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49ers are 1 win from reaching Super Bowl at last

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49ers are 1 win from reaching Super Bowl at last

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) Running back Frank Gore arrived for work Monday ready to push through another tough week of game preparation and do everything he can to keep his team playing right into February.

The San Francisco 49ers are one win from the place they've planned to be all along: the Super Bowl.

``Mainly, we're going to plow ahead,'' coach Jim Harbaugh said Monday. ``We're going to continue our work ethic and humility.''

The NFC West champion and No. 2-seeded Niners (12-4-1) will hit the road Friday for Atlanta to face the top-seeded Falcons (14-3) in the NFC title game Sunday.

Any topics that strayed from the job at hand, Harbaugh wanted no part of such chatter - whether talk of his big brother John's Baltimore Ravens' success or former 49ers coach and current Falcons defensive coordinator, Mike Nolan.

The Niners have been to New Orleans once already back in November and won in the Superdome, and they're eager to schedule another trip to the Big Easy for the biggest game yet on Feb. 3.

``We all know it's hard to get back to this point, but we did it,'' Gore said. ``We also know how that feeling was when we didn't get the job done last year. We'll try our best to not get that feeling again.''

This group has been working for the opportunity to reach another championship Sunday since the moment San Francisco's season ended last January with a mistake-filled 20-17 overtime loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants.

Now, it's strong-armed, playmaking Colin Kaepernick under center with a chance to send his team to the franchise's first Super Bowl since after the 1994 season.

Kaepernick dazzled for the sellout home crowd at Candlestick Park in a record-setting playoff debut as San Francisco eliminated the Green Bay Packers with a 45-31 victory Saturday night. The tattooed, second-year pro rushed for a quarterback playoff record 181 yards with a pair of touchdowns - one a 56-yarder - and threw two TD passes to Michael Crabtree.

Kaepernick, whose celebratory flexing of the biceps has become a Twitter sensation, was unfazed after an early pick six that put Green Bay ahead four plays into the game.

``The one thing, I've said this from day one about Colin, since he started playing, he's always been confident,'' center Jonathan Goodwin said. ``When you see a guy that's playing quarterback in this league that young and he's that confident, hats off to him.''

If the 49ers can win in yet another hostile road environment this weekend, they will keep alive the chance of a Harbowl - San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh against his brother, whose Ravens stunned the top-seeded Broncos at Denver and will play at New England for a Super Bowl berth.

``Haaa, haaa! Once again, huh?'' Gore said with a grin when the possibility was mentioned.

Not that anyone in the family - or on the 49ers, for that matter - is thinking too far ahead.

``Proud of them both and excited for them,'' father Jack Harbaugh said Monday. ``Understand how hard they've worked and the preparation that's gone into it.''

His simple message to both coaches: ``Get ahead, stay ahead.'' John beat Jim in their lone head-to-head at Baltimore on Thanksgiving night 2011.

A strong start will be a key for the 49ers, forced to play catch up after Sam Shields ran back the early interception by Kaepernick 52 yards for the game's first points in the divisional playoff matchup.

Atlanta suddenly has some serious momentum at home - and the 49ers know bouncing back from tough breaks is no given at this stage of the postseason with the stakes so high. The Falcons won in thrilling fashion on their home field Sunday, beating the Seattle Seahawks 30-28 on Sunday behind quarterback Matt Ryan and kicker Matt Bryant's game-winning 49-yard field goal with 8 seconds left.

``It's a big task,'' Harbaugh said. ``They had a great season, top seed. They're coming off of a game that gives them a lot of momentum. They're solid in every regard.''

The 49ers don't want to put themselves in such a position where the game is close late and Atlanta has a chance to win at the end again.

``I'd like to see us start faster and continue to do what we do,'' linebacker Patrick Willis said.

If the strong-armed, fleet-footed Kaepernick can keep this up, San Francisco should feel great about its chances of chasing a sixth championship. Fans at sold-out Candlestick Park got into that goal Saturday by waving red rally flags reading ``Quest for Six.''

Still, the 49ers have a five-game road playoff losing streak dating to a 28-3 NFC championship win at Chicago in January 1989 on the way to the organization's third Lombardi Trophy. Harbaugh was a backup quarterback with the Bears at the time.

