This time, it will be different.
That’s the mantra the Ravens and 49ers must carry into Sunday’s conference championships.
One step from the Super Bowl once more, the Ravens and 49ers believe they’ve found that extra element for success. For San Francisco, it might be the versatility and big-play potential Colin Kaepernick brings to the offense. For Baltimore, it could be the ramped-up emotions from Ray Lewis’ pending retirement.
The odds makers believe the Niners have what they need to beat the Falcons one year after an overtime loss to the Giants in the NFC title game; San Francisco is favored by 3 1/2 points at Atlanta. That says a lot.
But the bookies don’t believe the Ravens will do any better than in last year’s AFC championship game, when they fell at Foxborough 23-20. Baltimore is a 9 1/2-point underdog to the host Patriots.
“There are challenges that get you to the point that you are at as a football team and make you who you are, even as a person,” said Ravens coach John Harbaugh, whose team needed a last-minute 70-yard touchdown pass to force overtime at Denver last Saturday before beating the top-seeded Broncos. “And, our guys have handled all those things extremely well. Individually, a lot of our guys – and collectively – have come out of it stronger and better men, and we’re a stronger and better team.”
His younger brother, Jim, head man of the 49ers – siblings have never met as head coaches in the Super Bowl – has guided San Francisco to the NFL’s final four in both of his seasons. This is John Harbaugh’s third conference title game in five years in charge.
The 49ers’ Harbaugh sees the togetherness and developing maturity of his team as a reason it could reach the franchise’s first Super Bowl since winning its fifth in 1995.
“We want to be about that,” he said. “But I don’t think it’s attributed to anything, I think it’s just who we are as a team, who our players are. It’s talent and it’s character. I’ve always thought that about our team.