The eighth-year running back picked up his 51st career rushing touchdown, the most in team history and went on to churn out 57, hard-earned yards in the second half to ensure the San Francisco 49ers would repeat as NFC West division champs.
Gore’s hard runs, coupled with career days from
“I’m extremely happy with the win,” Jim Harbaugh said after he became the eighth coach in NFL history to win back-to-back division titles to start a head coaching career. “That was our mission – the one thing we wanted to get done today and we got it done.”
Not only did the 49ers move on to the postseason as NFC West champs, they’ll host a Divisional Playoff game for a second consecutive year as the NFC’s No. 2 seed thanks to a late Minnesota Vikings win over the Green Bay Packers.
“It was a little nerve-racking watching them play,” admitted Kaepernick, who threw for a career-high 276 yards to go along with two touchdown throws to Crabtree and a 114.6 quarterback rating.
It was also a little uneasy watching San Francisco in the first quarter of Sunday’s season finale.
The 49ers had 15 yards in the first 15 minutes of play and spotted the Cardinals a 6-0 lead.
Crabtree, however, sparked the stagnant San Francisco offense with a four-catch, 116-yard outing in the first half that included a 49-yard touchdown grab to put the 49ers on the board.
“He’s a playmaker,” Kaepernick said of the Crabtree, who finished the day with a career-high 172 receiving yards, eight catches and two touchdowns. “You get him the ball and he’s going to do something with it.”
With the 49-yard scoring play, Crabtree became the first 49ers receiver to total 1,000 receiving yards in a season since Terrell Owens posted 1,102 receiving yards in 2003.
Later, Crabtree picked up his fourth, 100-yard game of the season with an impressive one-handed catch for a gain of 19.
The 49ers missed a second field goal of the first half, but led 7-6 after 30 minutes.
With the ball to start the second half, Kaepernick hit Moss and Crabtree for gains of 20 and 28. San Francisco could not get into the end zone, but Akers made sure the team got points out of the drive by converting a 43-yard kick to make it a 10-6 lead.
Crabtree continued to assert himself and help San Francisco add to its lead with his second touchdown catch of the day, eighth of the season and fourth of the year lined up opposite of Cardinals Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson.
The fourth year wideout’s 7-yard touchdown catch finished off a 5-play, 38-yard scoring drive to extend San Francisco’s lead to 11 points, making it a 17-6 game.
The talented receiver, however, wasn’t done stealing the spotlight. Crabtree later converted a 4th-and-6 with a 14-yard reception giving him 165 receiving yards through three quarters of play.
“Both those guys really got us going in the football game,” Harbaugh stressed of his quarterback-receiver tandem.
Crabtree’s 172 receiving yards were the most by a 49ers wideout since Owens posted a 166-yard game against the Philadelphia Eagles in 2002.
And while the young wideout was pleased to reach a significant milestone in his career, he gave credit to his quarterback for helping him reach the 1,000-yard mark and setting career highs in catches, yards and touchdowns.
“My dude made it happen,” Crabtree said as he shared the same postgame podium with Kaepernick.
As a team, the 49ers made it happen.
It was no more evident than on Gore’s historic run.
Gore’s 2-yard run gave him the most rushing touchdowns in team history to go along with his previous records of most carries and rushing yards.
The scoring play also capped a back-breaking, 12-play, 72-yard scoring drive that seemingly ended any Arizona comeback bid.
“We started slow,” explained Gore, “but we’ll get better. We have the extra week to prepare… We got it done.”
Yes, the 49ers were victorious in a must-win game. It also ensured the team would not lose back-to-back regular season games in consecutive years under Harbaugh and his staff.
San Francisco’s hard-hitting defense also played a big role in the win over Arizona.
Newly signed Cardinals quarterback Brian Hoyer completed 19 of 34 passed for 225 yards, one interception and a fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Michael Floyd with the game’s closing moments.
Arizona was also held to 55 rushing yards on 17 carries.
San Francisco surrendered 6 points to start the game and a late touchdown, but kept Arizona in check for most of the afternoon.
After the 6-0 start, the 49ers held the Cardinals to 133 total yards in quarters 2-4.
“Division champions means a lot,” Harbaugh said. “It gives you a chance to go for the big championship – that’s all you can ask for.”