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49ers rally past Falcons 28-24 in NFC title game

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49ers rally past Falcons 28-24 in NFC title game

ATLANTA (AP) The loss stuck with them for a year, pushing the San Francisco 49ers in everything they did.

They didn't want to feel that way again.

Not to worry.

The 49ers are headed to the Super Bowl.

Bouncing back from a bitter loss in the 2012 NFC championship game, San Francisco cleared the hurdle it couldn't quite get over the previous season. And, boy, did the 49ers earn it, rallying from an early 17-0 deficit to beat the Atlanta Falcons 28-24 on Sunday.

``We worked so hard,'' said Frank Gore, who ran for a pair of touchdowns, including the go-ahead score with 8:23 remaining. ``We knew that we got here last year and it didn't happen. But we got back and we said to ourselves, as a team, that this time we've got to walk through the door. You really don't get opportunities like this.''

The 49ers used to get them all the time, winning five Super Bowl titles in the 1980s and `90s. Now, with a clutch quarterback (Colin Kaepernick), a budding genius of a coach (Jim Harbaugh) and a big-play defense, they're ready to start a new dynasty.

They were one win away from playing for it all last season, until a fumbled return in the NFC championship game led to the winning field goal in overtime for the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants.

When the Falcons raced to their big lead by the first play of the second quarter, San Francisco (13-4-1) appeared headed for more disappointment.

But no one lost faith, and the 49ers pulled off the biggest comeback victory ever in an NFC championship game, according to STATS.

The previous record was 13 points - Atlanta's victory over Minnesota in the 1999 title game, which sent the Falcons to what remains the only Super Bowl appearance in franchise history. The AFC championship game record is 18 points, when Indianapolis rallied past New England in 2007.

``I don't really think it's destiny or anything like that written on the walls,'' 49ers defensive tackle Justin Smith said. ``It's the team that works the hardest, prepares the hardest, and has the best players and coaching staff. You pour all that in together and it comes out pretty good at the end.''

The 49ers advanced to face Baltimore at New Orleans in two weeks, looking to join Pittsburgh as the only franchises with six Super Bowl titles. It'll be a brother-vs.-brother matchup, too; John Harbaugh coaches the Ravens.

But Jim Harbaugh wasn't concerned about a family reunion.

He was hoppin' mad when a disputed call went against the 49ers on Atlanta's potential winning drive in the closing minutes. Harbaugh leaped in the air, screamed at the officials and had to be restrained by his staff from charging the field.

But the 49ers stopped Atlanta on a fourth-down play at their own 10, as linebacker NaVorro Bowman reached in to swat the ball away from Roddy White on a pass across the middle with 1:09 remaining.

San Francisco ran off all but the final 6 seconds, not nearly enough time for Matt Ryan to pull out another improbable comeback.

The previous week, Atlanta (14-4) squandered a 20-point lead in the fourth quarter against the Seattle Seahawks, nearly becoming the first team to lose with such a daunting advantage in the final period of a playoff game. But Ryan completed two long passes in the final 30 seconds, and Matt Bryant kicked a 49-yard field goal for a 30-28 victory.

After Gore's second TD gave San Francisco its first lead of the day, the Falcons took the ensuing kickoff and used up nearly all the clock while going 70 yards. They might have reclaimed the lead if Harry Douglas had been able to stay on his feet while hauling in a 22-yard pass.

The defender slipped, leaving Douglas all alone down the sideline. But he tripped, too, doing well to make the catch without the ball hitting the turf. Harbaugh thought it did, challenging the call, but the referee ruled it a catch after looking at the replay.

That's when Harbaugh nearly lost it.

It all worked out, though.

``We rose up there at the end,'' Harbaugh said. ``It was a great finish for our defense, an exclamation point on the game.''

The Falcons ran up and down the field in the first two quarters, piling up 17 first downs and 297 yards for a 24-14 lead. Ryan played a nearly perfect half, completing 18 of 24 passes for 271 yards and three touchdowns, two of them to Julio Jones. When Tony Gonzalez hauled in a 10-yard touchdown pass with 25 seconds remaining, restoring a double-digit lead, it looked as though Atlanta had weathered the 49ers' comeback.

Actually, the Falcons were done, at least on the scoreboard.

They were held scoreless over the final two periods by the 49ers, who seized on two key mistakes by Ryan. First, after guiding the Falcons into San Francisco territory, he was picked off by Chris Culliver. Then, with Atlanta well within field-goal range at the 49ers 28, Ryan took his eye off a shotgun snap for a split-second and the ball bounced off his hands. Aldon Smith recovered for San Francisco.

``Against a good football team like that, you can't have those kinds of mistakes,'' Ryan said. ``We moved the ball really effectively all day. We just had two chances where we were in positive territory and didn't walk away with points.''

The 49ers are headed to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1995, when they won the last of their championships.

``We've come full circle,'' said Denise DeBartolo York, part of the family that has owned the 49ers since their championship days, ``and the dynasty will prevail.''

