The San Francisco 49ers hope to close out Candlestick Park with
a celebration of their return to the playoffs.
If they haven’t already clinched a postseason berth before this
game, the 49ers could take care of it on their own Monday night
when they meet the Atlanta Falcons in the final regular-season game
at the stadium the team has called home since 1971.
“There will be tremendous memories from everybody that’s ever
played there,” coach Jim Harbaugh said. “That’s why it’s important
for us not to screw it up and make sure we get this win this
San Francisco (10-4) will have a playoff spot wrapped up well
before kickoff if Arizona loses at Seattle on Sunday. That result
would give the 49ers a wild-card spot and the NFC West to the
Seahawks. However, if the Cardinals snap Seattle’s 14-game home
winning streak, San Francisco would need a win to clinch a playoff
berth and still have a shot at the West title.
While it seems unlikely the Niners will win the division and
host a playoff game, this could be the final game at Candlestick,
where they have an 18-4-1 regular-season record since the start of
The 49ers have won four consecutive games overall, thanks
largely to an improved offense. Colin Kaepernick has a 104.7 passer
rating with seven touchdown passes and one turnover in that span
after committing 12 through the first 10 games. Frank Gore has
rushed for 196 yards over the past two weeks, including big runs to
seal wins over Seattle and Tampa Bay.
Gore recorded his seventh 1,000-yard season in last Sunday’s
33-14 victory over the Buccaneers.
“Frank’s an amazing running back. I feel like he’s the most
underrated running back in the NFL. He does everything for our
offense,” Kaepernick said. “He runs the ball. If we ask him to
block, he does it. If we ask him to catch a pass, he does it. What
he means to this team and what he contributes really can’t be
Facing the Falcons, the combination of Gore and Kaepernick could
do some damage. The 49ers rank fifth in the NFL with 137.1 rushing
yards per game and are tied for second with 16 touchdowns on the
ground. Atlanta’s run defense ranks among the bottom five in the
league with 131.4 yards allowed per game and 4.6 per carry.
These teams are meeting for the first time since the NFC
championship game in Atlanta. The Falcons lost 28-24, and things
continued to go wrong this season.
Atlanta (4-10) will miss the playoffs for the first time since
“That was then, this is now. It’s the next game,” Harbaugh said
of the rematch aspect. “We desperately want to win. I’m sure they
feel the same way. It certainly has been evidenced this whole
season that everybody’s fighting tooth and nail for wins. No team,
no exception. The competition has been the most heated.”
The Falcons haven’t just given up, winning two of their last
three games. The defense has forced 11 turnovers in that span after
causing eight through the first 11 games.
Atlanta forced seven last Sunday and held of Washington
“The first (point of emphasis) is winning the turnover battle
and the second one is winning the explosive battle,” coach Mike
Smith said. “You put those two things together, and it’s the toxic
differential that you look at. More times than not, the teams that
are in the top 12, most of those teams are in the playoffs.”
Allowing big plays remains a problem. Atlanta, outgained 476-243
last week, has given up 59 plays of 20 yards or more to rank in the
bottom half of the league. The 49ers have allowed 36, second-fewest
in the NFL.
San Francisco had dominated Atlanta at Candlestick, going 17-2
between 1983 and 2001 when the teams met annually as members of the
NFC West. Since the Falcons changed divisions, they’ve won all four
meetings with two coming in San Francisco.