Instant Replay: Dawson kicks 49ers to No. 5 seed

Bowman, Willis learn 49ers' playoff opponent from CSN's Mindi Bach

Instant Replay: Dawson kicks 49ers to No. 5 seed
December 29, 2013, 4:15 pm
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Phil Dawson's 56-yard field goal with 1:45 remaining gave the 49ers a 20-17 lead, and his 40 yarder as time expired gave the 49ers a 23-20 win. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

BOX SCORE

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Phil Dawson's 40-yard field goal as time expired provided the 49ers with 23-20 victory Sunday over the Arizona Cardinals and ensured a trip to Green Bay for the first round of the playoffs.

The secured the No. 5 seed in the playoffs and will face Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, who won the NFC North and a No. 4 seed in the playoffs with a 33-28 victory over the Chicago Bears.

It looked as if the 49ers would cruise to victory Sunday afternoon after taking a 17-0 lead into the second quarter. They never trailed but they required two Dawson field goals in the final 1:45 to win their sixth consecutive game.

Anquan Boldin had not returned to the desert to play against his former team since the Cardinals traded him in 2010. He had opening and closing acts for the 49ers, who finish the season with a 12-4 record. Boldin had receptions of 17 and 18 yards on the final two drives to set up Dawson's kicks.

But the biggest play on the final drive was made by rookie receiver Quinton Patton, who let a third-down pass slip through his hands on the previous drive. Patton went up over Cardinals cornerback Antoine Cason to make a 29-yard reception to the Arizona 22-yard line just prior to Dawson's 40-yarder on the final play of the game.

Boldin helped set the tone for the 49ers before the Cardinals could even react.

Facing the NFL’s No. 1 rush defense, 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman decided on an aerial attack against the Cardinals. The 49ers had a lot of success early, then they held on for the victory.

The offensive plan called for a lot of Boldin, who had 106 receiving yards in the first quarter alone. Boldin also gained 11 yards on a reverse on the first drive of the game.

After settling for a field goal on the opening drive, the 49ers got good field position on NaVorro Bowman’s interception of a Carson Palmer pass. Boldin had a 21-yard reception to set up a third-down play on which he used his power against Arizona cornerback Jerraud Powers for a 4-yard scoring catch.

On the 49ers’ next possession, Boldin caught a short pass on a third-and-4, turned upfield, got a block from rookie receiver Quinton Patton and gained 63 yards to the Cardinals’ 3-yard line. On the next play, Kaepernick found Vernon Davis in the back of the end zone for his 13th touchdown reception of the season.

After the initial burst from the offense, the 49ers could get nothing going and turned exclusively to their defense to close the deal. The 49ers received some help along the way, too, as Arizona kicker Jay Feely missed field-goal attempts of 37 and 43 yards.

While running back Frank Gore was struggling to find any room to run against the Cardinals, the 49ers featured back-to-back reverse pitches to Boldin and Patton on the first drive. Patton gained 26 yards on his rushing attempt.

Patton has taken over as the 49ers’ No. 3 wide receiver with veteran Mario Manningham being placed on injured reserve with a knee injury.

After a hot beginning, both Kaepernick and Boldin cooled off. Kaepernick completed 21 of 34 passes for 310 yards, while Boldin finished the game with 9 receptions for 149 yards and a score.

Bowman’s case: Linebacker NaVorro Bowman cracked after his pick-six against the Atlanta Falcons last week that he’s good for one interception a year. Bowman came up with No. 2 on Sunday, as he stepped in front of Cardinals wide receiver Michael Floyd for a first-quarter interception.

Bowman, chosen to the Pro Bowl, could get some support for NFL Defensive Player of the Year with his late-season surge. He added a forced fumble and recovery in the third quarter of Cardinals running back Richard Mendenhall.

The Joe Show: Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Staley had his second career reception in the second quarter when he caught a 14-yard pass just before the two-minute warning.

Staley was recruited to Central Michigan as a tight end. He ended up switching to offensive tackle. In 2011, Staley caught a 17-yard pass from Alex Smith against the Cleveland Browns.

This ‘n’ that: Kicker Phil Dawson’s team-record streak of consecutive made field goals reached 27 in a row before he hooked a chip-shot from 24 yards wide right just before the end of the half. Dawson earlier made a field goal from 27 yards to give the 49ers a 3-0 lead. . . 

Fullback Anthony Dixon was stopped on a fourth-and-1 run attempt in the third quarter, prompting coach Jim Harbaugh to challenge the spot. The 49ers lost the appeal, making them successful on just two of eight challenges this season. . . 

Gore entered the game with 9,953 career rushing yards. But he did not come close to the 47 needed to push him over the 10,000 mark for his career. Gore and the 49ers found it difficult to create much room to run. He finished with 14 yards rushing on 13 carries.

Looking ahead: With the victory, the 49ers (12-4) finished the regular season in second place in the NFC West, and the No. 5 seed in the playoffs. They will open the postseason next weekend in Green Bay.