ATLANTA (AP) - The 49ers defense needed time to warm up, then shut out the Falcons in the second half and allow San Francisco to stage a record rally in the NFC championship game.
Linebacker NaVorro Bowman knocked away a fourth-down pass intended for Roddy White with 1:13 left helped preserve a 28-24 victory Sunday that sent San Francisco to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1995.
It was yet another big play for a defense that allowed Atlanta to take a 17-0 early in the second quarter, and a 24-14 lead at halftime. The 49ers put the clamps on Matt Ryan and Atlanta's high-powered passing attack over the final 30 minutes.
Midway through the third, cornerback Chris Culliver intercepted a pass by Ryan at the San Francisco 38. 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.
The turn of events contrasted sharply from the early stages of the game when the 49ers appeared to have no answer for Ryan, White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez.
By the first minute of the second quarter, Jones had scored two TDs, beating cornerback Tarell Brown both times. On the first score, it seemed that Brown mistakenly released Jones on a deep route, and the blown coverage allowed Jones to outrun free safety Dashon Goldson for a 46-yard score.
After Falcons kicker Matt Bryant's 35-yard field goal made it 10-0 on Atlanta's second possession, Ryan and Jones hooked up on a 20-yard TD. Jones caught the ball over his right shoulder in the left back corner of the end zone and deftly kept both feet inbounds to make it 17-0.
Jones and White combined for 226 yards receiving on 13 catches in the first half, many of them coming on underneath crossing routes as the two wideouts made several athletic plays.
In the second half, however, Jones and White combined for six catches and 62 yards.
Good fortune helped the Niners rally for the victory, too.
On the Falcons' final drive, cornerback Carlos Rogers fell down while covering slot receiver Harry Douglas on a deep pass near the right sideline, but San Francisco caught a big break when Douglas stumbled on his way to making a disputed 22-yard catch at the Niners' 28.
Had he stayed on his feet, Douglas could have scored a touchdown on Atlanta's final drive.

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