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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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Keenan Questions?: 5 observations from Day 3 of Ravens training camp

Keenan Questions?: 5 observations from Day 3 of Ravens training camp

OWINGS MILLS – Five observations from Day 3 of Ravens training camp on Saturday, the first practice with players wearing pads:

1. Running back Terrance West looks slimmer, quicker, and impressive both running and pass catching.

West had another strong day of practice, and got plenty of reps with both Kenneth Dixon (knee) and Lorenzo Taliaferro (foot) still out. Justin Forsett, Buck Allen, and Dixon are considered locks to make the 53-man roster. But West, a former Towson star and Baltimore product, could finally be realizing his potential after disappointing stops with the Browns and Titans. West could force the Ravens to keep four running backs, in addition to fullback Kyle Juszczyk.

2. Keenan Reynolds needs to step up his performance at wide receiver.

A host of wide receivers are performing better than Reynolds, who is trying to transition from Navy quarterback to NFL wide receiver. Reynolds had a couple of drops the first three days of practice, and has been unable to get open consistently. Meanwhile, wide receiver Chris Matthews had another strong day, as did Michael Campanaro. Reynolds can help the Ravens as a returner, but they have other players who can fill that role. For Reynolds to secure a roster spot, he needs to show he can help the Ravens as a receiver. Otherwise, the Ravens will face a difficult decision regarding Reynolds, a local fan favorite.

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3. The way Kamalei Correa and Zach Orr are performing, the Ravens may not need to sign a veteran inside linebacker.

Correa had a sparkling one-handed interception Saturday, showing his hands and athleticism. Orr has been reading plays quickly and keeping himself around the football. Even if Correa wins the job at inside linebacker next to C. J. Mosley, there could be reps for Orr as well, giving the Ravens a promising young combo.

4. Saturday was not a crisp day for the offense.

The defense was the better unit, as the offense looked sloppy at times. There were a couple of bad snaps out of the shotgun from center Jeremy Zuttah, and a few false starts from the offensive line. There is plenty of time for cleanup before Week 1, but it’s not what the coaches want to see.

5. QB Joe Flacco and TE Dennis Pitta continued to look good.

Saturday made three straight days of practice for Flacco with no noticeable limping or discomfort. Flacco may be wearing a red jersey, but there have been no red flags regarding his surgically-repaired knee. Meanwhile, Pitta took a solid hit from Orr while attempting to make a catch, but Pitta jumped right to his feet. This was another good day for Pitta in his comeback from his second major hip injury.

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DT Jernigan leaves practice early, WR Moore does not practice

DT Jernigan leaves practice early, WR Moore does not practice

OWINGS MILLS – Ravens defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan left Saturday’s practice early, while rookie wide receiver Chris Moore did not practice.  Coach John Harbaugh did not meet with the media after practice, and no reason was immediately given for either absence. ESPN reported that Jernigan suffered a minor rib area strain that was not considered serious.

Cornerback Jerraud Powers took the field for this first training camp practice, after finally passing the conditioning test. Powers was the lone player remaining who had not passed the test.

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In addition to the five players on the PUP list, tight end Crockett Gillmore (hamstring) and running back Kenneth Dixon (knee) did not practice.

In a roster move, the Ravens signed punter Michael Palardy to fill their open roster spot. Sam Koch, a Pro Bowl selection in 2015, is firmly entrenched as the Ravens’ punter. However, Palardy can take practice reps while the Ravens work their punt returners, reducing some of the strain on Koch’s leg.

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Why Yanda knows offensive success hinges on ability to protect Flacco

Why Yanda knows offensive success hinges on ability to protect Flacco

OWINGS MILLS - One of Marshal Yanda’s top priorities is to make sure the offensive line does its best to keep Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco healthy, unlike 2015, when Flacco suffered a season-ending knee injury. Having made five straight Pro Bowls as a right guard, Yanda is beginning his 10th NFL season, and his ninth season with Flacco as his quarterback. Yanda knows that much of the Ravens’ offensive success depends on Flacco staying healthy.

“We haven’t really talked about it specifically,” Yanda said. “But obviously, you know as an offensive line, we talk about it, and you coach it. You’re going to keep your guys as far away from the quarterback as possible. Obviously, there is probably more emphasis this year with the knee.”

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When Flacco sees game action for the first time this season, Yanda doesn’t expect his quarterback to play tentatively due to his knee.

“He’s going to have to make his read,” Yanda said. “We have certain plays where he is going to be on the move, no matter what. We know about it: it is conscious in my mind; it is conscious in the offensive line’s mind and his mind, too. I feel like he just has to play through that. I had a knee (injury) once before, and he just has to get reps and get comfortable with the way it is feeling now. It will always feel a little different. That is just normal. It will continue to get normal as he keeps playing.”