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Balanced 49ers offense aims to lead Super Bowl win

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Balanced 49ers offense aims to lead Super Bowl win

NEW ORLEANS (AP) Colin Kaepernick is a mystery man under center, a strong-armed passer one moment and a 25-year-old kid who can run right out of the pocket for a huge gain the next.

Baltimore must brace for the unexpected on every snap in Sunday's Super Bowl.

There's flashy Michael Crabtree on the edges and Vernon Davis down the middle, Frank Gore and LaMichael James clogging things up in the running game.

The creative, switch-it-up San Francisco offense sure keeps opposing defenses guessing. The 49ers hope to do it again at the Superdome, when the Ravens will face an array of looks from Jim Harbaugh's team.

``With Kaepernick, it's like pick your poison,'' Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice said. ``Are you going to try to shut down that pistol and not let him get outside, where you've got Frank Gore and LaMichael James going downhill? Then, Crabtree and Vernon Davis on the outside. I think the secondary of Baltimore, right there in the middle, is where they're going to get exposed. ... If you double team Crabtree, it's going to be Vernon Davis. If you get Crabtree one on one - for some reason he's playing with a swagger right now that's unbelievable.''

Kaepernick has shown two drastically different styles in two postseason games. What he'll show the Ravens is anybody's guess.

In a 45-31 rout of the Packers in the divisional round, Kaepernick ran for a quarterback playoff record 181 yards and two touchdowns and also threw for 263 yards with two TD passes to Michael Crabtree.

A week later at Atlanta, everything looked different in a 28-24 win that sent San Francisco to its first Super Bowl in 18 years.

Kaepernick only ran the ball twice, instead handing off to his go-to guy, Gore, and the Niners rallied from a 17-0 deficit for the biggest comeback in an NFC championship game.

``He's very good, he's very accurate,'' Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees said of Kaepernick. ``They've done a great job with putting him into a system and building a system to make him successful, but to be able to throw the ball deep you have to have guys that can run deep. Crabtree and Vernon Davis and Randy Moss can run deep.''

And Gore can grind out yards.

Gore, coming off his franchise-record sixth 1,000-yard rushing season, ran for second-half touchdowns of 5 and 9 yards in the comeback in his first career postseason performance with two TDs against the Falcons. He has three touchdowns and 209 yards rushing during this postseason run.

A balanced offense, indeed.

``There's a lot,'' Crabtree said. ``I could go on talking about the talent that we have around here. On the tight ends, running backs, you have to remember we have three people injured that played a major part in our offense. But I would say that with all of these weapons, I don't think that you can go wrong.''

After a quiet year in which he faced double-teams and constant attention by defenses, Davis broke out at Atlanta with five catches for 106 yards with a 4-yard TD grab.

``He does it all. He's a beast,'' Ravens safety Ed Reed said. ``He's one of those guys that you all say has it. He catches touchdowns, he's blocking. I'm surprised they haven't ran him yet, handing him the ball, but he's somebody you really have to know where he is at all times and be mindful of what he's doing, because they give him the ball, for one. You have to give him the ball. Why wouldn't you? But whoever is covering him, whether it's me, (safety) Bernard (Pollard), or anybody on our team covering him, you have to be really mindful of where he's at.''

Crabtree had six catches against the Falcons and Randy Moss - who this week proclaimed himself ``the greatest receiver ever to play this game'' only to have Hall of Famer Jerry Rice beg to differ - made three.

San Francisco's offensive line will have to do a better job than in a 16-6 loss at Baltimore on Thanksgiving night 2011, when the unit allowed the Ravens to match a franchise record with nine sacks.

``We've seen enough film to kind of know what to expect, unless they come up with something different,'' center Jonathan Goodwin said. ``But definitely a talented group up front, and that's what makes them a good defense. They try to do some things to confuse you.''

If Crabtree and Kaepernick can pull off another outstanding outing in the game of their lives, they'll take the podium together again for an entertaining back and forth of compliments and good-natured ribbing.

After one game, they held a joint postgame news conference.

All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis, a member of San Francisco's stingy, run-stopping defense, regularly offers a pat on the back and hug to Kaepernick.

``In a close game, we would win because our defense doesn't give up,'' Davis said. ``Our offense is always aggressive and eager to win.''

Hoisting the Lombardi Trophy is the plan now. In the Niners' rooting section: Rice, Roger Craig, Joe Montana and Steve Young.

