Harbaugh: 'That's the best birthday present I've ever gotten'
NaVorro Bowman's final stat line Monday night: 11 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, pass defended, 89-yard interception return for touchdown. (USA TODAY IMAGES)
Programming note: Watch 49ers Press Conference Live with Jim Harbaugh today at Noon on CSN Bay Area, or streaming live right here.
SAN FRANCISCO -- NaVorro Bowman punctuated the 49ers' playoff clinching victory with one of the most dramatic plays in Candlestick history.
The old, cold concrete home of the 49ers went out in style Monday night.
The Atlanta Falcons were looking to take a late lead but Bowman hauled in an interception on a pass Tramaine Brock broke up that was intended for Harry Douglas. Bowman returned it 89 yards for a touchdown to provide the clinching points with a playoff-clinching 34-24 victory in front of 69,732 delighted fans at Candlestick Park.
Bowman's Pick Six to Close the 'Stick came just moments after the Falcons were threatening to pull of the stunning upset. Matt Ryan hit Tony Gonzalez with a 2-yard touchdown pass with 2:09 remaining to close to within 27-24. Then, Bowman saw Matt Bosher's onside kick skip past him and Atlanta's Jason Snelling snared it along the sideline at the 30-yard line.
The Falcons drove to the 10-yard line before Bowman's game-winning play, which came after he backed off the line of scrimmage, on an all-out blitz. Safety Eric Reid applied pressure on Ryan, and Brock dislodged the ball to set up Bowman's first NFL touchdown.
After trailing 10-3 at the half, it looked like the 49ers were going to win comfortably when they took 20-10 and 27-17 leads in the fourth quarter.
If the 49ers win their final game against the Arizona Cardinals and the Seattle Seahawks lose to the St. Louis Rams, the 49ers will win the NFC West and be assured a first-round bye and a home playoff game. If the Carolina Panthers also lose to the Falcons, the 49ers would earn home-field advantage in the playoffs.
The 49ers had a lot more difficulty than expected in clinching a playoff spot against the Falcons, who have staggered this season after losing to San Francisco last season in the NFC Championship game.
The 49ers trailed 10-3 in a listless first half that was in stark contrast to the energy in the stands. A pump-up crowd battled the traffic to turn out early to witness the final regular-season game in the 43-year history of Candlestick Park.
The 49ers went against tradition on Monday. Typically, the end zones are painted red only for the playoffs. But the home finale was a playoff game of sorts for the 49ers. After all, they required a win on Monday night to assure themselves a spot in the playoffs.
Former 49ers coach Mike Nolan, currently the Falcons’ defensive coordinator, kept quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers’ offense off-balance for the first half.
The 49ers managed only five first downs in the first half, and Kaepernick was held to 6-of-11 passing for 69 yards while also being sacked twice.
But the 49ers got going in the first half with Kaepernick making plays with his arm and his legs. The 49ers wasted little time on the opening drive of the first second half with a six-play, 83-yard drive that featured pass plays of 47 and 19 yards from Kaepernick to Michael Crabtree.
Anquan Boldin scored the tying touchdown when he took a short pass from Kaepernick and squeezed through blocks from Vernon Davis and Vance McDonald to get into the end zone on a 10-yard pass play.
The 49ers took a 13-10 lead on their next possession on Phil Dawson’s 30-yard field goal. Crabtree had a 22-yard gain, and Falcons linebacker Paul Worrilow was called for a 17-yard penalty for pass interference to set up the kick.
After the Falcons pulled to within three points in the fourth quarter, the 49ers put the game away on Gore’s 1-yard touchdown run. Kendall Hunter set it up with a 45-yard run.
Kaepernick finished his night 13 of 21 passing for 197 yards with 1 touchdown and no interceptions. He also attempted 6 runs for 51 yards, including a 4-yard touchdown run that extended the 49ers’ lead to 20-10 with 12:34 remaining in regulation.
Boldin shines: With six catches for 72 yards, Boldin went over the 1,000-yard mark for the sixth time in his career and the first time since 2009. When Crabtree had more than 1,000 yards receiving last season, he became the first 49ers player since Terrell Owens last season to accomplish the feat. Now, the 49ers have had two different receivers have 1,000 yard receiving in back-to-back season.
Boldin’s third-quarter touchdown was his ninth career touchdown on Monday Night Football, the most of any active player.
Whitner’s hit: Safety Donte Whitner was called for a crucial personal foul in the second quarter as referee Walt Coleman’s crew ruled his hit to break up a pass to Steven Jackson was an illegal shot to the head on a defenseless player.
Whitner protested vehemently and Whitner was flagged again for unsportsmanlike conduct. Those penalties gave the Falcons a first-and-goal situation from the 2. On the next play, Jackson blasted into the end zone for a 7-3 lead.
Tukuafu gets call: The 49ers touted Anthony Dixon as Bruce Miller’s replacement at fullback. But Dixon, who was Miller’s back, became Will Tukuafu’s backup on Monday night.
The 49ers opened with a set consisting to two tight ends and two wide receivers. But on the second play of the game when the 49ers brought a fullback onto the field, it was Tukuafu – not Dixon – who got the call.
Dixon did not see any action on offense in the first half, but he did see playing time in the second quarter. He opened the second half as the team’s fullback.
Even with two new lead-blockers Gore had a good showing on Monday. He carried 21 times for 97 yards and a touchdown.
This ‘n’ that: Reid had a rough game. He surrendered a 39-yard touchdown pass from Matt Ryan to Roddy White in the fourth quarter that cut the 49ers’ lead to 20-17. It was the first time Reid let a receiver get behind him for a long touchdown this season. He also missed a tackle in the second quarter that resulted in a 59-yard gain from wide receiver Drew Davis. . .
Guard Mike Iupati returned to the 49ers’ starting lineup. Iupati missed four games with a partially torn MCL in his left knee. . . .
Mario Manningham (knee) was inactive. Quinton Patton took over as the 49ers’ No. 3 wide receiver. Patton had not played since Week 4 against St. Louis when he sustained a fractured right foot. Patton did not have a catch. . .
Kassim Osgood had a 17-yard reception late in the first quarter for his first NFL catch since the 2011 season. Osgood, one of the 49ers’ core special-teams players, is the team’s No. 4 wide receiver. . . .
Phil Dawson opened the scoring with a 49-yard field goal in the first quarter to extend his club-record streak of 25 consecutive made field goals. He later added No. 26. . .
The regular-season finale featured a star-studded cast of former professional athletes who played at Candlestick Park, including Jerry Rice and Steve Young, as well as baseball Hall of Famers Willie Mays and Willie McCovey. Young tossed a long pass to Rice on the field before the game to thunderous cheers. And Dwight Clark, author of “The Catch,” was commemorated at halftime on the spot of his iconic play that sent the 49ers to their first Super Bowl. . .
Looking ahead: With a victory over the Cardinals on Sunday in Arizona, the 49ers will enter the NFC playoffs with no worse than the No. 5 seed. The Cardinals (10-5) can still make the playoffs with a victory over the 49ers coupled with a New Orleans Saints loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The 49ers won the first head-to-head meeting with the Cardinals, 32-20, on Oct. 13 at Candlestick.