By Jerrell Richardson
The playoffs are just as much about momentum as anything else. After steam rolling the Packers, the 49ers enter the NFC Championship game with momentum squarely at their backs. If they want to pass their final NFC test, it will come down to staying grounded, dealing with the crowd noise, and shutting down the Falcons receiving core. The task of containing the Atlanta aerial attack will be the most difficult, and will take an entire defensive effort. If San Francisco can limit the damage done through the air, it will almost ensure a victory. But they must go into the game with the right mindset, and also deal with the Georgia Dome that will be rocking come kickoff. None of the keys to the 49ers winning will be easy, but all are more than possible, two are to be expected, and all of them are nothing new.
The San Francisco secondary is no stranger to shutting down passing attacks. This season, they have faced teams with an elite receiver, beating the Bears and Brandon Marshall, the Lions and Calvin Johnson and the Cardinals and Larry Fitzgerald on the way to the NFC West Crown. The schedule also included the Saints and Packers, who don’t have a top five receiver like the Bears, Lions and Cardinals, but who, with deep receiving cores, present a much different nightmare. Against the Falcons, the 49ers will be facing a team with Roddy White and Julio Jones, two receivers that are in the argument as elite. Add to the mix the greatest tight end in the history of the NFL, Tony Gonzalez, and the 49er defenders will have their hands full. Based on the team’s track record and recent success against Green Bay, the 49er defense is not only capable or controlling the Falcon receivers, but will also have the confidence to do so.
Don’t believe the hype
The entire team must not be too confident going into this game. However, they played one of their best games of the season, beating a very good Green Bay team that many felt was the class of the NFC. With them out the way, some are calling the 49ers the favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. Add to that the NFL record performance by Colin Kaepernick a week ago, and San Francisco has to be careful not to believe the headlines and hype that is surrounding them. There is a fine line between being confident and being cocky. If the team goes into the game thinking that it’s theirs for the taking, they will be in for a rude awakening. After all, Atlanta is the No. 1 seed and playing at home; after all, they earned it. By ensuring that the playoffs must go through Atlanta, the 12th man cant and won’t be ignored.
The Georgia Dome fans will be in a frenzy and will do everything in their power to make it impossible for the 49er offense to communicate. The ability to handle the crowd noise and avoid costly penalties will be the last key to victory. Out of all the keys to the game, this is the one that the team should be the least concerned about, but must also make sure not to ignore. By playing in Seattle and New Orleans this season, without a doubt the two loudest stadiums in the NFL, the offense will be ready for whatever the Georgia Dome can throw at them. Like the secondary, the team has to like its chances of handling the Dome crowd, as they have not only played in a similar venue, but have also had success where it was assumed that the crowd noise would wreak havoc with the offense’s ability to function.
Practice makes perfect
Everything that San Francisco needs to do in order to win on Sunday they have done already. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect, and they have prepared for this match up all year. The team has remained grounded and humble all year, despite being called the best team in the NFC more than once this season, and have gone on the road and won in hostile environments against quality opponents several times. They have had success in containing an opponents’ passing attack, and only need to do what they have been doing to get them to this point if they want to be in a position to move on to the Super Bowl. Confidence is a good thing, and the 49ers could not have any more as they head into this game. Only they know how they will come out and play, but expect the team to realize how close they are to their goal, and after falling short last year, they will not leave anything to chance this time around. It would not be surprising to see them play this game with more intensity than they showed against the Packers, and make sure it’s Atlanta who needs to match their intensity to keep the game competitive and not the other way around.
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Jerrell Richardson is a Bay Area native who due to a college career at San Diego State University has grown an appreciation for all things sports related in California. His heart will always remain in San Francisco though where he currently resides and covers everything from the San Francisco 49ers and Giants to the San Jose Sharks and California Bears Baseball team. His work can be found on Examiner.com.