49ers rally to advance to the Super Bowl

986291.jpg

49ers rally to advance to the Super Bowl

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 sets White Sox, AL record with seven straight strikeouts to open game

Carlos Rodon sets White Sox, AL record with seven straight strikeouts to open game

White Sox pitcher Carlos Rodon tied an American League and a team record when he started Friday night’s contest with seven consecutive strikeouts against the Minnesota Twins.

Rodon, who struck out 11 in his previous turn on Sunday, matched the mark set by White Sox hurler Joe Cowley on May 28, 1986 in a loss at the Texas Rangers.

Of Rodon’s seven strikeouts, two were on called third strikes by plate umpire Tripp Gibson. Twins outfielder Logan Schafer snapped the streak with a one-out double in the top of the third inning.

Houston’s Jim Deshaies (1986) and the New York Mets’ Jacob de Grom (2014) hold the major league record with eight straight strikeouts to start a game.

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

Doug Fister set the AL record with nine consecutive strikeouts in 2012 and Tom Seaver holds the MLB record with 10 straight in 1970.

Combined with Sunday’s start, when he struck out the side in the eighth at the Cleveland Indians, Rodon whiffed 10 straight batters. Rodon’s run is the longest consecutive strikeout streak in the majors since Los Angeles Dodgers reliever Eric Gagne struck out 10 in a row in May 2003.

American sweep and European rally at Ryder Cup

American sweep and European rally at Ryder Cup

CHASKA, Minn. (AP) -- Even with the first opening-session sweep in four decades, the Americans were reminded anew Friday that no lead is safe in the Ryder Cup.

Not after one session. Not after one day.

And based on the last Ryder Cup on American soil, not until it's over.

Europe battled back from a 4-0 deficit behind its best tandem, Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose, and capped off a long and rowdy day at Hazeltine when its best player, Rory McIlroy, holed a 20-foot eagle putt and then mocked the crowd by taking a bow.

The American celebration turned into a consolation.

They had a 5-3 lead, the margin after the first day at Medinah four years ago that ended in another European victory. They lost a chance to really put Europe in a hole.

"It's frustrating not to come out a little bit more ahead," U.S. captain Davis Love III said.

Love could not have scripted a better start - a symbolic one, too.

To honor Arnold Palmer, who died Sunday night, Ryder Cup officials placed on the first tee Palmer's golf bag from when he was captain of the 1975 Ryder Cup team. Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed then set the tone with a 3-and-2 foursomes victory over Stenson and Rose, and the Americans delivered the first sweep of the opening session since that 1975 team at Laurel Valley.

Phil Mickelson, feeling more pressure than usual because of his influence on changes and on this team, also produced big shots. His wedge into 5 feet that Rickie Fowler converted was key in the Americans winning three straight holes for a 1-up victory over McIlroy and Andy Sullivan.

"With everything going on - me not having a point and Phil being a big part of getting the players a lot more involved to Arnie passing and him being a huge part of the week, this is big for us," Fowler said.

It just didn't last.

"The guys were disappointed with the way they played this morning and the way they performed," European captain Darren Clarke said. "But they showed tremendous bravery and heart and desire to go out and play the way they have done this afternoon."

Beaten for the first time, Rose and Stenson went right back out against Spieth and Reed and handed the American duo its first Ryder Cup loss. The Europeans made nine birdies in 13 holes for a 5-and-4 victory in an afternoon session in which the board was filled with European blue.

Sergio Garcia, who along with Martin Kaymer made only one birdie in a foursomes loss, teamed with fellow Spaniard Rafa Cabrera Bello to dismantle J.B. Holmes and Ryan Moore. McIlroy and Pieters never trailed against Johnson and Kuchar, handing them their first loss in four Ryder Cup matches.

The lone American point in the afternoon came from Brandt Snedeker and Brooks Koepka, who had no trouble against Kaymer and Danny Willett.

Willett had a little trouble with the crowd, especially when they lampooned him around Hazeltine with references to hot dogs and his brother, Pete, who had written a column in a British publication disparaging American galleries.

"It was anticipated," Willett said. "Coming to America is a tough one, just like when the Americans come to Europe. They gave me a little bit more. I think it was exactly what we thought it was going to be."

It wasn't just directed at Willett, however.

The crowd was loud and boisterous from the opening tee shot in misty conditions. There were a few rude comments, not unusual in America for a Ryder Cup. McIlroy had a 20-foot birdie putt to halve the morning foursomes match against Mickelson and Fowler when a fan from across 100 yards away shouted, "Get an American to putt it for you." That was a reference to McIlroy and Rose losing a playful $100 bet to an American fan who made a putt in Thursday's practice session.

Most striking was how quickly the crowd cheered bad shots for Europe. Typically, there is the slightest delay. Not on Friday. Sullivan, one of six rookies for Europe, hit his tee shot into the water on the 17th that put Europe 1 down and effectively ended the match. The crowd cheered before there was a ripple.

That's what inspired McIlroy in the final match of the day. He and Pieters were 2 up on the 16th hole, with Kuchar already in for a birdie, when the four-time major champion drained his 20-foot putt. Turning to the crowd, he bowed twice and screamed out, "C'mon!"

"I wanted to put an exclamation on that session for us," McIlroy said. "I thought about that celebration before I hit the putt."

More than a celebration, it was a message from McIlroy to what he felt was a hostile crowd.

"I'm not fazed by anything said by the crowd," McIlroy said. "And I'm not fazed by anything the U.S. throws at us."