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“I think quarterbacks that have a talent for running the ball can be very effective,” Jim Harbaugh said, stating precisely what he felt when he left Smith on the bench after the incumbent recovered from a concussion late in the season and went the rest of the way with Kaepernick.

“That’s been long known in football, the National Football League as well. A quarterback that can get out of the pocket, run, pick up first downs, that’s a threat that the defense has to account for.”

It’s also what the 49ers didn’t have in their repertoire against New York. Now, they have inserted a whole section of plays in the game plan built around Kaepernick’s speed and intermediate hurdler strides.

“There are some quarterback-driven runs that have been added because our quarterbacks are very good at those, and Colin especially,” Jim Harbaugh said. “It’s already noted that he’s very fast. He’s very good at reading and executing that type of offense. So, that’s the reason.”

And a main reason the people in the Bay Area believe this is the 49ers’ year.

Across the country in the Chesapeake Bay area, the other Harbaugh’s stomping grounds, that conviction is just as strong.

Critics say the Ravens are too old, inconsistent and banged-up on defense. That they don’t pass protect well. The quarterback Joe Flacco has won a postseason game in each of his five pro seasons, yet has no Super Bowl appearances.

Plus, the Ravens had every chance to knock off the Patriots last year and failed.

But those detractors tend to ignore that Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin have become extremely dangerous in the passing game. That the line has been effective in the playoffs and Flacco barely was bothered by Denver’s strong defense last weekend.

And that Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata and Ed Reed have Baltimore’s D on the upswing. Remember, 14 of Denver’s points came on special teams, and the Ravens forced three turnovers by Peyton Manning.

Then there’s the Lewis retirement factor, which can’t be underestimated.

“I think, for me personally, when he announced it, I just thought that Ray Lewis has been in the league for so many years, 17 years, and he only went to the Super Bowl once,” Ngata said. “I looked at it as, `I’ve never been to the Super Bowl in seven years, and times like this never come around.’

“So, you definitely have to make the most out of it and work real hard to try to get there. I think every individual has worked a little bit harder just to know that we probably will never be in this situation again.”

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Online: http://pro32.ap.org/poll and http://twitter.com/AP_NFL