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49ers' win sets stage for big game with ... Seahawks?

Atlanta still had 1,500 tickets to sell to the Seattle game on Saturday morning. There won't be any lack of intense fan interest if the Seahawks make it to San Francisco.
Outside the Georgia Dome before the Seahawks-Falcons playoff game

Outside the Georgia Dome before the Seahawks-Falcons playoff game Art Thiel

San Francisco 49er Colin Kaepernick (number 7)

San Francisco 49er Colin Kaepernick (number 7) Jason Ku/Flickr

ATLANTA — Upon arrival here Saturday night, the music on the shuttle bus to the hotel was playing the theme song from "The Andy Griffith Show." Honest.

Could have been worse. No one aboard was a lightly-toothed banjo player.

Stereotypes aside, when I reached my hotel room, the whistling continued — from me, watching the final quarter of the San Francisco 49ers' 45-31 slapdown of the Green Bay behind the 181 yards rushing by quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Not to mention two touchdown passes — three, if you count the pick-six he threw to the Packers.

That means that if the Seahawks prevail Sunday here against the Mayberrys, er, Falcons, it's on to the Candlestink Park and the NFC Championship game.

Really, it could get better only with a dump truck of ice cream for everyone.

Yes, I know. Don't play two games at a time. But hey, I'm not even playing in one. Keep your trite sayings to yourself.

What is certain is play by young quarterbacks this season has been beyond precocious. It is transformative. The NFL style of game has changed in a season — depending on what happens Sunday, maybe even a single weekend.

Kaepernick stumped a Packers defense that had no answer for the read option, the same weapon the rookie quarterback Russell Wilson has deployed with such elegant results for the Seahawks. The Packers looked so old-school that Ray Nitschke may as well have have been out there in No. 66.

And in case you were wondering — in the Dec. 23 game in Seattle won by the Seahawks 42-13, the 49ers had 313 yard of total offense, Kaepernick gained 31 yards in seven carries and completed 19 of 36 passes for 244 yards.

Again, I know — that was then, and now is the Falcons. And if it gets beyond the Falcons, the game will be in San Francisco, far from the comforting bellicosity of the Clink.

For the moment I concede to one of Wilson's thousands of bromides: Stay in the now.

Saturday's high in Atlanta was a near-record 76 degrees. Sunday is supposed to be 73, but the game is indoors anyway in the Georgia Dome. The Falcons still had 1,500 tickets available as of Saturday morning.

The conclusion is that with such nice weather, fans here don't have to care. Besides, they wouldn't want to spoil Kaepernick vs. Wilson, Harbaugh vs. Carroll, Seattle vs. San Francisco and trucks full of ice cream.

After going winless in their previous three seasons of playoffs under coach Mike Smith, maybe there's more Barney Fife in them than the Falcons have let on.

Art Thiel is co-founder of Sportspressnw.com, a former sports columnist for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and author of the 2003 regional best seller about the Seattle Mariners, Out of Left Field.


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