From Comcast SportsNetATLANTA (AP) -- The clutch quarterback. The genius coach. The big-play defense.The San Francisco 49ers are ready to start a new dynasty with a familiar formula.Next stop, the Big Easy.Colin Kaepernick and Frank Gore led San Francisco to a record comeback in the NFC championship game Sunday, overcoming an early 17-0 deficit to beat the Atlanta Falcons 28-24 and send the 49ers to their first Super Bowl since 1995.Gore scored a pair of touchdowns, including the winner with 8:23 remaining for San Francisco's first lead of the day, and the 49ers defense made it stand up. A fourth-down stop at the 10-yard line denied Atlanta another stirring comeback after blowing a big lead."Everybody does a little," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said, "and it adds up to be a lot."San Francisco (13-4-1) moves on to face Baltimore at New Orleans in two weeks, looking to join Pittsburgh as the only franchises with six Super Bowl titles. It'll be a brother-vs.-brother matchup, too, since John Harbaugh coaches the Ravens.Joe Montana led the 49ers to four Super Bowl wins and Steve Young took them to No. 5. It's up to Kaepernick and Co. to get No. 6."He just competes like a maniac all the time," said Harbaugh, whose much-debated decision to bench Alex Smith at midseason now looks like the best move of the year.Harbaugh was hoppin' mad when a disputed call went against the 49ers on Atlanta's potential winning drive. He leaped in the air, screamed at the officials and had to be restrained by his staff from charging the field.No complaints when it was over."We rose up there at the end," Harbaugh said.His second-year quarterback, who runs like a track star, didn't get a chance to show off his touchdown celebration -- flexing his right arm and kissing his bicep, a move that quickly became a social media sensation known as Kaepernicking.But he shredded the Falcons through the air by completing 16 of 21 for 233 yards, including a 4-yard touchdown to Vernon Davis, and had them so worried about his running ability out of the spread option that Gore and LaMichael James had plenty of room.Gore scored a pair of touchdowns, including the game winner with 8:23 remaining for San Francisco's first lead of the day. Davis scored the first TD for the 49ers on a 15-yard run."I take my hat off to Atlanta. They played hard. They've got a great team," Gore said. "But we fought, man. We fought and we deserved it."The 49ers pulled off the biggest comeback victory in an NFC championship game, according to STATS. The previous NFC record was 13 points -- Atlanta's victory over Minnesota in the 1999 title game, which sent the Falcons to what remains the only Super Bowl in franchise history.The AFC championship game record is 18 points, when Indianapolis rallied past New England in 2007.Harbaugh is hardly cool and collected like the 49ers' first Super Bowl-winning coach, Bill Walsh, but has pulled off a similar turnaround in San Francisco. The 49ers had eight straight years without a winning record before their new coach arrived from Stanford in 2011.He immediately led San Francisco to the cusp of the Super Bowl, losing to the eventual champion New York Giants in overtime in last year's NFC title game, a bitter defeat at home set up by a fumbled return.This time, the 49ers were the ones winning on the road to set up another celebration in the city by the bay, which is rapidly becoming the new Titletown USA. They'll try to follow the lead of the baseball Giants, who won the World Series in October."We've come full circle," said Denise DeBartolo York, part of the family that has owned the 49ers since their championship days, "and the dynasty will prevail."Kaepernick guided San Francisco on a pair of second-half scoring drives that wiped out Atlanta's 24-14 lead at the break. Gore scored on a 5-yard run early in the third quarter, then sprinted in from 9 yards out for the winning score with 8:23 remaining after each team made crucial mistakes to ruin potential scoring drives.On both of Gore's TDs, the Falcons had to worry about Kaepernick running it in himself. They barely even touched the running back on either play, and James scored pretty much the same way."I kind of figured that coming in and they showed that on film, so I assumed Frank and LaMichael were going to have a big day," Kaepernick said. "Frank ran hard today, and I can't say enough about him."The top-seeded Falcons (14-4), in what appeared to be the final game for Hall of Famer-to-be Tony Gonzalez, tried to pull off another season-extending drive. But, unlike the week before against Seattle, they needed a touchdown this time.They came up 10 yards short.On fourth down, Matt Ryan attempted a pass over the middle to Roddy White that would have been enough to keep the drive going. But linebacker NaVorro Bowman stuck a