49ers put a stamp on Candlestick Park with epic finish

NaVorro Bowman came through with a play for the ages.

Let’s turn back the clock just a bit.

All the way back on Oct. 10, 1971, in fact. The San Francisco 49ers christened Candlestick Park on that day, a 20-13 loss to the then-Los Angeles Rams in their first regular-season game at their home stadium. Now, let’s hit fast-forward.

Six Super Bowl appearances, five championships and many special memories later, the 49ers found themselves desperately trying to avoid an upset at the hands of the Atlanta Falcons on Monday night, and in the process secure a postseason berth and a chance at another title. And with their backs against the wall, up three with little more than a minute to play and with the Falcons in the red zone, the 49ers got one more miracle at the ‘Stick:

That’s linebacker NaVorro Bowman, who was blitzing on the play, intercepting a pass and rumbling 89 yards for a touchdown that clinched a 34-24 victory and a spot in the postseason for the 49ers.

"That was one of the greatest plays I’ve ever seen," 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh said after the game. "I don’t think I’ve ever been involved in a game where something that great happened."

By the way, Harbaugh celebrated his 50th birthday on Monday.

"Best birthday present I’ve ever gotten, second only to being born," Harbaugh joked in his postgame news conference.

And what a gift it was. Not just for Harbaugh, but for Bowman. The veteran was caught with his pants down just before his interception, when the Falcons went for an onside kick following a Tony Gonzalez touchdown that pulled them to within three points with just more than two minutes remaining:

Why Bowman was a part of the hands team on the play is anyone’s guess. If the Falcons had pulled out the victory, many would have pointed to Bowman as the goat. Well, it turns out he was more like the G.O.A.T. (greatest of all time).

"We were resolute, we were going to win it by any means possible," Harbaugh said.

Yes, indeed.

SO WHAT NOW?

Well, as I mentioned before, the 49ers have secured a spot in the postseason. However, nothing is settled. The team is still in line for the NFC West division title and the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

How?

Who knows, maybe this isn’t the end for Candlestick Park, after all. We might be back here in a few weeks.

SPEAKING OF THE CARDINALS …

The team’s twitter account had the perfect summation to Monday night’s game:

The Cardinals are still in the playoff hunt, but will need some help. They’ll not only need to beat the 49ers, but they’ll need the Saints to lose at home to the Buccaneers. Impossible? Absolutely not. Unlikely? Well …

KAEPERNICK DOES HIS THING

The 49ers are going to go as far as their quarterback will carry them. And Kaep was solid on Monday night, playing turnover-free football and completing 13 of 21 throws for 197 yards and a touchdown pass. He also ran for 51 more yards and scored on a 4-yard scramble in the fourth quarter.

That was the fourth time this season that Kaepernick has run for 50 yards or more in a game. What’s more important, he piloted the 49ers to their fifth straight victory.

What a difference a few weeks make. Just a short while ago, most people considered the Seahawks unbeatable at home and a lock for the top seed in the NFC. Now? There’s no team in the league playing better football than the 49ers and the injury-and-suspension riddled Seahawks just got beat at Century Link — by those Cardinals.

San Francisco has to feel good about its momentum heading into the postseason.  

A LEGEND NEAR THE END?

We’ve watched Gonzalez redefine the tight-end position during his 17-year career. On Monday night, in what could be the penultimate game of his football life, the big man showed us what makes him great.

Gonzalez caught eight passes for 63 yards, including this 2-yard touchdown grab that pulled his team to within three points in the fourth quarter. If he decides to hang up his cleats after this season, we’ll just sit back and wait for his enshrinement in Canton.

THIS DAY IN CHEAP SHOTS

Here is Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant sneaking up on Boldin and knocking him to the turf from behind.

Trufant better not argue that he was trying to make a play on the ball.

LAST DAY OF FANTASY!

Besides the thousands and thousands of people screaming at their TVs when Bowman returned the pick for a touchdown (and sealed their fantasy season in the process), there was Seahawks safety (and fantasy rookie) Earl Thomas sitting at home with a smile on his face:

THEY CAME TO PAY THEIR RESPECTS

Several legendary 49ers came out to salute the final regular-season game at Candlestick Park. Let’s run down the who’s who, shall we?

Dwight Clark, the man who made "The Catch," posed at the spot where he made that legendary grab:

Jerry Rice and former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. greeted each other before the game:

Even Steve Young was there, working for some television network that I can’t remember the name of.