(Sports Network) - The top-seeded Atlanta Falcons got the playoff monkey off their back last weekend and are now one step away from Super Bowl XLVII as they host the NFC Championship Game for the first time in franchise history against the dynamic Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers.
Watch the game on CTV and CTV.ca today at 3pm et/Noon pt.
Atlanta built a 20-0 first-half lead which was quickly erased by Seattle in the divisional round. The Seahawks' Marshawn Lynch nearly capped one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history with a 2-yard touchdown run with 31 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
Matt Ryan, however, finally lived up to his nickname "Matty Ice," when it counted. The Pro-Bowler whipped a 22-yard out to Harry Douglas followed by a 19-yarder up the seam to Tony Gonzalez, setting up a 49-yard field goal by Matt Bryant, which sailed through the uprights with eight seconds to play.
"Our quarterback is a special player," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "They call him 'Matty Ice,' but I feel like we've got two 'Matty Ices.' There's 'Matty Ice' Ryan and 'Matty Ice' Bryant."
Ryan passed for 250 yards and three touchdowns, both career highs in the postseason, and earned his first career playoff win as the Falcons advanced to the NFC Championship for the third time in franchise history (1998 and 2004).
"I think the one thing that I've learned in my five years, and specifically in the postseason, is that it's hard," Ryan said. "I thought that collectively as a team, and as a coaching staff, nobody flinched. We just kept battling, kept doing what we do, and that's just kind of been the makeup of our team this season."
Ryan, who had dropped his first three playoff appearances, finished 24-of-35 with two interceptions, while Michael Turner rushed for 98 yards on 14 carries for the Falcons, who had lost their last four postseason games.
"We knew coming into it, it was going to be tough. That's a very good defense" Ryan said. "Luckily we made enough plays to come out with the win."
San Francisco, meanwhile, advanced to the franchise's 14th NFC Championship Game, matching the Dallas Cowboys for the most since 1970 thanks in large part to Kaepernick. The second-year signal-caller set an NFL rushing record for a quarterback with 181 yards and scored twice as San Francisco beat Green Bay, 45-31.
Kaepernick, who was born in Milwaukee and grew up as a Packers fan, outplayed reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers and helped the 49ers reach the NFC title tilt for the second straight year.
Sam Shields picked off Kaepernick's second pass of the game and returned it 52 yards for a score, but the second-year player took over on the ground by running for touchdowns of 20 and 56 yards. He also completed 17-of-31 passes for 263 yards with a pair of scores to Michael Crabtree, who had nine catches for 119 yards. Frank Gore had 119 yards and a TD on 23 carries.
"He does a great job of responding. He's done that every time he's thrown an interception, safety, or turnover," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said of Kaepernick. "He's responded with a scoring drive. That's a rare quality. He's shown he's had the ability to come back."
The performance by Kaepernick in his first playoff game shredded the previous QB rushing record for any game, set by Michael Vick (173) in 2002. It was also the most rushing yards for the 49ers in their postseason history.
"It feels good," Kaepernick said. "We're one step closer to where we want to be. I feel like I had a lot to prove. A lot of people doubted my ability to lead this team."
One more win by the 49ers would send them to the Super Bowl for the first time since the 1994 season. They lost to the Super Bowl champion New York Giants in the NFC title game last year.
San Francisco leads its all-time series with the Falcons 44-29-1 but Atlanta has won four straight and six of nine overall. The two clubs have met just once in the postseason with the Falcons earning a 20-18 win in 1998 en route to its lone Super Bowl appearance.