ATLANTA — Everything was going wrong for the San Francisco 49ers and their proud defense.
Julio Jones and the Atlanta Falcons gouged them so often in the early stages of the NFC title game that the 49ers seemed too stunned to respond.
“It was us, it wasn’t them at all,” San Francisco linebacker NaVorro Bowman said. “We weren’t communicating, playing the way we want to play. We regrouped in the second half and played our game.”
They certainly did.
Bowman, Patrick Willis and Ahmad Brooks combined to stop the Falcons 10 yards short of the end zone in the closing minutes of a 28-24 victory Sunday that sent San Francisco to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1995.
After Bowman essentially sealed the game by breaking up a fourth-down pass from Matt Ryan to Roddy White with 1:09 remaining, the Falcons had time to run just one more desperate play before the buzzer sounded.
It was yet another big play for a defense that clamped down on Ryan and Atlanta’s high-powered passing attack over the final 30 minutes.
“They’ve got some horses, man,” San Francisco defensive tackle Justin Smith said. “They made it tough on us. We made some adjustments at half, played a little bit better, but our offense picked up a lot of slack today, kept us rolling, kept us in it and we were able to win it.”
The Falcons got off to a dominant start as Ryan and Julio Jones combined for a pair of touchdowns that helped make it 17-0 early in the second quarter and 24-14 at halftime.
But midway through the third, cornerback Chris Culliver intercepted a pass at the San Francisco 38 that allowed the defense to build confidence.
Though the Niners’ offense failed to score off the turnover when David Akers missed a 38-yard field goal attempt, defensive end Aldon Smith followed on the next defensive series by recovering Ryan’s fumble on a botched shotgun snap.