The Super Bowl matchup has been set and it is probably the Super Bowl matchup that would have generatedd the most headlines. The Stack is here today to breakdown the AFC and NFC championship game with a small lookahead to Super Bowl XLVII between the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens, but we have two weeks to talk about it so we won't go overboard on day one. Plus some other thoughts as well so let's get right to it and see what made "the stack" for today, Monday, January 21:
49ers 28 Falcons 24
The Atlanta Falcons came out like gangbusters in the NFC championship. Matt Ryan played out of his mind and he and Julio Jones were clearly on the same page. Jones had 100 yards receiving in the first quarter and had two touchdowns early into the second quarter. The Falcons had a 17-0 lead! Where was the 49ers team that thumped Green Bay so handidly last week?
Apparently, they just needed some time to wake up. On three straight possessions (last two in the first half and first in the second half), the 49ers scored touchdowns and Atlanta's defense really had issues stopping them. They were letting Vernon Davis run loose and get wide open all over the field, and Davis hadn't done much of anything since Colin Kaepernick took over as quarterback. Fortunately for the Falcons though, a touchdown to end the first half gave them a 24-14 halftime lead.
Just as in the divisional game against the Seahawks, no Atlanta lead was safe. After the 49ers made it 24-21, Matt Ryan made two costly mistakes, one on a pick in which it looked a little like his wide receiver slipped, but the other one was inexcusable. Ryan fumbled the snap looking up to see what the defense was giving him and it killed a drive for Atlanta that had them in 49er territory and had momentum going their way. A field goal at the minimum would have been huge because that would have given the Falcons a six point lead and David Akers was looking too confident having missed a field goal earlier.
The 49ers turned it right back over in the redzone when Michael Crabtree was stripped, but Atlanta was forced to go three and out and when they did, the 49ers made them pay with a Frank Gore touchdown.
Atlanta marched right back down the field, but failed to convert a fourth down in the redzone although it appeared that Roddy White was being held. Alas, no such luck though they should have had a touchdown earlier in the drive had Harry Douglas not stumbled on a catch that he would have made it to the endzone easily. The Falcons just made too many mistakes when it mattered most and the 49ers were cooler under pressure and able to execute. That is why Jim Harbaugh's squad is in the Super Bowl. That is why Harbaugh has gotten the 49ers to two straight NFC championship appearances and now to their first Super Bowl since 1995. They are able to execute and boy are they dangerous. They never gave up and fought back. They showed major strength in handling the adversity of the environment, playing in front of a loud crowd in a domed stadium. Now they get to head to another dome, though this time, they will have a large number of fans cheering them on. To New Orleans they go, while the Falcons can only wonder "what if." They had a good season, but failed to hang on to leads at home in the playoffs. They are close, but in this league, close just doesn't cut it.
Ravens 28 Patriots 13
One Harbaugh coach was in. Would another one join him? The answer, yes. John Harbaugh's Ravens took it to the Patriots in the second half in route to their 28-13 win and advancing as the AFC representative in the Super Bowl.
Wind played a factor in this game. A couple of times in the first half, the Patriots could have tried a long field goal or maybe gone for it, but with the weather, they chose to play conservative. Baltimore's offense really didn't do anything in the first half except for a 90-yard drive in which they scored their only touchdown of the first half. Tom Brady really botched things up at the end of the half when he scrambled for a few yards. Rather than call a timeout, he tried to get the guys lined up and it cost them a chance to have a shot at the endzone. Instead of a possible touchdown, the Patriots only got a field goal and a 13-7 lead at half.
The Ravens made the adjustments they needed to in the second half. Joe Flacco and Anquan Boldin really started to click, especially in the fourth quarter with two touchdowns. Flacco threw three touchdowns in the game.
His counterpart Brady was less than good. Yet again, Brady really struggled in a playoff game. He threw two costly interceptions in the fourth quarter and had balls frequently tipped. Wes Welker had a critical drop as well in the second half that would have given the Patriots a first down and kept the drive alive. The Patriots really unraveled in the second half, something we're not used to seeing from a Bill Belichick coached team. There was talk this week about Flacco perhaps being the better quarterback in the playoffs recently than Brady. That definitely has some validity to it now. And Baltimore keeps Ray Lewis' career going for two more weeks and one final game. They hope to send him out as a champion. For Patriots fans, they might not want to put up any billboards in the near future.
