San Francisco starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick was one year old the… (Monica M. Davey / EPA )
The San Francisco 49ers are among the NFL's crown-jewel franchises. They have won 19 division titles and five NFC championships, and are 5-0 in Super Bowl appearances.
But they also have a sore-thumb statistic.
They haven't won a road playoff game in 24 years.
That's right, other than neutral-site Super Bowls, their last postseason victory away from home was a 28-3 win over Chicago in the NFC title game at Soldier Field in January 1989.
Joe Montana threw three touchdown passes, Jerry Rice caught two of them, and the Bears could generate no offensive heat on a 17-degree day.
Chicago's backup quarterback at the time? Jim Harbaugh.
"Yeah, I remember Jerry Rice catching the ball down the Niners' sideline," recalled Harbaugh, now San Francisco's coach. "Cold as heck. We got whipped."
Harbaugh, of course, is expecting a far sharper performance from his team Sunday when the 49ers face Atlanta in the NFC championship game, in the climate-controlled Georgia Dome.
The 49ers have lost five consecutive road playoff games, including one at Atlanta in 1999. Their most recent postseason road defeat came in a divisional game at Tampa Bay in January 2003. Although that was the final game for San Francisco coach Steve Mariucci, the Jon Gruden-led Buccaneers went on to win the Super Bowl.
Defending their turf
Seattle rookie Russell Wilson picked apart the Falcons in a losing effort Sunday, especially in the second half, and finished with 385 yards passing and 60 yards on the ground.
So it's little wonder that the prospect of containing San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick could have Atlanta's defensive coaches working some long hours this week. In addition to throwing for two touchdowns in a win over Green Bay on Saturday, Kaepernick ran for 181 yards, an NFL postseason record for yards rushing by a quarterback.
The way Falcons Coach Mike Smith sees it, his team twice a season faces a quarterback who's similar to Kaepernick: Carolina's Cam Newton.
On Monday, Smith said the 6-foot-4 Kaepernick is "physically different than Russell, and I think he's probably between Russell and Cam. Probably closer to Cam in terms of the stature. As I mentioned, on the clock he runs extremely fast."
The Falcons got their fill of Newton this season, nearly losing to the Panthers at home, then falling to them on the road. In those games, the Carolina quarterback threw for a combined 402 yards and four touchdowns, with no interceptions, and ran for 202 yards and two touchdowns.
The New England Patriots, who are loaded with offensive weapons, will have one fewer for the rest of the playoffs.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski reportedly underwent surgery Monday to repair his re-broken left forearm. He originally suffered the fracture against Indianapolis on Nov. 18 and sat out the next five games. He suffered another break in Sunday's victory over Houston.
"We've played a bunch of games now, we've never really been fully healthy yet and obviously now won't be," quarterback Tom Brady said Monday during his regular weekly appearance on WEEI radio. "But you know what? We've still got a very good team."
The statistics reflect that the Patriots somehow find a way to win without their star tight end. They were 7-3 before he was injured, and 4-1 in the games he missed. Life goes on.
Interesting that the early line has the Patriots favored by 91/2 over Baltimore, because in recent years that matchup has almost always come down to the last possession.
New England's Bill Belichick and Baltimore's John Harbaugh have faced each other five times, and Belichick is 3-2 in those games. There has been one blowout — the Ravens beat the Patriots, 33-14, in a wild-card game at New England in January 2010 — but the margins of victory in the other games were, in order: 6, 3, 3 and 1.