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49ers Top Falcons, Seal Playoff Spot in 'Stick Finale

Posted Dec 23, 2013

San Francisco secured a fifth straight win and a third consecutive season with at least 11 victories in the final regular season game at Candlestick Park.


After a week of remembering the greatest moment that occurred at its about-to-close Candlestick Park, the 49ers created a few worthwhile memories.

No, there was no second iteration of “The Catch,” but that's not because San Francisco wouldn’t need something so grandiose.

The 49ers came back from a touchdown deficit in the first half and held off a second-half comeback to defeat the Atlanta Falcons, 34-24, in their Week 16 matchup on “Monday Night Football,” the final regular season football game in the 54-year history of ‘The Stick.

Three plays after the Falcons recovered an onside kick on the other side of the two-minute warning and appeared well on their way to at least tying the game, an 89-yard interception return by linebacker NaVorro Bowman sealed the "W."

"The Pick"?

PHOTO GALLERY: 49ers vs. Falcons

On the night the 49ers left the city they’re named after, their coach, Jim Harbaugh, fittingly turned 50.

"This was a great moment," Harbaugh said. "I was focused on getting ready to use a timeout and conserve some clock so that we could get the ball back. Then 'The Return' happened."

The ‘Stick, which opened nearly 20,000 days ago when then-vice president Richard Nixon threw out the first pitch of a Giants game on April 12, 1960, closed before a sold-out crowd .

In front of its fans, San Francisco (11-4) clinched a playoff sport and secured its second five-game winning streak of the season as well as its third straight campaign of at least 11 victories. Atlanta (4-11) has now dropped two straight games to the 49ers, including the 2012 NFC Championship Game.

Another win next week over the host Arizona Cardinals (10-5) would assure San Francisco of at least No. 5 seed. If the Seattle Seahawks (12-3), which fell at home to the Cardinals on Sunday, unexpectedly lose again to the St. Louis Rams in Week 17, then the 49ers would also be line for the conference’s top seed and a first-round bye in the playoffs.

More would have been on the line next week had Harbaugh’s offense sputtered in the second half the way it did during the first on Monday night.

Before intermission, the unit registered just three points on five first downs and 113 (69 passing) yards.

In a four-play span to start the second, quarterback Colin Kaepernick completed passes of 47 yards and 19 yards to Michael Crabtree before a 10-yard touchdown toss to Anquan Boldin.

This tied the game at 10.

After another Kaepernick-to-Crabtree connection for 22 yards on the 49ers next possession late in the third quarter, Phil Dawson’s 30-yard field goal gave San Francisco its lead back, 13-10.

Kaepernick, whose four-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter gave the 49ers some breathing room, was 13-of-21 passing for 197 yards and the scoring pass to Boldin.

Crabtree gained a season-high 102 yards on five receptions in his fourth game back since returning from a torn Achilles.

Dawson had finished the first series of the game with a 49-yard field goal. His 26 straight successful attempts extend his franchise record.

The Falcons gained a 7-3 edge on their first drive of the second quarter. A 59-yard connection between Ryan and wideout D.J. Daivs – the longest passing play San Francisco’s defense has allowed in 2013 – set Atlanta up five yards from the goal line.

Three plays later, on third down at the seven-yard line, safety Donte Whitner was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty following his high-impact hit on running back Steven Jackson, which jarred the ball loose on a would-be completion. After being awarded a first down at the two-yard line, Jackson scored the game’s first touchdown on a left-side sweep.

Atlanta’s lead grew to seven with Matt Bryant’s 35-yard field just before halftime.

The visitors' lone big play of the second half was a 39-yard touchdown pass from Ryan to wide receiver Roddy White, decreasing their deficit to three points with less than nine minutes remaining in the game. 

The 49ers responded on the next time they touched the ball. A 45-yard run on a nifty cutback by reserve ball carrier Kendall Hunter set up a one-yard Frank Gore rushing touchdown to push San Francisco's lead back to 10 points.

Gore now has 60 rushing touchdowns in nine NFL seasons. He'll be within striking distance of his 10,000th career rushing yard on Sunday in Glendale.

The Falcons didn't give up, going on an 11-play, 80-drive that took them up against the two-minute warning and ended with a two-yard touchdown pass from Ryan to tight end Tony Gonzalez, who played his penultimage game as a pro.

Atlanta reserve running back Jason Snelling recovered the ensuing onside kick, giving Ryan and Co. the ball at San Francisco's 30-yard line. Three plays later, Bowman picked off Ryan and, after the longest sprint of his life, jumped into the end zone.

Ryan was attempted to connect with Harry Douglas when cornerback Tramaine Brock punched the ball into Bowman's hands.

"We were thinking that we' were going to recover the ball and the game would be over with," said Brock, who Brock would get his own interception on the final play of the game, when Ryan heaved a last-hope pass with five seconds showing on the clock. "It was a shock. So we had to go back out there and stand up."

Boldin crossed the 1,000-yard receiving mark on the 49ers second possession. A 22-yard, over-the-shoulder catch gave him 1,001 on the season, the sixth such season of his 11-year career.

San Francisco, which was led in receiving by Crabtree in 2012 (1,105 yards), has now had a 1,000-yard wideout in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2001.

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