Intial Super Bowl thoughts
So we have the San Francisco 49ers against the Baltimore Ravens. The 49ers will be making their sixth Super Bowl appearance (they've won all five previous trips) while the Ravens will be making their second Super Bowl appearance (they won their only other trip). Something clearly will have to give there. The obvious major storyline is that it will be brother versus brother coaching against one another in the Super Bowl, Jim Harbaugh with the 49ers, John Harbaugh with the Ravens. Poor Jack and Jackie Harbaugh. This is going to be tough for them. It's going to be tough for America too having to listen to this for two weeks about the brothers coaching against one another. I'm already sick of it. Yes, it is a Super Bowl first, but this will turn into more of the Harbaugh Bowl, then it will be the Super Bowl between the 49ers and Ravens. Not looking forward to it. Then of course you have Ray Lewis wanting to go out and retire a winner. Joe Flacco wants to establish himself as an elite quarterback. The 49ers offense. Yes, there are plenty of storylines and either later this week or at the beginning of next week, we'll take a look at one storyline per day leading up to the Super Bowl, which is still two weeks away.
Kings have been sold
Seattle may just be getting an NBA franchise back once again, even though, it's not a reall good one. The Maloof brothers, owners of the Sacramento Kings, have reportedly worked out a deal to sell the Kings to a Seattle group for only $525 million. I say "only" in jest. That is a ton of money! Half a billion dollars for the Kings?! Really? I mean, I know it's an NBA franchise, but they're not that good. Are they worth that much? I guess if it means the NBA is returning to Seattle than, for Seattle fans, the price isn't too much. The city of Sacramento was planning on putting together a counter-offer, but we'll have to see if they get a chance to with the deal in place. One way or another, Sacramento's loss is Seattle's gain, even if it's the Kings.
NHL drops the puck on the regular season
In case you missed the NHL preview from Friday, here you go. The shortened 48-game season means we are going to see a full sprint to the playoffs. The ratings were very good Saturday for the opener on NBC, something that was perhaps a little unexpected given the number of people who said during the lockout that they wouldn't come back. They did come back and in some very strong numbers.
It's going to be very difficult to determine who is in trouble after a couple of games and who appears to be headed in the right direction, but the New York Rangers are 0-2-0. Weren't they supposed to be flying high with the additions of Rick Nash? That impact on offense hasn't been felt yet. They and the Philadelphia Flyers each of two losses. Ouch!
The Minnesota Wild are off to a 2-0 start and Zach Parise definitely has made his presense felt. Two assists in the team's 4-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche Saturday night and then scored the game's only goal in 1-0 win over the Dallas Stars Sunday.
And how about some ageless wonders? 42-year old Teemu Selanneb had two goals and two assists in the Anaheim Ducks' 7-3 win over the Vancouver Canucks Saturday night and 40-year old Jaromir Jagr also had two goals and two assists Saturday night against the Phoenix Coyotes. Not a bad way to start the year for these two legends. The season is going to be fun!
Couple other notes
Baseball lost two legends over the weekend with the passing of Baltimore Orioles hall-of-fame manager Earl Weaver at the age of 82 and hall-of-fame player Stan Musial of the St. Louis Cardinals at the age of 92. Both definitely left an impact and legacy on the game...Oregon will promote offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich to head coach replacing Chip Kelly who took the head coaching position with the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles. We'll have to wait and see if Helfrich will continue to get the recruits that Kelly brought to Eugene. If the offense stays intact, he certainly will have success...And Manti Te'o's story continues to garner more attention. He'll have an interview with Katie Couric Thursday. This story just continues to get more and more strange...And with today being Martin Luther King Jr. Day, take a moment to stop and reflect on what this man did for our country. What a remarkable man!
Coming up Tuesday: Top sports news from Monday