Bowman, the two-time All-Pro inside linebacker, intercepted Matt Ryan and recorded an 89-yard interception return for a touchdown in one of the greatest defensive plays ever seen in the 43-year history of the home of the San Francisco 49ers.
Bowman supplied the final points, and his first career touchdown in a 34-24 classic win over the Atlanta Falcons.
“It feels good,” Bowman said after the legendary moment. “I’m not going to lie.”
49ERS 34 - FALCONS 24: Full Highlights | Game Photos
The touchdown helped the 49ers clinch a playoff berth for a third consecutive season under Jim Harbaugh.
"That was one of the greatest plays I'ver ever seen," the 49ers coach said after the game. "Never been involved in a football game where something that good happened in a game.
"That was the best birthday present I've ever gotten," Harbaugh went on to say. "Second, only to being born. That was awesome."
Bowman’s play would not have happened if not for his natural instincts and short-term memory. When San Francisco’s lead was cut to three points with less than three minutes remaining in the game, Bowman was on the onside kick hands team and had Matt Bosher’s onside kick go through his arms. The ball was recovered by Falcons running back Jason Snelling.
Candlestick quickly went silent. The post-game celebration seemed like a distant memory.
Bowman, however, credited his linebackers coach Jim Leavitt for calming his nerves after the mistake.
“I was the guy who missed the ball on the onside kick,” the star linebacker said. “My coach said, “Let it go.”
The standout linebacker did just that.
On a 2nd-and-1 play, the 49ers had an all-out blitz called, but Bowman dropped into coverage. The heads up play paid off. Bowman read Matt Ryan’s eyes and dropped back when the ball was thrown.
San Francisco’s fourth-year cornerback
Bowman followed a convoy of blockers all the way into the end zone and celebrated with a dive into the red-painted 49ers end zone.
“One day when we’re old and gray,” Willis began, “We’ll say, ‘That’s when we were fast.”
Willis, like Bowman, enjoyed a stellar game. The seventh-year pro finished with a season-high 18 tackles.
The night, however, belonged to Bowman, who sealed Candlestick’s history with an emphatic moment.
“I told Pat, ‘I’m good for one interception a year,’” Bowman said jokingly after recording his first interception of the year and second of his career.
San Francisco honored Candlestick’s top 10 moments throughout the game, but the franchise will likely have to edit the list to add Bowman’s pick-six.
“Somebody mentioned to me we’ll have to re-do the top moments at Candlestick,” Bowman said with a grin. “I’ll take it.”
Willis also said the win over Atlanta was his most memorable moment in the home of the 49ers.
Bowman called it, “his best play yet.”
He’s right. Nobody in the crowd or watching at home will soon forget it.
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