a little short. Guys came out in the second half and made plays. … We put pressure on them like that, and it worked pretty well.”

Flacco, the only quarterback to win a playoff game in each of his first five seasons, was dynamic with his arm and precise with his decision making. Looking much more the championship passer than Brady did, his throws of 11 and 3 yards to Anquan Boldin and 5 to Dennis Pitta all were perfect.

New England (13-5) lost a home AFC title matchup for the first time in five home games. The loss denied Brady and coach Bill Belichick a shot at their sixth Super Bowl. They’ve gone 3-2, losing their last two times in the big game.

Instead, it’s the AFC North champion Ravens heading to the Big Easy, seeking their second NFL championship. San Francisco has won five.

“This is our time. This is our time,” Lewis said as he and a few teammates were receiving the AFC championship trophy. “All these men out there, there might just be only five of us up here, but every man out there sacrificed this year for each other, and man, we did it and we’re on our way to the Super Bowl.

That’s awesome.”

The Ravens have gotten there the hard way, with no postseason bye. Then again, five of the last seven Super Bowl champions took that route.

The Ravens also were pushed into a second overtime in frigid Denver last weekend before eliminating Peyton Manning and the top-seeded Broncos.

And now they’ve cast aside the league’s most successful franchise of the last dozen years.

New England (13-5), which hasn’t won a Super Bowl since the 2004 season, had four injuries, the scariest when running back Stevan Ridley was knocked flat by Bernard Pollard in the fourth quarter, forcing a fumble. Baltimore turned that into the final touchdown, on the only short scoring drive it had, 47 yards.

The Ravens gained just 130 yards in the first half.

Brady guided a 13-play drive to Stephen Gostkowski’s 31-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead. Neither defense yielded a big play, and punters Zoltan Mesko and Sam Koch were the busiest guys on the field.

That changed when the teams switched sides for the second quarter. Baltimore again was pinned deep, at its 10, but Flacco led a 13-play drive. Ray Rice, whose 83-yard run on the Ravens’ first play from scrimmage in their wild-card round victory here three years ago, ran left untouched for the TD.

Awakened by Baltimore’s march, the Patriots staged a long one of their own, 79 yards, aided by a 15-yard personal foul by Ravens linebacker Dannell Ellerbe.
Wes Welker picked up 24 yards on a short pass, then got free in the right corner of the end zone after a mix-up in the Ravens’ secondary, making it 10-7.

It was 13-7 by halftime as Gostkowski connected from 25 yards, with New England outsmarting Baltimore several times. Danny Woodhead ran for 7 yards on a direct snap on fourth-and-1 in the drive. Defensive end Paul Kruger, who’s good at sacks, not much in coverage — found himself downfield on Aaron Hernandez on what became a 17-yard reception.

But Brady made a mental error himself, not calling timeout quickly enough after a short scramble. So the Patriots didn’t get a shot at the end zone and Gostkowski made his second kick.

Shockingly for an offense that scored 557 points this season, that was it for New England.

The touchdown by Pitta capped the Ravens’ best drive of the game, covering 87 yards in 10 plays and made it 14-13. It started with a 15-yard defensive pass interference penalty.

49ers 28, Falcons 24

ATLANTA — The clutch quarterback. The genius coach. The big-play defense.

The San Francisco 49ers are ready to start a new dynasty with a familiar formula.

Next stop, the Big Easy.

Colin Kaepernick and Frank Gore led San Francisco to a record comeback in the NFC championship game Sunday, overcoming an early 17-0 deficit to beat the Atlanta Falcons and send the 49ers to their first Super Bowl since 1995.

Gore scored a pair of touchdowns, including the winner with 8:23 remaining for San Francisco’s first lead of the day, and the 49ers defense made it stand up. A fourth-down stop at the 10-yard line denied Atlanta another stirring comeback after blowing a big lead.

“Everybody does a little,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said, “and it adds up to be a lot.”

San Francisco (13-4-1) moves on to face Baltimore at New Orleans in two weeks, looking to join Pittsburgh as the only franchises with six Super Bowl titles.

Joe Montana led the 49ers to four Super Bowl wins and Steve Young took them to No. 5. It’s up to Kaepernick and Co. to get No. 6.

The second-year quarterback, who runs like a track star, didn’t get a chance to show off his touchdown celebration — flexing his right arm and kissing his bicep, a move that quickly became a social media sensation known as Kaepernicking.

But he shredded the Falcons through the air by completing 16-of-21 for 233 yards, including a 4-yard touchdown to Vernon Davis, and had them so worried about his running ability out of the spread option that Gore and LaMichael James had plenty of room.

Gore scored a pair of touchdowns, including the game winner with 8:23 remaining for San Francisco’s first lead of the day. Davis scored the first TD for the 49ers on a 15-yard run.

“I take my hat off to Atlanta. They played hard. They’ve got a great team,” Gore said. “But we fought, man. We fought and we deserved it.”

The 49ers pulled off the biggest comeback victory in an NFC championship game, according to STATS. The previous NFC record was 13 points — Atlanta’s victory over Minnesota in the 1999 title game, which sent the Falcons to what remains the only Super Bowl in franchise history.

The AFC championship game record is 18 points, when Indianapolis rallied past New England in 2007.

Kaepernick guided San Francisco on a pair of second-half scoring drives that wiped out Atlanta’s 24-14 lead at the break. Gore scored on a 5-yard run early in the third quarter, then sprinted in from 9 yards out for the winning score with 8:23 remaining after each team made crucial mistakes to ruin potential scoring drives.

On both of Gore’s TDs, the Falcons had to worry about Kaepernick running it in himself. They barely even touched the running back on either play, and James scored pretty much the same way.

The top-seeded Falcons (14-4), in what appeared to be the final game for Hall of Famer-to-be Tony Gonzalez, tried to pull off another season-extending drive. But, unlike the week before against Seattle, they needed a touchdown this time.

They came up 10 yards short.

On fourth down, Matt Ryan attempted a pass over the middle to Roddy White that would have been enough to keep the drive going. But linebacker NaVorro Bowman stuck a hand in to knock it away with 1:13 remaining.

Gore carried 21 times for 90 yards, while James added 34 yards on five carries.

Ryan finished 30-of-42 for 396 yards, by far the best performance of his playoff career. But his postseason record dropped to 1-4, done in by two big miscues — an interception and a fumble — in the second half.

Julio Jones was Ryan’s leading target most of the day, finishing with 11 catches for 182 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He hauled in a 46-yarder less than 4 minutes into the game, then made a dazzling grab in the left corner of the end zone for a 20-yard score. He got his left foot down, then planted his right foot about an inch inside the line — while cornerback Tarell Brown was all over him.

Ryan threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Gonzalez with 25 seconds remaining in the first half after the 49ers had cut the deficit to 17-14. It seemed the home team had reclaimed the momentum heading to the locker room, but, amazingly, that would be its final score of the day. The 49ers quickly seized control on the opening possession of the second half, driving 82 yards in just seven plays for Gore’s first TD.

After a nearly perfect first half, in which Ryan was 18-of-24 for 271 yards and those three TDs, the quarterback known as Matty Ice made a couple of crucial blunders.

First, he tossed a pass that was picked off by Chris Culliver, halting a drive in 49ers territory. Ryan ripped off his chinstrap in disgust.

Then, with the Falcons in scoring range for at least a field goal, Ryan failed to grab a shotgun snap, appearing to take his eyes off the ball before he caught it. The ball squirted away and Aldon Smith recovered for the 49ers at their own 37.

“Against a good team, you can’t have those kind of mistakes,” Ryan said.