The city was buzzing all week for final Falcons home game of the year. It was the first time the Falcons have hosted the NFC championship and they came out on fire against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, jumping to a 17-0 lead in the second quarter.
But the 49ers were able to settle down, which led to a 28-7 run and ultimately led to as 28-24 win.
“We didn’t make enough plays to win the ball game,” Falcons head coach Mike Smith said. “We played hard. We just came up short.”
The game against the 49ers was almost a carbon copy of the game last week against the Seattle Seahawks. After being down 20-0, the Seahawks came roaring back at took the lead 28-27 with 32 seconds left in the game. But Matt Ryan and company made two big throws and that led to a Matt Bryant field goal to win the game.
This time the Falcons jumped to a 17-0 lead after Ryan threw a 46-yard touchdown pass to Julio in the first quarter and 1 20-yard touchdown pass to Jones in the second quarter.
That’s when the 49ers started to make their comeback.
Thanks to the complexity of the read option, the 49ers were able to put together an 11-play, 80-yard drive in the second quarter that ended with a LaMichael James 15-yard touchdown run. When the 49ers got the ball back, they put together another 80-yard drive that ended with a Collin Kaepernick 4-yard touchdown pass to Vernon Davis.
Davis was the Achilles Heel for the Falcons all game long, catching five passes for 106 yards to go along with his one touchdown.
“One of our main goals was stopping the quarterback from running the football, but we did not cover the tight end as well as we needed to,” Smith said.
The Falcons did get one last score before the half as Ryan threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Tony Gonzalez to lead by 10.
But that would be the last time they would score, but not for the 49ers.
San Francisco opened the second half with an 82-yard drive that ended with a Frank Gore 5-yard touchdown run. Gore would score again midway through the fourth quarter on a 9-yard run to give the 49ers the lead.
The Falcons had one last drive to take the lead back and potentially win the game. Starting at their own 20-yard line, Ryan was able to get Falcons to the 49ers 10-yard line. However, Ryan could not complete a 5-yard pass to Roddy White on fourth-and-four and the 49ers took over on downs with 1:09 left in the fourth.
“I felt like we had the opportunity,” Smith said talking about the Falcons potential game-winning drive. “We just did not make the plays when the opportunity arose.”
The Falcons had a chance to pull away from the 49ers in the third quarter and would not have to have any late-game heroics. Early in the third, the Falcons were at the 49ers 47-yard line leading by three, but Ryan threw an interception to Chris Culliver to end the drive.
That led to zero points for the 49ers because David Akers missed a 38-yard field goal. When the Falcons got the ball back late in the third quarter, they drove to the 49ers 28-yard line. But on a second-and-nine play, Ryan fumbled the snap from Todd McClure which was recovered by Aldon Smith.
“I don’t know what happened,” McClure said. “We’ll have to look at it.”
The Falcons end their season with a 14-4 mark. There will be a lot of questions that will have to be answered, including who will be the starting tight end next season because Gonzalez made it clear that he played in his final NFL game on Sunday.
“It’s emotional,” Gonzalez said. “All good things come to an end. All season long I said this will probably be my last one, but what an unbelievable ride.”
With players like Ryan, Jones, Roddy White and Jacquizz Rodgers on offense, and players like Sean Weatherspoon, Asante Samuel and Akeem Dent on defense, the Falcons have a nucleus that will keep them a contender for the next few years. But the loss on Sunday will be a tough one to swallow for long time.
“It’s tough,” McClure said. “These chances don’t always come around. I’m proud of the guys I played with. That was a good football team we played today, and we just didn’t get it done.”