hand in to knock it away with 1:13 remaining.The 49ers ran off all but the final 6 seconds, not nearly enough time for Ryan to pull off his greatest comeback yet.In the divisional playoffs, the Falcons blew a 20-point lead in the fourth quarter, the Seahawks scoring the go-ahead touchdown with 31 seconds remaining. But Ryan completed two long passes, setting up Matt Bryant's 49-yard field goal for 30-28 victory.The Falcons came up short of their second Super Bowl, leaving the 1995 Braves as the city's only major sports champions. This one figures to hurt for a while."We didn't make the plays when we had the opportunity," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "There were five or six plays, like in most hard-fought games, that make a difference. There were ebbs and flows and changes in momentum, and they made more plays than we did."Kaepernick, who ran for 181 yards against the Packers the week before to set an NFL playoff record for a quarterback, didn't have much chance to use his legs against the Falcons. He broke off a 23-yard gain, but was thrown for a 2-yard loss the only other time he carried the ball.But Kaepernick showed he's more than a runner. His favorite receiver was Davis, who hauled in five passes for 106 yards.Gore carried 21 times for 90 yards, while James added 34 yards on five carries.Ryan finished 30 of 42 for 396 yards, by far the best performance of his playoff career. But his postseason record dropped to 1-4, done in by two big miscues -- an interception and a fumble -- in the second half.Julio Jones was Ryan's leading target most of the day, finishing with 11 catches for 182 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He hauled in a 46-yarder less than 4 minutes into the game, then made a dazzling grab in the left corner of the end zone for a 20-yard score. He got his left foot down, then planted his right foot about an inch inside the line -- while cornerback Tarell Brown was all over him.Ryan threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Gonzalez with 25 seconds remaining in the first half after the 49ers had cut the deficit to 17-14. It seemed the home team had reclaimed the momentum heading to the locker room, but, amazingly, that would be its final score of the day. The 49ers quickly seized control on the opening possession of the second half, driving 82 yards in just seven plays for Gore's first TD.After a nearly perfect first half, in which Ryan was 18 of 24 for 271 yards and those three TDs, the quarterback known as Matty Ice made a couple of crucial blunders.First, he tossed a pass that was picked off by Chris Culliver, halting a drive in 49ers territory. Ryan ripped off his chinstrap in disgust.Then, with the Falcons in scoring range for at least a field goal, Ryan failed to grab a shotgun snap, appearing to take his eyes off the ball before he caught it. The ball squirted away and Aldon Smith recovered for the 49ers at their own 37."Against a good team, you can't have those kind of mistakes," Ryan said.San Francisco also squandered some chances. Struggling kicker David Akers clanked a 38-yard field goal try off the upright, and Michael Crabtree fumbled just short of the goal line, the ball stripped away by Dunta Robinson and recovered by Stephen Nicholas. But, after that big defensive stop with 13 1-2 minutes remaining, the Falcons went three-and-out.The 49ers drove for the winning touchdown.Atlanta took the ensuing kickoff and used up nearly all the clock while going 70 yards. The Falcons might have reclaimed the lead if Harry Douglas had been able to stay on his feet while hauling in a 22-yard pass.The defender slipped, and so did Douglas, but he held on to the ball. Harbaugh thought it touched the turf and challenged the call, then launched into his tirade when the officials let it stand. It all worked out, though.As for the 36-year-old Gonzalez, who said all year he was all but certain this would be his final season, it sure sounded like the end."I've had such a great life," he said. "I wish it would've culminated with the Super Bowl, but it didn't."
Carlos Rodon is on a roll, Carson Fulmer made his first big league start and Lucas Giolito’s White Sox premiere is on deck. With Reynaldo Lopez already in the majors and Michael Kopech now at Triple-A Charlotte, the first wave of the White Sox pitching future is on hand.
Rodon turned in another good outing to help the White Sox to a split of Monday’s doubleheader against the Minnesota Twins at Guaranteed Rate Field. The third-year starter overcame a slow start and delivered 6 1/3 strong innings in a 7-6 victory in Game 1 at Guaranteed Rate Field. While Fulmer was knocked out after only 1 1/3 innings in the nightcap, White Sox manager Rick Renteria is enthusiastic to see that several of his young pitchers have reached their final stage of development.
