Matt Ryan and the Falcons' passing offense had a great Sunday against the 49ers, but when Atlanta needed 4 yards, San Francisco didn't let receiver Roddy White have an inch of open space.
The moment of truth in the NFC championship game came with 1:13 left. The Falcons trailed 28-24, and had fourth-and-4 at San Francisco's 10.
White lined up tight to the line and tried to run a slant, where he was met by linebacker NaVorro Bowman.
Bowman didn't let him loose.
With Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan - who took a hard shot on the play before and seemed to hurt his left shoulder - starting to worry about the incoming rush, he rushed a bit and forced it to White over the middle. Bowman, who was right on White's hip, easily knock the pass down, and the 49ers took over on downs. The lack of a flag on the play, with Bowman maintaining contact with White through the route, was an immediate controversy but without the penalty, the credit will go to Bowman for making a clutch play.
The Falcons got the ball back with just a few seconds left and threw a pass over the middle to Julio Jones that was well short of the end zone, but the game practically ended on Bowman's play.
White had seven catches for 100 yards, but couldn't get the first down the Falcons needed to keep their hopes alive.
In the AFC championship game 18 years ago, relatively unknown Chargers linebacker Dennis Gibson made a similar play to knock down a fourth-down pass at Pittsburgh to put San Diego in the Super Bowl, and he is still remembered for that play. Bowman is far from an unknown. He is one of the best linebackers in football. But he has his signature moment, because his fourth-down play will be remembered long after he is done playing in the NFL. It sealed the 49ers' NFC championship.
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