ATLANTA -- A few Panther-related notes – and a Super Bowl prediction -- after I watched in person as San Francisco came back from a 17-0 deficit to edge Atlanta, 28-24, in the Georgia Dome and then saw Baltimore whip New England on TV:
** First, the prediction. For the first time, the 47th Super Bowl will showcase two brothers as coaches of the opposing teams. It’s an amazing story, really, that Jim Harbaugh (San Francisco) and John Harbaugh (Baltimore) have both gotten there the same year in what is now being dubbed the “Har-Bowl.” Jim Harbaugh, incidentally, was once a backup Panther quarterback but never got to play. The 49ers hired him at the same time as Carolina hired Ron Rivera in 2011.
Both brothers have hot quarterbacks. But I’m going to pick the Ravens, even though they are the lower-seeded team, because I think their defense is a little better than San Francisco’s. My Super Bowl pick: Baltimore 27, San Francisco 21.
** The Falcons aren’t going to the Super Bowl, but they are the class of the NFC South and doubled Carolina's wins this past season (14-7). They remain the team the Panthers must find a way to surpass if they are going to win the division and host their own playoff game in 2013.
** Carolina split with the Falcons in 2012, with each team winning at home, but the Panthers didn’t play nearly as well on a week-to-week basis as Atlanta did. And the Falcons showcased one thing Sunday that the Panthers simply don’t have – two elite receivers instead of just one. Julio Jones “is going to be one of the 2-3 best receivers in the whole NFL,” predicted Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez. Jones had 182 yards receiving and two TDs Sunday. White had 100 yards and has hurt the Panthers for years.
** This points up the need for two things: Brandon LaFell to further emerge out of Steve Smith’s lengthy shadow and Carolina’s need for another strong cornerback. Chris Gamble’s days with the team have to be numbered due to his huge salary-cap figure.
** Who was calling the game as the San Francisco 49ers’ radio analyst? Former Panther and 49er cornerback Eric Davis, who has carved out a nice broadcasting career for himself doing both that job and working as an NFL Network analyst.
** It’s no surprise that Davis is succeeding in his new career – he was always a great quote. What was surprising? I asked him how old his triplets were. “Sixteen,” he said. Wow. Doesn’t seem that long ago. But Davis’s triplets were born shortly before Davis and the Panthers made their run to the 1996 NFC championship game.
** Give former Panther defensive coordinator Vic Fangio – the team’s first DC -- some credit for this one. Now in the same role for San Francisco, Fangio dialed up a defense on the Falcons’ final fourth-down play from the San Francisco 10 that Atlanta did not expect. White said it fooled the Falcons and made everything “look covered.”
** Is Gonzalez really retiring in Atlanta? The Panthers would like him to, as would every other NFL team would, but I’m not at all sure he will. How’s this for a postgame qualifier?
“I’m not 100 percent sure,” the 16-year veteran said, “but I’m pretty much positive that this is probably it.”
Sounds like a guy who’s 50-50 to me.
** One last note: Only Panther junkies may remember this, but Jim Harbaugh actually was on the team roster in 2001, for the last part of the 1-15 season. He never actually threw an official pass, though, because Chris Weinke was the starter. Harbaugh told me once that his favorite part of being with the Panthers for those couple of months was throwing to Steve Smith on the scout team -- he said he realized very quickly that Smith didn't belong there, but enjoyed the chance to fire the ball to him anyway.