“It's a glimpse of what's to come,” Renteria said. “I think they should be excited. We're excited to finally get to have them here with us and start to see them a little bit more and we can start to gauge where we're at, where they are in their development. We look forward kind of starting to scratch the surface of what's coming in the future.”
The White Sox need look no further than Rodon’s own path to identify how a young pitcher’s development can zig and zag. The third pick of the 2014 amateur draft raced through the minor leagues, struggled with command once he arrived in the majors, found some solid footing late in the 2015 season, battled again early in 2016 before he righted the ship over the final two months. And that’s before Rodon spent three months on the disabled list with a sore left shoulder and had command issues when he returned nearly two months ago.
But now, Rodon is on yet another of those rolls in which he appears to be a front-of-the-rotation starter. His re-emergence has yet again presented the White Sox with hope that Rodon can front the new wave of starting pitchers. After Monday’s effort, Rodon has five straight quality starts with a 2.25 ERA and 36 strikeouts over his last 36 innings.
Even so, Rodon knows he has more work ahead to get where he wants.
“There’s still stuff to work on,” Rodon said. “There’s stuff I need to get better at and more strikes, more command and trying to get back to that no walk thing.”
The White Sox understood they needed to be patient with Rodon and are even more aware of how they’ll need to be now that Giolito, Lopez and Fulmer have reached their final stages of development.
Fulmer, who was up for the day as the team’s 26th man, is headed back to Charlotte. As much as he struggled in his first chance, Fulmer — who allowed two three-run homers — is almost certain to get another down the road. Even if it never pans out as a starter, Fulmer almost certainly would be given a chance to succeed in relief.
“I guess perhaps we have a longer-term view of a given player, more rope so to speak, to prove who they are, show who they are over an extended period at the big-league level,” general manager Rick Hahn said earlier this month.
The same goes for Lopez, who appears to be improving after he was placed on the DL with a strained back, and Giolito, who has shown a vast improvement after a slow start at Triple-A Charlotte. The team announced he and reliever Brad Goldberg were headed back to Triple-A following the game. The option of Goldberg makes room for Gioliito, who will be added to the 25-man on Tuesday.
“I’m still confident in my ability to go out there and throw strikes and help us win,” Fulmer said. “I’m always going to continue to learn. That’s never going to stop for me as a baseball player and I have to go through these experiences to get better as a baseball player and as a pitcher. Take the positive out of this outing and learn from what happened to tonight.”
The White Sox went into their rebuild with the long-term approach in mind, knowing how critical it was to develop. For Giolito, it was regaining the confidence that had him rated as the top pitching prospect in baseball headed into last winter.
Whether it’s simplifying his thought process, trusting his routine between starts or finding confidence in his curveball, Giolito knows he’s in a better place as he makes his first White Sox start since they acquired him last December. After posting a 5.40 ERA in his first 16 starts at Charlotte, Giolito has rebounded with a 2.78 ERA in the last eight turns he has made.
“Started out pretty rough,” Giolito said last week. “Certain times where it’s like, ‘What do I have to do? What do I need to work on?’ And then finally putting together a really, really solid routine — certain drills, certain things I’m doing every day to better myself and trusting it.
“The results are starting to come with that and I feel like I’m much better off than I was in the beginning of the year and the confidence is much better.”
Having worked with them in a spring training and later spent a month in the minors on his rehab assignment, Rodon has anticipated the arrivals of Lopez, Giolito and Fulmer. He’s excited to see what everyone can do and how they handle their on-the-job training.
“It’s fun for these guys to be back up here and part of this team again,” Rodon said. “It was good to be down there and watch them. It’s time to watch them grow up and play in the big leagues.”
The scrum for a foul ball is one of baseball's great traditions. Usually, it ends with one hyped fan hoisting the souvenir high above his or her head while surrounding fans look on with intense jealousy.
Not Monday night, though. Something far weirder happened after a ball found its way into the Guaranteed Rate Field seats.
One Sox fan seemed to have scooped a keepsake until a sly woman committed straight thievery, prying it right from his hands.
The dude's baffled face is high-level entertainment as he struggles to comprehend how he just got straight up hoodwinked.
Watch the video above to see the robbery and Jason Benetti debate Steve Stone on what really happened.