Sunday, May 27, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

San Francisco 49ers earn Super Bowl trip, top Atlanta Falcons

ATLANTA — In the farthest corner of the 49ers' rollicking locker room, tight end Vernon Davis — wearing a sweat-soaked undershirt and game pants, eye black smeared all over his face — spoke of heavy stuff like willpower and destiny.

"We just came into this game with the will to win," said an emotional Davis, the heart and soul of his team. Later, he added winning "wasn't really a surprise because, when I look at this team, this was a team that was destined to win."

Sure, those elements helped the 49ers reach the Super Bowl for the first time since the 1994 season.

But to chalk up San Francisco's thrilling 28-24 NFC Championship Game victory on Sunday over the Falcons to that alone would be to sell it short.

This was a game about staying the course, in spite of an early 17-0 deficit. It was a testament to focus amid the deafening noise in the Georgia Dome. But mostly, it was a textbook display of sticking with what worked before: stifling defense, a power running game and efficient passing.

The read option runs that let quarterback Colin Kaepernick gallop past the Packers a week before were almost nonexistent. Kaepernick ran one only such play Sunday, instead sitting in the pocket threading accurate passes to receivers — chiefly Davis (five catches, 106 yards).

The ingredients might have been similar, but the way this game played out could not have been more different than the division victory over Green Bay that sent the 49ers to Atlanta.

The early deficit was jarring, as the Falcons came out with a barrage that included a 46-yard Matt Ryan-to-Julio Jones touchdown on the game's first possession. Six seconds into the second quarter, those two hooked up for another score and a 17-0 lead.

Yet there was surprising calm on the 49ers' sideline.

"We said, 'Let's go,' " linebacker Aldon Smith said. "Nobody was yelling. Nobody was doubting anybody."

"Going out on the field frantic isn't going to help you score points," Kaepernick said.

The eventual 24-14 halftime deficit hardly seemed insurmountable for a team that expected to be here.

"We worked too hard to put ourselves back in this position," cornerback Carlos Rogers said, referencing the 49ers' loss to the Giants for last season's NFC title. "We knew it wasn't going to be easy. They're a hell of a team."

The composure was shown not only by players, but from the coaching staff. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman didn't tear up his game plan, sticking with the running game.

"We didn't have to get outside of ourselves," he said.

The balance let Kaepernick thrive. With good protection, he calmly delivered the ball, completing 16-of-21 passes for 233 yards. As for running, Kaepernick let Frank Gore (21 carries, 90 yards) do the heavy lifting one week after rushing for 181 yards.

Still, the Falcons had to be terribly worried about the potential for Kaepernick tucking and running around the perimeter.

"I think they were keeping their eye on him and we were getting behind their linebackers and he was making perfect throws," tight end Delanie Walker said. "I think that hurt them. But you never know what Kaep is going to do."

Meanwhile, a 49ers defense that gave up 297 yards in the first half stiffened to pitch a shutout the rest of the way. The defense made the game's most critical play, with linebacker NaVorro Bowman breaking up a fourth-down pass to Roddy White at the 49ers' 10-yard line with 1:10 remaining.

Bowman, who perhaps got away with holding on the play, made what defensive tackle Justin Smith called "a season-saving play."

Now, the 49ers take their will to win and destiny to New Orleans. That, plus the kind of football they played Sunday, might be enough to win the franchise's sixth Super Bowl.

Comments
Former Bucs QB Josh Freeman says he’s retiring from football

Former Bucs QB Josh Freeman says he’s retiring from football

Former Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman, who was trying to resurrect his career with the CFL's Montreal Alouettes, said Saturday that he is retiring from football.Freeman, 30, was a first-round draft pick of the Bucs in 2009 and was their starting ...
Published: 05/26/18
The Bucs’ influence inside the Vegas Golden Knights’ runaway success

The Bucs’ influence inside the Vegas Golden Knights’ runaway success

The Stanley Cup final begins Monday in the unlikeliest of places: a city new to major pro sports and suddenly the center of the hockey world, Las Vegas, whose Golden Knights could become the first first-year expansion team to win a championship.And t...
Published: 05/25/18
Did the NFL really need a national anthem policy?

Did the NFL really need a national anthem policy?

Before we even get going, let me be clear about something.This is not a column making an argument about whether or not NFL players should be able to kneel in protest during the national anthem.That topic has been debated repeatedly, loudly and passio...
Published: 05/25/18
Bucs’ Gerald McCoy welcomes Vita Vea to his rookie school

Bucs’ Gerald McCoy welcomes Vita Vea to his rookie school

TAMPA — Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy has always been generous with his time, staying after practice to work with younger players. That should be a real added benefit for first-round pick Vita Vea.RELATED: More Bucs coverage"That's my M.O.'' Mc...
Published: 05/25/18
The Bucs’ Mike Evans is among the NFL’s best receivers, except when it came to this

The Bucs’ Mike Evans is among the NFL’s best receivers, except when it came to this

TAMPA — Only three players in NFL history have posted 1,000-yard receiving seasons in each of his first four years seasons: Randy Moss, A.J. Green and the Bucs' Mike Evans.RELATED: More Bucs coverageBut by Evans' standards, 2017 was "proba...
Published: 05/25/18
Why interceptions are up at One Buc Place

Why interceptions are up at One Buc Place

TAMPA — If the first few days of OTAs are any indication, the Bucs secondary could be much improved.Completions may be down, interceptions should be up.RELATED: More Bucs coverage"A lot of interceptions,'' coach Dirk Koetter said Thursday' afte...
Published: 05/25/18
Bucs’ Ali Marpet: NFL flip-flopping on anthem policy ‘a little bit odd’

Bucs’ Ali Marpet: NFL flip-flopping on anthem policy ‘a little bit odd’

TAMPA — This much is clear: The National Football League is focused on getting rid of kneeling players.That was the league's announcement Wednesday in requiring players to stand during the national anthem before games or possibly have their tea...
Published: 05/24/18
Bucs sign defensive tackle Vita Vea, cornerback Carlton Davis to four-year deals

Bucs sign defensive tackle Vita Vea, cornerback Carlton Davis to four-year deals

Two high draft picks that could earn starting jobs signed four year contracts with the Bucs Thursday.The team signed Washington defensive tackle Vita Vea, the team's first-round pick.Terms of the deal were not released, but Vea  is expected to r...
Published: 05/24/18
Bucs union rep Ali Marpet questions legality of the NFL’s new anthem policy

Bucs union rep Ali Marpet questions legality of the NFL’s new anthem policy

Bucs offensive lineman Ali Marpet questioned the legality of the NFL's new  policy that requires players to stand for the national anthem if they are on the field during the performance but gives them the option to remain in the locker room if t...
Published: 05/24/18
Licht promotes three in Bucs’ scouting department

Licht promotes three in Bucs’ scouting department

The dust has settled from another NFL draft, and Bucs general manager Jason Licht has made three promotions in his scouting department as a new year of player evaluation begins.Byron Kiefer, entering his 14th season with the Bucs and fourth as a nati...
Published: 05/24/18