Younger brother Jim advanced on the strength of a thrilling comeback victory in Atlanta on Sunday. After being down by 17 points in a hostile environment, his 49ers bore down and proceeded to win 28-24.
That win earns them the right to play a team no one is every excited to see across the line of scrimmage—older brother John's Baltimore Ravens.
If the Niners are to win this ancestral bout, they'll need good games from numerous players across the board. But the following three stand out as guys who, in particular, must play well two weeks from today.
QB Colin Kaepernick
I probably don't need to tell you this, but just to make sure: The 49ers absolutely, unreservedly, 100-percent cannot beat Baltimore without getting a good game from Kaep.
If his recent play is any indication, however, that won't be much of a problem.
Against the Falcons, Kaepernick didn't have the monster rushing day he had against Green Bay. But he did provide the pretense of explosiveness on the ground, which was enough to get the job done. Per ESPN.com:
The 49ers used the option on 13 rushes Sunday, but Colin Kaepernick didn't keep on any of those plays (7 rushes, 99 yards, TD on option keepers in Divisional Playoffs). Although the Falcons were able to contain Kaepernick, they failed to stop the 49ers running backs on options, allowing three touchdowns on those plays.
The upshot to Kaepernick's dominance against Green Bay was extra running room for Frank Gore and LaMichael James. But the upshot to their success on Sunday could be the opposite—less running room for them, more running room for Kaep.
The young Niners quarterback will thus be counted on to be just as explosive in the Super Bowl as he was in the divisional playoffs. Which is scary since he's already burdened with having to assuage his nerves on the biggest stage of his career.
TE Vernon Davis
Davis, the Pro-Bowler-turned-forgotten-man in San Francisco's offense, stepped up in a big way against the Falcons. Here's how Sunday's game compared with Davis' first eight games with Kaepernick (per ESPN.com):
|First 8 Games||Sunday|
Absurd as it may sound, Davis might have to be similarly good against the Ravens.
Baltimore, meticulously coached by the older Harbaugh brother, likes to take away what its opponent does best. They like to get you out of your comfort zone. Against New England, they took away the vertical passing game and made Brady beat them underneath.
Against San Francisco, their primary concern will be the read option and Michael Crabtree. Kaepernick likes to run and Kaepernick likes to throw outside the numbers. Despite this week's occurrences, what he doesn't necessarily like doing is throwing to the tight end.
With creaky Ray Lewis, who has looked miserable in pass coverage this postseason, likely guarding him, Davis will be counted on to get open. A lot.
If he can do it, San Francisco might find a lot of success moving the football.
LB Patrick Willis
Yes, I know I suck for picking the three most-recognized, predictable players on the team. But in this case, what else can you do?
Willis will be primarily responsible for dealing with running back Ray Rice, the Ravens' best offensive weapon. Rice poses a unique threat to most linebackers due to his compact speed and shiftiness.
On paper, Willis would seem to match up pretty well. He's one of the fastest sideline-to-sideline players in the league, capable of tracking down the diminutive Rice better than almost any other linebacker. He's also great in coverage, which will be vital against a premier pass-catching threat out of the backfield.
But the Ravens are stubborn on offense. They won't shy away from one of the league's best run defenses; Rice will see the ball no matter what.
If Willis doesn't come to play, that could come back to bite them.