These are not the same Falcons.
When 10-4 San Francisco hosts 4-10 Atlanta in the last regular season game at Candlestick Park on “Monday Night Football,” it will be welcoming in familiar faces sporting a very unfamiliar record.
The NFC South squad, despite still being led by quarterback Matt Ryan, bears little resemblance to the team that fell, 28-24, to the 49ers in the 2012 NFC Championship Game.
“That was then, this is now,” Jim Harbaugh said this week. “It’s the next game. It’s the biggest game on the schedule. We desperately want to win. I’m sure they feel the same way.”
In fact, Falcons coach Mike Smith said his team, which sputtered during a five-game losing streak in November, isn’t out to play the spoiler role, nor is it thinking about its 2013 NFL Draft slot.
“Everybody is judged by how they finish,” Smith said on Thursday via a conference call with Bay Area reporters. “We are extremely disappointed with the way we’ve played and coached.”
Ryan has led a middle-of-the-pack offense (16th in the NFL in yards per game) but has been hampered by a defense that ranks 29th in the same category.
“No roster stays the same. We all get a year older,” Smith said, after saying of the 49ers: “I don’t think it’s a whole lot different in terms of personnel than the team we played last year.”
For more storylines surrounding the team, check out this edition of Morning Tailgate links, presented by State Farm.
Bill Williamson of ESPN.com talks 49ers first-round draft pick possibilities.
Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle zeroed in on the Jim Harbaugh-Trent Baalke dynamic.
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