Cumberland Times-News

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January 19, 2013

NFC championship: 2 teams, different perspectives

(Continued)

While Kaepernick is just getting started on what looks to be a hugely promising career, Tony Gonzalez is winding things down.

The Atlanta tight end is already assured of a spot in Canton, having caught more passes than anyone in NFL history except Rice and revolutionized his often-obscure position. Despite a huge season in which he led the Falcons in catches, the 36-year-old has repeatedly said he’s 95 percent sure this will be his final year.

Like Ryan, he erased the one big blotch on his record by winning his first playoff game last weekend, making the final catch to set up Bryant’s winning kick.

But Gonzalez would really like to go out with a ring.

Two wins to go.

“That’s the goal,” he said. “Win a championship and get out of here.”

Kaepernick’s performance against the Packers was so impressive that San Francisco actually became a bigger favorite during the week, at least according to the oddsmakers, who said Atlanta was the biggest underdog of any top-seeded team playing at home since the playoffs expanded in 1978.

The Falcons are comfortable with that role. All season long, they’ve been criticized for failing to win games impressively, even at the Georgia Dome, struggling mightily to beat lightweights such as Oakland, Arizona and Carolina.

“We’ve had that chip on our shoulder from day one,” Peterson said. “But I don’t think me or anybody in this locker room has a problem with playing the underdog role, playing the team that everybody’s doubting. We’ve been that every week.”

While the 49ers are two wins away from joining the baseball Giants in giving San Francisco a pair of sports champions, the Falcons are eager to turn Atlanta’s reputation in a different direction.

In the 1980s, the city was saddled with some truly awful teams and well-deserving of its moniker — Loserville. The baseball Braves turned things around in the ‘90s, going on an unprecedented streak of 14 straight division titles that included the city’s only major championship, a 1995 World Series title. But even the Braves were known more for all their playoff flops than their lone title.

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