ATLANTA (Reuters) - The San Francisco 49ers rallied from a 17-0 deficit to beat the top-seeded Atlanta Falcons 28-24 on Sunday and book their first trip to the Super Bowl in 18 years.
Running back Frank Gore scored two unanswered second half touchdowns as the 49ers, who came up one win short of reaching last year’s Super Bowl, took command of the NFC Championship game after a dreadful start.
The 49ers will play the winner of Sunday’s AFC Championship, between the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens, in the National Football League’s title game on February 3.
The victory was a record comeback for a team in an NFC Championship game.
Atlanta dominated at the outset with quarterback Matt Ryan leading an 80-yard drive that culminated in a 46-yard touchdown pass to a wide open Julio Jones.
After a 35-yard Matt Bryant field goal for Atlanta, the San Francisco defense was clearly struggling as Ryan and Jones again combined to deadly effect — the receiver showing outstanding agility to grab a 20-yard touchdown pass deep in the left corner as the Falcons built a 17-0 lead.
The 49ers finally responded with LaMichael James slicing his way 15 yards through the Falcons defense to reduce the deficit to 10 points midway through the second quarter.
Suddenly San Francisco’s offense was alive, with Colin Kaepernick starting to look like the mobile quarterback who tore apart the Green Bay Packers last week and turning to recently under-used tight end Vernon Davis.
The 49ers pulled to within three points with Davis grabbing a perfectly weighted four-yard touchdown pass with just under two minutes to play in the first half.
Ryan, however responded in perfect fashion with an 80-yard scoring drive in just 90 seconds, ending with a pinpoint 10-yard pass to veteran Tony Gonzalez in the end zone as Atlanta went into the half with a 24-14 lead.
It was no surprise in such an enthralling encounter though that the second half opened with a touchdown as Gore burst five yards through the Falcons defense to complete a seven-play, 82-yard drive.
San Francisco grabbed their first lead when Gore powered through with a nine-yard run to make it 28-24 with just over eight minutes to play.
The host Falcons were held scoreless for the second half.
Editing by Frank Pingue