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Sports

Falcons quickly shift focus

The Associated Press
Published:   |   Updated: March 13, 2013 at 09:22 AM
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -

A slip of the tongue gave away Atlanta coach Mike Smith's focus.

Smith was just starting his review Monday of the Falcons' 30-28 win over the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC divisional playoffs when it became clear his thoughts were on this week's NFC championship game against the San Francisco 49ers.

"We knew the San Francisco Forty … excuse me, the Seattle Seahawks, were a very good football team and they showed a lot of resiliency," Smith said before smiling after catching his verbal miscue. "We were very fortunate to make the plays there at the end of the game and get the win."

The win over Seattle on Sunday was the first for Smith and quarterback Matt Ryan in four postseason games with Atlanta. There was much talk after the game that the long-awaited first playoff win was the most important for the Falcons and would allow Ryan and other players to relax.

Smith shot down both theories.

"I don't think we'll be able to play looser," Smith said. "I think we've got to get back into our preparation mode. I know many people have talked about the outcome and what does it mean to the Atlanta Falcons. It means we have an opportunity to play again and in the playoffs you want to keep playing. I think our guys understand the challenge this week is going to be big."

The Falcons are the top seed in the NFC playoffs for the second time in three seasons. Atlanta lost at home to Green Bay as the top seed following the 2010 regular season and then lost in the first round at the New York Giants last year.

Ryan and the Falcons built leads of 20-0 and 27-7 against Seattle before falling behind 28-27 with 31 seconds remaining. Then Ryan completed passes to Harry Douglas, for 22 yards, and Tony Gonzalez, for 19 yards, to set up Matt Bryant's go-ahead 49-yard field goal with eight seconds remaining.

Smith said it was a "fun" win for the team and the city of Atlanta, but he said it didn't mean the Falcons have realized their goals.

"Our goals and our expectations are a lot higher than just winning one playoff game," he said.

The Falcons will be home again for Sunday's NFC championship game as they look to advance to the Super Bowl for the second time in franchise history. The 1998 season ended with a Super Bowl loss to the Denver Broncos.

Ryan and some of his teammates acknowledged they are glad there will be no more questions about not winning a postseason game.

"But at the same time, our goal is not to win one playoff game," Ryan said. "Our goal isn't to stop answering that question. Our goals are still in front of us. We still have two more games to go. That's the mind-set I have. That's the mind-set this team has."

49ers working toward reaching Super Bowl goal

Running back Frank Gore arrived for work Monday ready to push through another tough week of game preparation and do everything he can to keep his team playing right into February.

The San Francisco 49ers are one win from the place they've planned to be all along: the Super Bowl.

"Mainly, we're going to plow ahead," coach Jim Harbaugh said. "We're going to continue our work ethic and humility."

Any topics that strayed from the job at hand, Harbaugh wanted no part of such chatter — whether talk of his big brother John's Baltimore Ravens' success or former 49ers coach and current Falcons defensive coordinator, Mike Nolan.

The Niners have been to New Orleans once already back in November and won in the Superdome, and they're eager to schedule another trip to the Big Easy for the biggest game yet on Feb. 3.

"We all know it's hard to get back to this point, but we did it," Gore said. "We also know how that feeling was when we didn't get the job done last year. We'll try our best to not get that feeling again."

This group has been working for the opportunity to reach another championship Sunday since the moment San Francisco's season ended last January with a mistake-filled 20-17 overtime loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants.

Now, it's strong-armed, playmaking Colin Kaepernick under center with a chance to send his team to the franchise's first Super Bowl since after the 1994 season.

Kaepernick dazzled for the sellout home crowd at Candlestick Park in a record-setting playoff debut as San Francisco eliminated the Green Bay Packers with a 45-31 victory Saturday night.

The second-year pro rushed for a quarterback playoff record 181 yards with a pair of touchdowns — one a 56-yarder — and threw two touchdown passes to Michael Crabtree.

49ERS AT FALCONS

NFC championship game

Sunday: 3 p.m.

TV: Fox, Channel 13

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