``I remember Jerry Rice catching a ball down the Niners sideline,'' he said. ``Cold as heck, we got whipped.''

San Francisco also is seeking its first three-game winning streak of the season.

``We're always confident,'' Gore said. ``We'll try to go down there and do it.''

Notes: Harbaugh said David Akers remains the team's kicker, while backup Billy Cundiff will stay on the roster. ... All-Pro DL Justin Smith, who returned Saturday night after missing two games with a partially torn left triceps, got through the game without any problems. ``Played well. Came out of the game as clean as possible,'' Harbaugh said. ``It looked good in practice and the feedback that we were getting from him was positive.'' ... Harbaugh had no update on LT Joe Staley's bruised right arm. X-rays Saturday were negative.

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In a draft deep at CB, taking one early could be Ravens' best move

In a draft deep at CB, taking one early could be Ravens' best move

The Ravens may need to rethink their draft strategy regarding cornerbacks. They haven’t drafted a cornerback in the first three rounds since 2011, when they took Jimmy Smith with the 27th overall pick.

Smith is still the Ravens’ best corner. However, he has been plagued by injuries in recent years, and lack of cornerback depth has become a glaring weakness for the Ravens, in a league that features many explosive wide receivers.

Related: NFL Mock Draft 1.0

According to ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr., this year’s draft is loaded with talented corners. With the 16th overall pick, the Ravens can address their need at cornerback with someone who might be talented enough to start as a rookie.

“There’s a lot of corners in this draft that are going to go in the first round,” Kiper said during a recent conference call.

Many believe Marshon Lattimore of Ohio St. will be the first cornerback off the board, and will likely be gone before the Ravens can grab him. In his first mock draft, Kiper had Lattimore going No. 6 to the Jets.

However, the list of top-rated corners that could be available for the Ravens at No. 16 includes Marlon Humphrey of Alabama, Sidney Jones of Washington, Jourdan Lewis of Michigan, Teez Tabor of Florida, Cordrea Tankersley of Clemson, and Quincy Wilson of Florida.

The Ravens grabbed a promising corner in the fourth round last year in Tavon Young, who had a strong rookie season. But the Ravens may not have the luxury of waiting to take a cornerback this spring. Instead of taking the best player available at No. 16, the Ravens will have to consider taking the best corner available.

Related: Depth at running back reduces need for Ravens to trade up in draft

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Depth at running back in draft reduces need for Ravens to trade up

Depth at running back in draft reduces need for Ravens to trade up

Should the Ravens trade up from No. 16 to get an impact running back in the draft?  Not according to ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper.

The Ravens’ need for more playmakers is obvious, and coach John Harbaugh says the offense could use another back to complement Kenneth Dixon and Terrance West.

In his first mock draft, Kiper had Leonard Fournette of LSU (No. 8, Panthers) and Dalvin Cook of Florida St. (No. 12, Browns) as the first two backs off the board, with the Ravens taking Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers with the 16th pick.

RELATED: 2017 NFL MOCK DRAFT 1.0

Kiper says the Ravens can get a quality back in the first three rounds, with this year’s draft deep at the position.

“I don’t know that trading up for a running back the grade of Fournette will be high enough to say he’s in that (Ezekiel) Elliott stratosphere,” Kiper said during a recent conference call.

“You have a lot of depth at running back too, with (Christian) McCaffrey, D’Onta Foreman from Texas, and there’s a lot of other backs in this draft that I really like, and of course the Ravens got Kenneth Dixon in the fourth round last year which was a heck of a pick for them. Matthew Dayes from N. C. State, you have Jamaal Williams at BYU, De’Angelo Henderson at Coastal Carolina is an interesting kid. I don’t think there will be a team looking to trade up for the running back this year.”

West led the Ravens with 774 yards rushing in 2016, with Dixon adding 302 yards. However, every other team in the AFC North had a back with more yards than West. Le’Veon Bell (1,268 yards) led the Steelers, Isaiah Crowell (952 yards) led the Browns, and Jeremy Hill (839 yards) led the Bengals.

While the Ravens have other pressing needs like cornerback, wide receiver, and pass rusher, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them take a running back early.

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