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NFL

San Francisco defense rallies in second half

| Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013, 9:04 p.m.

ATLANTA — Everything was going wrong for the San Francisco 49ers and their proud defense.

“It was us, it wasn't them at all,” San Francisco linebacker NaVorro Bowman said. “We weren't communicating, playing the way we want to play.”

Bowman, Patrick Willis and Ahmad Brooks combined to stop the Falcons 10 yards short of the end zone in the closing minutes of a 28-24 victory Sunday that sent San Francisco to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1995.

After Bowman essentially sealed the game by breaking up a fourth-down pass from Matt Ryan to Roddy White with 1:09 remaining, the Falcons had time to run just one more desperate play before the buzzer sounded.

It was yet another big play for a defense that clamped down on Ryan and Atlanta's high-powered passing attack over the final 30 minutes.

“They've got some horses, man,” San Francisco defensive tackle Justin Smith said. “We made some adjustments at half, played a little bit better, but our offense picked up a lot of slack today, kept us rolling, kept us in it and we were able to win it.”

Midway through the third, cornerback Chris Culliver intercepted a pass that allowed the defense to build confidence. The Niners didn't score, but defensive end Aldon Smith followed on the next series by recovering Ryan's fumble on a botched shotgun snap.

The offense again failed to score when receiver Michael Crabtree lost a fumble at the Atlanta 1, but after forcing the Falcons to an ensuing three-and-out, Frank Gore ran for a 9-yard touchdown and a 28-24 lead.

“I don't really think it's destiny or anything like that written on the walls,” Smith said. “It's the team that works the hardest, prepares the hardest and has the best players and coaching staff. You pour all that in together and it comes out pretty good at the end.”

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