"The Interception"- Just as it looked the bleakest for the 49ers on a chilly early winter evening, NaVorro Bowman found himself in the right position to create one last memorable moment at Candlestick Park. Bowman’s clutch interception of a Matt Ryan pass with 1:09 remaining which was taken back for an 89 yard touchdown secured a playoff birth for the 49ers in a 34-24 win over the Atlanta Falcons. The 49ers who lead 27-17 late in the fourth quarter saw the Falcons march down field for an 80 yard touchdown drive to cut the red and gold lead to three. The Falcons then followed it up with the recovery of an onside kick deep in 49ers territory. With the ball on the 49ers 10 yard line, Ryan’s pass intended for Harry Douglas was tipped by 49ers safety Trumaine Brock. Bowman came in from behind Brock and picked the tipped ball out of the air and returned it to the house to seal a 49ers victory that almost got away. The 49ers with the win clinch a playoff birth and avoid what would have been a play-in game scenario at Arizona this Sunday against the Cardinals. The 49ers victory did not come easy as the Falcons despite entering the game with a 4-10 record gave the red and gold all they could handle before Bowman’s interception. The 49ers with the win improved their mark to 11-4 and now can focus on the possibility of playing for the division as they trail the Seahawks by one game. If the 49ers beat Arizona Sunday, and the Rams can pull off a major upset in Seattle the 49ers would take the division and be no worse then the number two seed. Otherwise the 49ers will likely be the fifth seed in the post season if they win this coming Sunday.
A Tough First Half- The 49ers offense in the first half simply wasn’t clicking too well. The 49ers punted the ball away in all series of the first half except for their first possession of the game. On their first possession the 49ers went eight plays covering 37 yards from their own 31 to the Atlanta 32. From there Phil Dawson drilled a 49-yard field goal giving the 49ers a 3-0 lead. At the start of the second quarter during a third in one play from the Atlanta 45 the 49ers made a curious play call that led to QB Colin Kaepernick being sacked. After a 49ers punt the Falcons started what would be an 80 yard touchdown drive that stretched over eight plays. The big play was 59 yard pass from Ryan to Drew Davis that took the ball to the 49ers five yard line on a third down scenario. The Falcons were later aided by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty to Donte Whitner giving Atlanta the ball on the 49ers two yard line. Former Ram Steven Jackson would give the Falcons the lead at 7-3 with a two yard touchdown run. The Falcons before the end of the first half were able to get a Matt Bryant field goal to increase their lead to seven. The 49ers in the first half were having trouble catching passes and just not creating enough lanes for Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter to run the ball effectively.
49ers Second Half Rebound- The 49ers opened the second half with an impressive six play drive that covered 83 yards. On the sixth play of the drive Kaepernick threw a screen pass to Anquan Boldin who found a lane and took it 10 yards for the game tying touchdown. Later the 49ers would put together another solid drive of 11 plays that ate up over six minutes before Phil Dawson made his second field goal of the evening from 30 yards away, giving the 49ers a three point advantage. After another solid defensive stand the 49ers would again go on yet another scoring drive that extended into the fourth quarter. A Kaepernick 22-yard run from scrimmage would ignite another 49ers drive that would keep the red and gold in possession of the ball for nine total plays covering 71 yards. Kaepernick’s rush up the middle for four yards gave the 49ers a ten point lead at 20-10. However the Falcons were not finished and would show the 49ers that they didn’t come all dressed up for nothing. On the Falcons next series they were able to convert a key third down play when Ryan was able to find veteran receiver Roddy White on an 18 yard pass play. On the very next play Ryan and White made another long distance connection on a 39-yard pass play for a touchdown pulling the Falcons back to within three with 8:34 remaining. The 49ers would slug back and answer with another key six play drive that was highlighted by an explosive run by Kendall Hunter which gained 45 yards taking the ball to the Falcons two yard line. Frank Gore would take it in two plays later from a yard out to give the 49ers a 27-17 lead with 5:04 remaining.
Falcons Refuse to Quit- There may have been just over five minutes left in the game and the Falcons could have packed it in, and maybe nobody would have blamed them. However the Falcons would again show they didn’t make a 2,500 mile plane flight just to be spectators at the last game in Candlestick Park. Atlanta on their next series, which started on their own 20-yard line, facing a fourth and two and with time running down decided to go for it having really nothing to lose at this point. On the fourth down play it was again Ryan and White converting on a six-yard slant play to give the Falcons a first down and some life. Atlanta would begin to move the ball somewhat effectively on the 49ers defense as Ryan started to do his best Joe Montana imitation. The Falcons would make four first downs on the next five plays which would take them inside the 49ers 10-yard line. On a third down and seven play Ryan was able to find veteran receiver Tony Gonzalez in the end zone for a touchdown pass that again would cut the 49ers lead to three points at 27-24 with 2:09 remaining. To add insult to injury both Ahmad Brooks and Donte Whitner were called for penalties, with the one to Brooks being the most serve for roughing the passer. The 15 yard penalty would be enforced on the kickoff which was going to be an onside kick by the Falcons. If things were going bad for the 49ers, they were about to get even worse. On the onside kick Matt Bosher smartly kept it away from the 49ers “hands team” and kicked it towards Bowman who saw the ball bounce right past him. The ball would end up in the hands of Atlanta’s Jason Snelling who made the recovery on the 49ers 30-yard line. The Falcons had the ball with 2:00 remaining, had all the momentum and a chance to steal this game right in front of them.
One Last Candlestick Miracle- On their two plays from scrimmage after the onside kick, the Falcons’ Ryan found Harry Douglas and Gonzalez on consecutive pass plays taking Atlanta to the 49ers 10 yard line. From the 10 yard line Ryan on a second and one tried to get a quick slant pass out to Douglas while the 49ers sold out with a full on blitz. The pass to Douglas was tipped into the air by Brock before Bowman came from behind to grab the ball out of their air and take off 89-yards the other way to provide what maybe the last miracle at Candlestick. The pick-six was exactly what the doctor ordered at that moment as Bowman with the interception not only took back a 49ers win that was almost stolen, but also made a permanent name form himself in Candlestick Park folklore. The win was more of a huge relief as the 49ers certainly did not want to go to Arizona to take on the Cardinals in a winner take all play in game. Where the 49ers seed remains to be seen but the bottom line is they are “in” the post season. It’s just one of those things you don’t want to have to worry about with one game left in the season. It’s just one of those nights where Candlestick Park had one last miracle left in it’s aging interior. The Catch, The Catch II, Young beating Dallas in the 1995 NFC Title Game, and now “The Interception”.
Game Stats- On the evening Kaepernick was 13 of 21 passing for 197 yards, one touchdown pass and one rushing touchdown. Michael Crabtree caught five passes for 102 yards while Boldin caught six for 72 yards. Vernon Davis was held without a catch in the game and did not play in portions of the game. No reason at press time was given as to whether or not there was an injury or illness. Defensively aside from his pick-six, Bowman also made nine tackles and two assist while teammate Patrick Willis made 15 tackles while assisting on three others. Whitner had five tackles while Brock and Justin Smith had four apiece.
Next 49ers Game- The 49ers travel to the greater Phoenix area to take on the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium to close out the regular season in Week 17. The game kicks off at 1:25pm PT (2:25pm MT in Arizona). The game will be carried in Northern California and throughout Arizona on FOX.
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