In 2012 the San Francisco 49ers ended their season in the NFC Title game in the most brutal of ways: thanks to two punt return fumbles by Kyle Williams, the team ended up giving away a chance to win. The rest of the story was even worse as Eli Manning and the Giants went on to win the Super Bowl over the New England Patriots (again in brutal fashion for the 2nd straight time).
This year the Niners seemed tougher and more determined than ever to make it to the games biggest stage. Around midseason they addressed one of their biggest offensive challenges – the play of Alex Smith, who while good lacked the explosive ability to make big plays down the field. By bringing in Colin Kaepernick the team now had one of the most dynamic offensive players in the game, a guy with the ability to genuinely excite people and to make incredible plays. The difference between Smith and Kaepernick is astounding – Smith always seemed concerned with making a bad play under the new Niners regime and thus rarely threw long; Kaepernick seems to revel in it and uses his cannon arm to terrify defenses.
Against Atlanta, the Niners again started slow and watched the Falcons grab another big first half lead. They never panicked, just calmly got back into the game and watched their defense step it up and contain the Falcons recievers for the remainder of the contest. Lost in the shuffle and victory celebration is the fact that the Falcons offense was really, really bad in the second half. They scored just a field goal and gave up a huge lead. Not really what you need if you expect to make it all the way.
Even with the game on the line, the 49ers just played their game and they played it extremely well. Kaepernick did not have to give them outrageous offensive numbers, he just had to lead them down the field and into the end zone four times…and he did. Once again, for the third consecutive year the Falcons end up with nothing to show for a first or second place finish. The Niners however, look like they are ready to go and ready to play anyone. With Kaepernick they fear no one, and inspire quite a lot of dread in other teams.
Now they get to show their stuff on Super Bowl Sunday. The last time the team made such a splash in the playoffs? 1994 when they absolutely smoked the Chargers in the big game. Their QB at the time was a young man named Steve Young who was changing the game with his running and throwing abilities; the parallels to this year are evident.
Hopefully the result will also be the same.