The current 49ers are fully aware of the history, most notably a perfect Super Bowl record that they must protect. San Francisco is 5-0 in championship games and trying to match the Pittsburgh Steelers for most ever.

``This is incredible, man,' Davis said. ``Just being a part of this franchise is legendary - Jerry Rice, Joe Montana, Steve Young - and to be able to bring a ring back, that's something that you can cherish for the rest of your life.''

PREDICTION: 49ers 31, Ravens 27.

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Playoff winners expose Ravens shortcomings

Playoff winners expose Ravens shortcomings

And then there were four.

Four teams remain in the hunt for Super Bowl LI, and this weekend's games showed exactly what it takes to survive and advance this time of year. They also illustrated, quite clearly, how the current Ravens simply don't rise up to that level.

Here are two ways in particular:

* Strong quarterback play

Aaron Rodgers needed less than a minute to move his team into position for a game-winning field goal against Dallas.

Then again, the Cowboys' Dak Prescott needed less than a minute to move his team into position to tie the game moments earlier.

Did the Ravens offense under Joe Flacco this year ever appear capable of pulling off such a feat?

Atlanta's Matt Ryan threw three touchdowns without an interception as the Falcons rolled past Seattle. He averaged 9.1 yards per pass play, above their league-best regular-season average of 8.8. That's what an efficient, potent passing game looks like. The Ravens ranked 26th this year, averaging 6.04 yards per pass play.

[Related: NFL Mock Draft 1.0]

* Playmakers

When Dallas got inside the Packers' 10-yard line in the final four minutes, trailing 28-20, was there any doubt that the ball was going to Dez Bryant? The Packers had to know it. They just couldn't stop it. Bryant reached up with his 6-2, 220-pound frame and hauled in the inside slant that made it 28-26, and then Prescott scored on a quarterback draw for a two-point conversion to tie the game.

Did the Ravens this year ever have such a proven, go-to target near the goal line? If they did, they probably wouldn't have ranked 20th in red zone percentage this year and relied so heavily on kicker Justin Tucker. Too many field goals instead of touchdowns doomed this team.

Aaron Rodgers had to improvise, then made a great throw with an even better catch by Jared Cook to set up the winning field goal. Could the Ravens have pulled off that play this year?

When the Steelers were trying to close out their win over the Chiefs, they opted to throw a pass, knowing an incompletion would stop the clock and possibly give the ball back to the Chiefs. It carried some risk, but Ben Roethlisberger found Antonio Brown for a game-clinching first down.

The Steelers could have opted to run the ball with Le'Veon Bell, who piled up 170 yards on 30 carries. That's what a commitment to the run looks like.

Brown, Bryant and Julian Edelman all finished with more than 100 receiving yards.

Each of these teams has playmakers, and they all stepped up.

Related: Ray Lewis tells Tom Brady to quit complaining 

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AFC North: Steelers' Antonio Brown posts, deletes video of Mike Tomlin insulting Patriots

AFC North: Steelers' Antonio Brown posts, deletes video of Mike Tomlin insulting Patriots

Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown has created a new firestorm heading into the Patriots-Steelers AFC championship game, by posting a Facebook Live video from the locker room in which coach Mike Tomlin referred to the Patriots as “a--h----s”.

Tomlin was giving his postgame address to the team after the Steelers’ 18-16 playoff victory over the Chiefs.

While Tomlin was speaking, Brown was streaming the locker room scene on Facebook, unbeknownst to Tomlin.

The coach talked about the Patriots having a head start in preparation, because they won their divisional game Saturday night, while the Steelers-Chiefs game did not end until late Sunday night in Kansas City.

“When you get to this point in the journey, man, not a lot needs to be said,” Tomlin said in the video, which Brown has since deleted from social media.

“Let’s say very little moving forward. Let’s start our preparations. We just spotted these a--h---s a day and a half. They played yesterday. Our game got moved to tonight. We’re going to touch down at 4 o’clock in the f---king morning. So be it. We’ll be ready for their a--. But you ain’t got to tell them we’re coming.

“Keep a low profile, and let’s get ready to ball like this up again here in a few days and be right back at it. That’s our story.”

Well, it’s a little late for the Steelers to keep a low profile now, after Brown’s video went viral.

This is why most coaches don’t like cameras in the locker room immediately after games. The statements are candid. The concept of what is said in the locker room, staying in the locker room, is lost.

Now Tomlin, Brown, and the Steelers will have to deal with the fallout. But it will only raise the AFC showdown, with a trip to the Super Bowl at stake.

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