ATLANTA -- If the 49ers win Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans, will San Francisco's "Cowboy" ride off into the sunset?
"We'll see," defensive tackle Justin Smith said after the 49ers captured the NFC championship. "But I don't think so."
The 49ers weathered an early passing frenzy from Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan to prevail 28-24 in the Georgia Dome on Sunday.
It's probably no coincidence the 49ers defense handled things much in the way that Smith does everything -- full-speed ahead and with complete trust in his teammates.
Smith was playing his second game with a torn left triceps tendon and still is not at full strength. But he finished with four tackles and helped hold the Atlanta running game to 81 yards on 23 carries one week after the Falcons rushed for a season-best 167 against the Seattle Seahawks.
While some players wondered whether the 49ers were a team of destiny, Smith, just before pulling on a pair of cowboy boots at his locker, chalked it up to good, old-fashioned effort.
"I don't really think it's destiny or anything like that written on the walls or anything," Smith said. "I think it's the team that works the hardest and has the best talent and coaching staff. You pull that in together, it comes out pretty good at the end."
Smith acknowledged the level of crowd noise was impressive but not as impressive as the Falcons.
"I'll take the noise over the players they had on the field," Smith said. "They got some horses, man. They made it tough on us, and we came in, made some adjustments at half, played a little better."
Ryan, who finished 30 of 42 for 396 yards, three touchdowns and one interception, had passed for 162 yards in the first quarter and had 271 yards by halftime.
The 49ers sacked Ryan only once, but starting in the second quarter they gradually put more pressure on him -- enough to at least throw off the timing of the Atlanta offense.
"He made quick decisions. He's a rhythm quarterback," Smith said. "He gets the ball out quick, he hits that third or fourth step, and it's coming out. That's what great quarterbacks do. We weren't shocked by that."
Smith, who played seven season with the Cincinnati Bengals, had never won a playoff game until last season. While pleased with an NFC title, he would rather get back to work than dwell on it. But he is looking forward to the extra week for rest and rehab on his triceps injury.
"I can't explain it right now," he said. "We've got one game left. It's all for naught if you don't take care of that one, and whoever we're playing is going to be tough. We're prepared, and this definitely isn't what we came to accomplish."