The Atlanta Falcons earned home field with a 13-3 regular season. They were 7-1 at home and with last weeks division home win versus the Seattle Seahawks they are now 8-1. Yet they are at a disadvantage at home.
The 49ers were in this position last year. Home field advantage versus the New York Giants and i think we all remember what happened there, Kyle Williams lost the ball and the game for his team. The pressure got to him. Being on the road isn’t as pressure packed as playing at home in front of your fans, fans that expect a victory. Yes there is pressure but it’s you versus them, you versus their fan base. Usually already the underdog, the underdog is always a good place to be. The underdog rises to the occasion a lot of times. Remember the 1980 USA Hockey team? Underdogs, possibly the greatest underdogs of all time. Texas Western, now UTEP, versus Kentucky in the 1966 basketball championship game. Buster Douglas versus Iron Mike Tyson. The Underdog does rise to the occasion.
How will Atlanta handle that pressure? How will Matt Ryan, Matty Ice, hold up. How will the defense respond? If it is a tight game will Ryan try to force a pass that he regrets all off-season? How will the defense react to Colin Kaepernick if he breaks off a few long runs, or just keeps plays alive that most quarterbacks would have been sacked. The match-up is pretty even, the difference is the pressure put upon the Falcons, by the media and by themselves. Before last weeks victory the Matt Ryan, Mike Smith combination hadn’t won a playoff game. They had been embarrassed by the Green Bay Packers in 48-21 in the 2010 Division round. The Falcons were 13-3 and 7-1 in the regualr season and the number one season. Last year the New York Giants beat Matt Ryan and his Falcons 24-2. Recent history is not on their side.
Jim Harbaugh knows all to well how everything can fall apart so quickly. How the crowd can swing from raucous to silent on one play, one mistake. Mike Smith and Matt Ryan got a taste of this last week as Seattle stormed back to take a 28-27 lead with 31 seconds left. Thanks to Matty Ice the day was saved, the weight on his shoulders will be greater than anything he has dealt with in college or the pros so far. Harbaugh is a master mind and physiological warfare. He has played in these games, he was a hail mary catch away from the Super Bowl in 1995. How will the crowd react if the 49ers jumping to an early 10-0, 14-0 lead? Will they go quiet thinking it is happening again to us? Will they stand and cheer and encourage their team? Momentum is a fickle creature, and it is all dictated by the crowd, the 12th man. The worst feeling a defensive unit can have other than giving up a big play or a touchdown, is a silent home crowd. Atlanta’s hopes rest on Matt Ryan, Mike Smith, and the rest of the Falcons handling the pressure. If they can then Bourbon St. is a real possibility, if you see delay of games and other abnormal penalties from the leagues lowest penalized team, Falcons fans maybe in for another long afternoon and another heartbreak. By Steve Kish