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San Francisco 49ers: Road to the NFL Championship

The San Francisco 49ers are back in the NFL Championship, and again face the team that beat them in 2019 - the Kansas City Chiefs.

The 49ers lost to the Rams in the NFC Championship game two years ago and again came up short against the Eagles last season, but now they are just one game away from winning the Vince Lombardi Trophy for a sixth time.

San Francisco won its first five NFL Championship matchups but have lost on their two most recent appearances, against the Ravens in 2013 and that game against the Chiefs seven years later, which Kansas City won 31-20 in Miami.

This time the venue will be the Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, Nevada, on February 11.

Let's take a look at the journey the 49ers have been on this season to punch their ticket to the big game.

Strong roster looked set for success

The Chiefs were the +600 favorites to remain NFL champions at the start of the season, but the 49ers were not too far off as they ranked fourth in the pre-season odds at +1000.

The team cleared up their quarterback situation in the offseason, trading Trey Lance to the Cowboys for a fourth-round pick while former starter Jimmy Garoppolo joined the Raiders as a free agent.

The team's trade to spend three first-round picks moving up to select Lance third overall in the 2021 draft, only to give him away for a fourth-round pick, would have been a fireable offense for most NFL front offices. But the 49ers struck gold with their final pick the following year when taking Brock Purdy, who turned out to be the starting QB they had hoped Lance would become.

Safety Jimmie Ward (Texans), offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey (Broncos) and linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair (Titans) were other notable departures in free agency, while defensive tackle Javon Hargrave was their headline signing from the Eagles.

With Christian McCaffrey leading the rushing attack, a strong wide receiver duo in Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk, tough tight end George Kittle and a strong all-round defense led by defensive end Nick Bosa and linebacker Fred Warner, hopes were high that the 49ers would be in contention for the title.

Impressive start to season followed by three-game slump

The 49ers went 1-2 in their preseason games, but when the real action began, they racked up five straight wins to start the regular season.

They opened with back-to-back road wins over the Steelers and Rams before three dominant home wins over the Giants, Cardinals and Cowboys, beating Dallas 42-10 to reach 5-0.

Things then surprisingly went south in the second half of October as the 49ers first lost to a Browns team led by back-up quarterback PJ Walker in Purdy's first defeat as a starter.

They followed that with a road loss to the Vikings and a 31-17 home defeat to the Bengals to end the first half of their season at 5-3.

Strong second half secures NFC number one seed

Whatever the 49ers did during their Week 9 bye clearly worked as it seemed like their three-game losing streak had never happened when they came back.

Kyle Shanahan's team embarked on a six-game winning streak that started with a 34-3 demolition of the Jaguars and also included wide-margin wins over the Seahawks (31-13) and Eagles (42-19).

As with the first portion of the season, though, the 49ers wilted a little in their final three games, most significantly when they were beaten 33-19 at home by the Ravens.

It was a rare late-season meeting between the teams with the best records in each conference, but the 49ers were clearly second-best. Purdy had the worst game of his career against the tough Baltimore defense, throwing four interceptions.

McCaffrey, Kittle and Aiyuk all still managed to have 100-yard games but there were likely still some relieved faces in the 49ers locker room when the Ravens lost to the Chiefs in the AFC title game, meaning they would not have to face them again.

The Niners got back on track by beating the Commanders in Week 17 to clinch the NFC number one seed and, like the Chiefs, were able to rest their starters in Week 18, when their back-ups lost 21-10 to the Rams to finish with a 12-5 regular-season record.

Playoff comeback kings

While the 49ers rarely looked vulnerable in the regular season, they have lived a charmed life in both of their playoff games at home to the Packers and the Lions. San Francisco looked well on their way to being eliminated in both games.

The Niners were double-digit favorites in their divisional-round game against the seventh-seeded Green Bay Packers, but struggled to impose themselves in their usual fashion and trailed 21-14 at the end of the third quarter.

San Francisco had become the first team to reach the playoffs in 13 seasons without overcoming a deficit in the second half to win a game, but they did just that when they needed it most as McCaffrey scored the winning touchdown with just 67 seconds left on the clock in a 24-21 victory.

The Niners also got a tougher fight than the odds suggested in their NFC Championship showdown with the Detroit Lions. The third-seeded Lions, who were 7.5-point underdogs, raced into a 24-7 lead as the 49ers defense got off to a slow start and struggled to contain Detroit's versatile attack.

The 49ers again raised their game in the second half, taking advantage of costly mistakes and over-aggressive coaching decisions by the Lions to score 27 straight points to seal a 34-31 victory.

We've seen a lot more good than bad from the 49ers this season but they will know they can't afford another slow start if they want to get their revenge on the Chiefs.

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