For the second consecutive week, the Atlanta Falcons opened up a big lead only to squander it to their opponent.
The Falcons (14-4) lost 28-24 to the San Francisco 49ers (13-4-1) and failed to secure a Super Bowl berth, which would’ve been the second in franchise history.
Atlanta opened up a 17-0 lead over San Francisco, only to see it dissipate in the second half. It was reminiscent of last week’s game versus the Seattle Seahawks in which the Falcons opened a 20-0 halftime lead only to go down 28-27 in the fourth quarter.
The difference is the Falcons were able to drive down for the game-winning score against the Seahawks; this time, they were unable to pull out the victory.
More disturbing is the fact the Falcons put up 24 points in the first half, only to score zero in the second half. On the other hand, the 49ers scored 14 in each half.
The Falcons looked as if they were going to run away with the game early. Julio Jones had a monster day as he had 11 receptions for 186 yards and two touchdowns, breaking the franchise record for receiving yards in a postseason game.
However, after stopping the 49ers’ first two possessions, the Falcons defense began to falter. Although they held Colin Kaepernick’s running in check, he was efficient. The quarterback completed 16 of 21 passes for 233 yards, one touchdown, and no turnovers.
After playing great run defense against Marshawn Lynch last week, the Falcons were unable to do the same this week. Frank Gore carried the ball 21 times for 90 yards and two touchdowns. LaMichael James also got in on the action as he had five carries for 34 yards and a score.
In another repeat from last week, the Falcons failed to cover the tight end. After surrendering 142 yards and one touchdown on eight catches to Seahawks tight end Zach Miller in the divisional round, the Falcons allowed 49ers tight end Vernon Davis to catch five passes for 106 yards and a touchdown.
And in another repeat from last week, the Falcons were unable to generate a pass rush. Defensive end John Abraham was largely ineffective, and it was clear he wasn’t fully recovered from his ankle injury.
Matt Ryan was surgical for much of the game. He completed 30 of 42 passes for 396 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception. He also had a lost fumble after he bobbled the snap.
Although neither of Ryan’s turnovers led to points for the 49ers, they kept points off the board for the Falcons. Prior to both turnovers, the Falcons were moving the ball rather easily on the 49ers vaunted defense.
Atlanta turned the ball over on downs after failing to convert on fourth down at the 49ers’ 10-yard line with a little over a minute left in the game. The Falcons got the ball back with six ticks left at their own 41-yard line, but they couldn’t work their late-game magic.
The Falcons’ inability to keep a lead almost cost them last week. This time, with a Super Bowl appearance on the line, it did cost them.
And with tight end Tony Gonzalez likely retiring, there’ll be no riding off into the sunset for the Hall of Famer.