The city by the bay is rapidly becoming the new Titletown USA. The 49ers will try follow the lead of the baseball Giants, who gave San Francisco a World Series championship in October.

Kaepernick didn't get a chance to show off his touchdown celebration for the 49ers - flexing his right arm and kissing his bicep, a move that quickly became a social media sensation known as Kaepernicking.

But the second-year quarterback who runs like a track star shredded the Falcons through the air by completing 16 of 21 for 233 yards, including a 4-yard touchdown to Vernon Davis. Plus, he caused so much concern about his running ability out of the spread option that Gore and LaMichael James found plenty of huge holes.

Ryan had the best playoff game of his career, completing 30 of 42 for 396 yards. His favorite target was Jones, who hauled in scoring passes of 46 and 20 yards on the way to finishing with 11 catches for 182 yards.

But it wasn't enough to extend the career of Gonzalez, the Hall of Famer-to-be who has said all along this would likely be his final season.

He sure sounded like it was over.

``I've had such a great life,'' he said. ``I wish it would've culminated with the Super Bowl, but it didn't.''

Gore scored on runs of 5 and 9 yards, finishing with 90 yards on 21 carries. James picked up the first TD for the 49ers on a 15-yard run. Davis had five catches for 106 yards, and the 49ers overcame a fumble by Michael Crabtree just short of the goal line early in the fourth quarter, giving the Falcons a glimmer of hope.

``I take my hat off to Atlanta. They played hard. They've got a great team,'' Gore said. ``But we fought, man. We fought and we deserved it.''

And no one was thinking about last season anymore.

Notes: The Falcons rushed for only 81 yards and lost Michael Turner in the second half to an ankle injury. He gained 30 yards on eight carries. ... San Francisco K David Akers had another miss in a dismal season, clanking a 38-yard attempt off the left upright in the third quarter. ... Jones set a franchise record for receiving yards in a playoff game, topping Alfred Jenkins' mark of 155 in a 1981 loss to Dallas.

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Former Ravens RB Trent Richardson arrested on domestic violence charge

Former Ravens RB Trent Richardson arrested on domestic violence charge

Former Alabama Crimson Tide running back Trent Richardson, who was signed by the Ravens in April 2016, was arrested Thursday night in Hoover, Ala. on a domestic violence charge, according to Hoover police.

Richardson, who was drafted by the Browns with No 3 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, joined the Ravens during the 2016 offseason before being waived prior to the start of training camp in August.

According to the report, Richardson was arrested following an incident at the Hyatt Place Hotel and was charged with one count of third-degree domestic violence. 

The argument between Richardson and the women began at a nearby Walmart before the altercation turned physical. 

RELATED: RICHARDSON DISCUSSES FAMILY FREELOADING

"Officers were able to make contact with an adult male and adult female who were involved in a domestic altercation," police said in the official release.

"After interviewing both parties it was determined that the two individuals had been arguing earlier while at the Walmart on John Hawkins Parkway and that the dispute continued after they arrived back at the hotel. At some point the situation turned physical and the female sustained injuries (scratches and bruising) about her face."

Richardson's NFL career has been wrought with disappointment.  He played just 17 games for the Browns — averaging 3.6 yards per carry—  before he was traded to the Colts in 2013. His numbers declined even more, and he was released at the end of the 2014 season. He spent the 2015 offseason with the Raiders, but was released before the beginning of the Regular season.

Richardson's last appearance in a regular season NFL game took place in a December 2014 Colts' victory over the Patriots in which he ran for 11 yards on six carries.

RELATED: 2017 NFL MOCK DRAFT 3.0

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NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. predicts Ravens will select cornerback Sidney Jones

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NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. predicts Ravens will select cornerback Sidney Jones

The Ravens desperately need help at cornerback, which ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. believes they will address early.

In his second mock draft of the year, Kiper forecasts that Baltimore will selecting University of Washington corner Sidney Jones with the No. 16 overall pick. 

He reasons that the Ravens hope to get more than one cornerback out of this draft, so they'll start as soon as they get the chance. 

The 2017 draft class is exceptionally deep with cornerback talent, but Jones stands out nonetheless.

Mike Mayock of NFL Network considers Jones the top corner of a lot that also includes players like Marshon Lattimore of Ohio State and Teez Tabor of Florida. 

ESPN's Jamison Hensley makes the case for Jones thusly:

He has the experience (three-year starter), football intelligence and playmaking skills (nine interceptions and eight force fumbles in his career) to be an immediate starter. He also has traits that the Ravens love out of their prospects: strong character, aggressive and durable.

The negative trait identified by both Kiper and Hensley is Jones' size. He stands 6-feet even and weighs 180 pounds, creating potential match-up problems against large, physical receivers like A.J. Green or Mike Evans. 

Both note that he'll need to add more muscle to his frame to compete at the professional level. 

CSN draft analyst Ben Standig recently projected the Ravens to select wide receiver Josh Ross with the 16th overall pick. Click here to view the full NFL Mock Draft: 3.0

MORE RAVENS: Speedy receiver Ross could fit Ravens in first round