Colin Kaepernick earned a playoff victory and a meme in the span of four quarters. The second-year quarterback made San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh look like a genius for starting him since Week 10 after Alex Smith went down with a concussion.
Now Harbaugh and his young hybrid passer are five-point road favorites in Sunday’s NFC Championship game at the Atlanta Falcons, and are more than capable of sending the 49ers to their first Super Bowl since 1995.
Below are five reasons San Francisco can eliminate Atlanta.
In two seasons, the 49ers are 11-5 on the road under Harbaugh. Atlanta pulled out a huge win over the Seattle Seahawks, but did cough up 21 fourth-quarter points at home. That kind of late game collapse cannot happen at home.
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In Kaepernick They Trust
Kaepernick's blistering performance against the Packers should scare Atlanta fans. The Atlanta defense had trouble with another big and mobile quarterback this season. Carolina’s Cam Newton totaled 502 passing yards for four touchdowns, and rushed for another 202 yards and two scores.
The Falcons will have their hands full against Kaepernick and the 444 total yards and four touchdowns he accounted for last week.
Best Defense Left in the Playoffs
Out of the four remaining teams, San Francisco has perhaps the most dominant defense. The 49ers are fourth in passing and rushing yards, and are capable of neutralizing Atlanta running backs Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers.
Since their Week Nine bye, San Francisco has allowed more than 100 total rushing yards just three times, and successfully contained the hard-running Chicago Bears.
Beware of the Smiths
Aldon Smith and Justin Smith give the 49ers one of the best pass rushes in the NFL. Justin Smith is playing through a torn triceps injury, and sported a huge arm brace against the Packers, but still managed five tackles in the victory.
In just his second season, Aldon Smith led the NFC with 19.5 sacks, but was kept relatively quiet by Green Bay. He may rebound with a huge game against Atlanta.
Third And Long
The 49ers went 8-for-13 on third downs last week, which gives them the best third-down conversion rate in the playoffs, and they can continue that trend by handing off to running back Frank Gore. In three career playoff games, Gore has averaged 5.4 yards per carry.