With the game in doubt Monday night, the 49ers reverted to some good, old-fashioned football – and then a dynamic defensive play -- to put away a victory and say goodbye to a good, old-fashioned football stadium.
The 49ers defeated the Atlanta Falcons 34-24 in the final regular-season NFL game at Candlestick Park to clinch their third straight trip to the playoffs.
First, the Niners took command of the game in the fourth quarter with a punishing drive that didn’t feature a single pass.
After the Falcons scored a touchdown to come within three points of the 49ers, 20-17, San Francisco responded by driving 76 yards in six plays to score on Frank Gore’s 1-yard run.
The drive began with a 17-yard run by Gore, followed by a 9-yard Gore run. Gore then picked up 3 more. On the next play, Kendall Hunter broke off right tackle for a 45-yard burst down to the Atlanta 2. Two runs later, Gore was in for the score with 5:07 remaining in the game. Six plays, six runs, six points – and an extra point.
As Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group tweeted: “Kendall Hunter just ended this game: 45-yard run to the 2.”
As it turned out, the proclamation of victory was a bit premature. The Falcons – who came in at 4-10 and have struggled most of the season – responded with a drive of their own for a touchdown to cut the margin to three points again. Then, Atlanta collected the onside kick and drove deep into San Francisco territory. It appeared certain that the Falcons would either force overtime with a field goal or win the game outright with a touchdown.
But just when it appeared the victory was slipping away, linebacker NaVorro Bowman swooped in to intercept a tipped pass by Matt Ryan and returned the ball 89 yards for a touchdown to put the 49ers up by 10 points with less than a minute remaining.
The first touchdown of Bowman’s career would be the last in Candlestick history, but ensure that the 49ers’ playoff history is still bright.
Now at 11-4, the 49ers have won five straight games and close out the season this coming Sunday with a game against the 10-5 Cardinals in Arizona.
If the 49ers beat the Cardinals and the Seahawks lose to the Rams – while the Panthers lose to the Falcons – the Niners would win the NFC West based on division tiebreakers with Seattle. That would make the 49ers the NFC’s No. 1 seed – and secure home-field advantage.
So though the Niners locked up a trip to the playoffs Monday night, there’s still some good, old-fashioned football remaining to be played in Week 17.