Things I think I think, maybe even know, as we crown NFL conference championships and head for Super Bowl XLVII:
■ We definitely know this will be the first Super Bowl pitting brothers who both were born in Toledo. It will be an all-Harbaugh affair of head coaches in New Orleans on Feb. 3.
Jim Harbaugh of the San Francisco 49ers did his part with a 28-24 win in the NFC title game at Atlanta, then brother John — the elder by 15 months — took the AFC crown when his Baltimore Ravens ambushed the Patriots 28-13 in New England.
Both were born in Toledo while their father Jack, a one-time Bowling Green State University player, was starting his own coaching career as an assistant at Perrysburg High School.
The Harbaugh brothers have faced off once before, on Thanksgiving night, 2011, when John’s Ravens took a 16-6 decision in Baltimore.
■ The 49ers expected Atlanta to take Colin Kaepernick’s running game out of the equation after he went for a quarterback-record 181 yards against Green Bay a week earlier. This time, he was limited to two carries for 21 yards.
But that didn’t mean San Francisco wasn’t going to be a running team on Sunday. Not with Frank Gore in the backfield. He carried 21 times for 90 yards and the game-winning touchdown on a nine-yard run midway through the fourth quarter in a 28-24 victory at Atlanta.
Give the Niners credit. They are a tough-minded bunch and didn’t forget their identity after falling into a 17-0 hole early in the second quarter, or after the Falcons scored late in the first half for a 24-14 edge. San Francisco still pounded it 29 times for 149 yards, and its vaunted defense pitched a second-half shutout.
■ Analyzing the Ravens’ win at New England is pretty easy. Joe Flacco simply outplayed Tom Brady.
The Patriots’ star did throw for 80 more yards, 320-240, but his two interceptions were among three New England turnovers while being blanked in the second half.
Flacco, meanwhile, threw for three touchdowns to big receivers Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta and had no picks. Flacco was content to get yardage underneath coverage as the Pats’ defense seemed more concerned with his threat to go deep.
The statistic that most indicts Brady’s outing was six trips inside the Baltimore 25 with just a lone touchdown.
■ It looked like Matt Ryan was going to take his spot among the game’s top quarterbacks. One play into the second quarter he was 11-of-14 for 182 yards and two touchdowns, and the rout appeared to be on. He added a great two-minute drive just before halftime for 271 passing yards at the break. In the second half, he was picked off, fumbled a snap, and couldn’t convert a late drive deep in San Francisco territory with the game on the line in the waning minutes. Like the Pats, the Falcons, who also blew a big lead a week earlier against Seattle, were held scoreless in the second half.
■ Ray Lewis, arguably the most dominant inside linebacker of his era, will play one more game, the Super Bowl, for Baltimore before retiring. But we may have said good-bye to Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez, the best pass-catching tight end in NFL history, who walked off the floor of the Georgia Dome in tears for the second straight week. This time, they were not tears of joy.
Gonzalez made it pretty clear that a first-ever trip to the Super Bowl would end his career after 16 years. We’ll have to wait and see if he returns, but it’s doubtful. If this was his last rodeo, he went out with eight receptions for 78 yards and a touchdown for the Falcons.
“I didn’t want to take it off,” he said, referring to his jersey, long after the game. “It’s probably the last time. All things come to an end.”
Not yet for Lewis, who had a game-high 14 tackles in the AFC title game.
■ Speedy tight end Vernon Davis is the best of the 49ers’ receivers, but Randy Moss is still very capable. His long stride allows him to get separation on intermediate routes against wary safeties because he’s still a threat to go deep. He had catches of 21 and 17 yards on San Francisco’s scoring drive that opened the second half.
■ Quick prediction: The 49ers have played in five previous Super Bowls and have never lost. Why start now? It will be two teams with suffocating defenses and nice run-pass blends on offense. We’ll go with San Francisco 27, Baltimore 24.
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.
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