It was a week after fellow Niner faithfuls rejoiced in the Catch II — when an off-balance Steve Young zipped a game-winning touchdown pass to Terrell Owens to defeat the Green Bay Packers.
Then came Atlanta.
San Francisco running back Garrison Hearst breaks his ankle on the first play from scrimmage.
My heart and jaw dropped. The game didn't get any prettier after that. For us Niners fans, anyway.
We had to watch the Falcons and Jamal Anderson's ridiculous "Dirty Bird" dance advance to the NFC Championship game.
Oh, Atlanta. I've been waiting for you.
Sure we've met years ago in the regular season. And, yes, you defeated those less-than formidable 49ers teams in those matchups.
But this time you're facing a championship-caliber squad. We finally get our playoff rematch and the stakes are just as high as they were in 1999.
And as much love we have for Tony G back here in the Bay Area, tell him to keep his tears in check when San Francisco comes out on top.
Here are five reasons Atlanta will lose on Sunday:
Gold Rush — Atlanta ranks 21st in the league in run defense, giving up an average of 123 yards per game. San Francisco comes into town with the league's fourth-ranked rushing offense. They pounded the ball all season to the tune of nearly 158 yards per game. You can try, but you won't stop the Gold Rush. You saw our last game against Green Bay, right?
Defense — San Francisco's defense features six Pro Bowlers and has been a dominating unit the past two seasons. Atlanta will put up some points via their passing attack. But they lack a great running game, ranking near the bottom of the league with about 87 yards per game. A one-dimensional offense against a superior defense? Sorry, ATL. We got you there.
Coaching — Falcons Head Coach Mike Smith made some questionable calls against the win over the Seattle Seahawks. Sure, the comeback win was impressive after those two strikes Matt Ryan threw to get the Falcons within field goal range. But why did Smith call a timeout so soon? Every coach — well, apparently not — knows you call the timeout with about 3 or so seconds left so that the field goal ends the game. Instead Seattle was given another opportunity to win the game after the ugliest squib kick in recent memory. A lack of attention to detail will cost the Falcons on Sunday.
Pistol — Atlanta got a preview of the read-option offense with Seattle and Russell Wilson. But the 49ers' version via Colin Kaepernick in the Pistol formation is more dynamic and explosive. Add in the 49ers' creative schemes and shifts, the pistol is sure to give the Falcons more than it can handle. Click. Clack. Boom.
Momentum — The 49ers have momentum coming into Sunday's game with a big win over the Green Bay Packers. Meanwhile, Atlanta appeared grateful to escape Seattle's comeback attempt and earn Ryan his first playoff victory. That's cute. But it's OK because you're Atlanta — the Falcons have a grand total of ZERO Super Bowl rings. The Niners have five. Some teams just aren't meant to be winners. Sorry. #QuestForSix.
Final score prediction: San Francisco 24, Atlanta 20
East Bay Patch Editor Kris Noceda bleeds Red & Gold and is a member of the Niner Empire, Hayward Chapter. He's endured dark seasons under past 49ers head coaches Dennis Erickson, Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary. He now lives with the motto: In Harbaugh We Trust. (Jim)