For the first 16 minutes of the NFC Championship Game, the 49ers hardly resembled what had become recognized as one of the best defenses to play on the NFL gridiron.
The favored Niners were down 17-0 to Matt Ryan and his Falcons shortly into the second quarter on Sunday in Atlanta. And though San Francisco began to slow the Falcons’ aerial assault, by the half’s end, they still trailed by 10 points.
It was then when Vic Fangio, San Francisco’s celebrated defensive coordinator, made adjustments — but not many.
“I think sometimes that’s overplayed,” said Fangio, whose team disallowed the Falcons from scoring again en route to stamping the franchise’s first Super Bowl trip in 18 seasons against the Baltimore Ravens. “We didn’t give up any points, I don’t think, the previous week either in the second half — until that garbage touchdown at the end of the game. We called the game just a little bit different, but not a lot. Basically, our guys just played better in the second half.”
His players agree.
“As far as what went on last game, we just wasn’t playing our game in the first half,” inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman said. “But we were able to overcome adversity and get the win for us.”
But despite closing the 17-point breach — which was the second-largest deficit overcome in a conference championship win — there seems to be the recurring pattern of high-scoring tallies on the opponent’s scoreboard.
Just a week prior to Sunday’s game, the Green Bay Packers put up a 31-spot at Candlestick Park. Nearing the end of the regular season, the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks scored 34 and 42 points on San Francisco, respectively.
But while Fangio is seemingly chalking the high scores up to “great quarterbacks, great receivers,” the confidence of his players doesn’t seem shaken.
“I’m not too worried about it. We’re playing against good teams and that’s what happens the farther you go,” defensive end Justin Smith said. “Atlanta had weapons all over the field. Green Bay had weapons all over the field, and these guys got ’em too.”
But if San Francisco is to prevail against the Ravens — a team Fangio once coached for — the 49ers will look to avoid the slow start.
“You don’t wanna get down like that. You don’t wanna have to climb up out of a hole,” 49ers cornerback Tarell Brown said. “You wanna start fast and finish faster. And that’s what he have to do. We can’t start that slow again, as a defense, we can’t give up that many points.”