The Ravens won the American Football Conference title game 28-13 in Foxboro, Massachusetts, to reach the National Football League championship contest for the second time. The 49ers staged the biggest comeback in National Football Conference championship game history to beat the Atlanta Falcons 28-24, also on the road.
“We fought all game long, it wasn’t easy by any means,” 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis, who had 12 tackles, said in a televised interview. “The past two years, all we’ve done is play as a team.”
The results mean the Super Bowl -- which is scheduled for Feb. 3 in New Orleans -- for the first time will be contested by teams coached by brothers. Jim Harbaugh, 49, leads San Francisco and John, who is 13 months older, is in charge of the Ravens.
New England topped Baltimore 23-20 last year in the conference championship game, making today’s contest the first time in 25 years that the same teams played for the AFC title in consecutive seasons. The last to do so were the Denver Broncos and Cleveland Browns after the 1986 and 1987 seasons.
The first defeat in five AFC title games at home for New England extended the 17-year career of linebacker Ray Lewis, who told his Ravens teammates that he would retire when the playoffs ended.
“Last year, when we walked out of here, I told them we’d be back,” Lewis said after receiving the championship trophy. “I said, ‘Don’t hold your head down because we’ve got something to finish.’ This is our time.”
Baltimore won its only previous visit to the Super Bowl, after the 2000 season, while San Francisco last reached the title game after the 1994 season. The 49ers have never been beaten in five trips to the Super Bowl and will seek to tie the Pittsburgh Steelers’ NFL-best six titles.
New England’s Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 31-yard field goal at Gillette Stadium for the only score of the first quarter.
Ray Rice gave Baltimore a 7-3 lead as he switched directions and dodged two tacklers to score on a 2-yard run, before Tom Brady found Wes Welker with a 1-yard touchdown pass and Gostkowski added a field goal from 25 yards to make it 13-7 to the Patriots at halftime.
Baltimore, a 7 1/2-point underdog, took the lead for good at 14-13 in the third quarter when Joe Flacco found Dennis Pitta with a 5-yard touchdown throw and extended the advantage to eight points when Anquan Boldin hauled in a 3-yard pass from Flacco at the start of the fourth quarter.
Baltimore made it three touchdowns without reply to complete the scoring when Flacco and Boldin again hooked up on an 11-yard play.
Brady threw an interception with 6:49 to play and another with 1:06 remaining to end his team’s chances.
The 49ers rallied from a 17-0 deficit at the start of the second quarter. The previous biggest comeback to win in the NFC title game was by the Falcons, who recovered from a 13-point deficit to beat the Minnesota Vikings 30-27 on Jan. 17, 1999.
The win at Atlanta’s Georgia Dome was San Francisco’s first in six road playoff games going back to 1989, and only the third the team has won away from home in the postseason.
The Falcons led 17-0 one play into the second quarter as Julio Jones hauled in touchdown passes of 46 yards and 20 yards from quarterback Matt Ryan either side of a 35-yard field goal by Matt Bryant.
San Francisco made it a three-point game as LaMichael James drove through the Atlanta defense on a 15-yard scoring run and Vernon Davis caught a 4-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Colin Kaepernick with two minutes to play in the first half.
Ryan then capped a seven-play, 85-yard drive with a 10-yard pass to Tony Gonzalez 25 seconds before halftime to push Atlanta’s lead to 24-14. Gonzalez, 36, is sixth on the NFL career list with 103 regular-season touchdown receptions.
The 49ers made it three touchdowns in as many possessions when Frank Gore rounded out the opening drive of the second half with a 5-yard scoring run.
Trailing 24-21, San Francisco then missed two opportunities to score.
First, David Akers, who missed a league-high 13 field-goal attempts during the regular season, failed from 38 yards as his kick struck the top of the left upright and caromed wide.
The 49ers got the ball back when Ryan fumbled a snap on the next drive. Kaepernick drove his team to Atlanta’s 5-yard line before Michael Crabtree fumbled as he was tackled at the 1 at the start of the fourth quarter.
After Atlanta punted, San Francisco went ahead for the first time as Gore ran for his second score, from nine yards, to make it 28-24 with 8:23 remaining.
Atlanta then drove 60 yards on 13 plays before Ryan threw an incomplete pass on a 4th-and-4 play at San Francisco’s 10- yard line with 1:09 remaining. The Falcons could only get one play off after regaining possession with six seconds remaining.
Kaepernick completed 16 of 21 passes for 233 yards and one touchdown. Ryan connected on 30 of 42 passes for 396 yards and three touchdowns.
To contact the reporter on this story: Dex McLuskey in Dallas at firstname.lastname@example.org
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