No. 4: 49ers @ Falcons: NFC Championship Game — Jan. 20, 2013
The 49ers boasted a top-five defense from 2011through 2013. Under Jim Harbaugh, they were the epitome of a defensive stalwart with an offense capable of grinding out wins through a power-run game.
They also went to three straight NFC Championship games over this stretch. Sadly, they only managed to win one of those contests.
As such, the game they won is No. 4 on our list of best games of the decade.
After being staked to a 17-0 lead at the start of the second quarter, the Falcons looked all but on their way to the Super Bowl. Matt Ryan had already passed for 182 yards to that point, and the Niners were giving no fight as they looked overmatched on every drive.
Enter the second quarter, and Colin Kaepernick put the team on his back along with Frank Gore. He led a 10-play, 65-yard drive ending when LaMichael James ran off right guard for a touchdown. James’ score cut the score to 17-7, and San Francisco had life.
On the next drive, Kaepernick and Co. went on an eight-play, 78-yard drive which led to a touchdown pass to Vernon Davis, and all of the sudden the 49ers were in a three-point game, 17-14.
Ryan looked to get back on track on the ensuing possession and led his team to a touchdown with a 10-yard pass to the legendary tight end, Tony Gonzalez. The first half ended with San Francisco on the wrong end of the 24-14 score.
As it was, the Falcons would not score another point, as the Niners opened the second half with another scoring drive. Gore took a handoff from the Atlanta 5-yard line and went untouched into the end zone.
Ryan would be intercepted by cornerback Chris Culliver on the Falcons next possession. David Akers would squander the turnover, as he missed on a 38-yard field goal with 5:51 to play in the third quarter.
The 49ers would get another gift on the next Atlanta drive, as Ryan would fumble the ball on a mishandled snap. EDGE Aldon Smith would recover the ball, and San Francisco was in business again from its own 37-yard line.
After moving the ball deep into Atlanta territory, wide receiver Michael Crabtree would fumble the ball at the Falcons 1-yard line as he attempted to score. Ryan would lead a 3-and-out, and after a punt, the 49ers started their next drive from the Atlanta 38-yard line..
Kaepernick would not let his team’s next chance end without points. After four runs to Gore and James and a pass to Crabtree placed the ball on the Atlanta 17-yard line, Gore scored from 8 yards out, and the 49ers led 28-24.
Atlanta had the ball at its 20-yard line and 8:23 to play in the game. After taking 13 plays to move to the 49ers 10-yard line, Atlanta was staring at third down and only 4 yards to gain a first down and what would have likely been a game-winning touchdown.
Ryan took the shotgun snap and rolled out to his right looking to get the ball to wide receiver Roddy White. The ball left his hand, and EDGE Ahmad Brooks rose and with his left hand batted the ball down, forcing Atlanta into fourth down.
The game, a Super Bowl berth and both team’s futures were on the line on this fourth-down play. Ryan took the snap and was looking for only one receiver. White had ran a quick 5-yard up, and in which NaVorro Bowman diagnosed and covered brilliantly, knocking the pass down as it arrived.
There were no flags thrown on the play, and the 49ers’ sixth trip to the Super Bowl was all but secured. Atlanta would get one more possession with six seconds left after San Francisco failed to convert a first down and punted.
One play from their own 41-yard line, however, spelled the end of Atlanta’s season.