By Jerrell Richardson
The underdog Atlanta Falcons gave San Francisco all they wanted Monday Night, but could not pull off the upset. In the final game played at Candlestick Park the 49ers sent off the stadium in style with a dramatic, playoff clinching win.
Few people outside of Atlanta gave the Falcons much of a shot to pull off a win against the 49ers. With payback and pride on the line, not only did the Falcons put up quite the fight, but they were up at the half and had a chance late to pull off the upset. The 49er defense made the play of the game though, and with an impressive showing by the offense in the second half, San Francisco escaped with a 34-24 win. The 49ers committed several mistakes in every phase of the game, but there was a lot they did well and in the end a playoff clinching win is a playoff clinching win.
Offense – Grade: B-
The 49er offense looked bad in first half, but was literally unstoppable in the second. After only managing a field goal in the first two quarters, San Francisco scored on every possession to close out the game, using a mix of the run and pass to keep the Falcons defense guessing.
Colin Kaepernick had another effective game. He was the victim of several dropped passes, but still completed 13 of his 21 passes for 197 yards and a touchdown. He continues to re-establish his on field chemistry with Michael Crabtree who had 6 catches for a team high 102 yards and Anquan Boldin added 6 catches for 72 yards and a touchdown. The biggest surprise and at the same time good sign is that Vernon Davis did not have a single catch, yet the passing game was still effective.
San Francisco ran the ball 30 times which is a good sign, and it’s an even better sign when they average 6.6 yards per attempt. The workhorse was Frank Gore who had 21 of the team’s 30 rushes and finished with 97 yards a touchdown. The teams change of pace back Kendall Hunter had a big run late in the game to chip in 51 yards which matched the total by Kaepernick who took off 6 times. As a team the 49ers compiled 199 yards which more times than not will equal a win.
With the team down on the scoreboard and facing an important win, the offense stepped up in the second half putting points on the board every time they touched the ball. As bad as they looked to start the game, the way the 49er offense ended the game was impressive.
Defense – Grade: B
The San Francisco defense bent, but never broke. After shutting down the Atlanta offense for most of the night, the Falcons seized the momentum in the 4th and were able to move the ball seemingly at will. Matt Ryan had a big statistical day, passing for 348 yards and 2 touchdowns. However, he was asked to drop back to pass way too many times to have any offensive balance, and he threw two costly interceptions.
A big reason for Ryan having to throw the ball close to 50 times is that the Falcons were unable to run the ball with any consistency. Stephen Jackson was bottled up, finishing with only 53 yards, as Patrick Willis played possessed. The team’s defensive leader had 18 tackles, defended a pass and was all over the field. Not far behind Willis was NaVorro Bowman who finished with 11 tackles and had the play of the game, and perhaps the season.
With no help from his running game, Ryan turned to his two favorite targets in the passing game, Tony Gonzalez and Roddy White. Both players finished with a touchdown reception each and between them combined for 20 catches. However, the Falcons lived by the pass, and ultimately died by the pass. With Atlanta in a position to at least tie the game they threw pass that proved costly. San Francisco’s most consistent corner, Tramaine Brock jumped the route leading to a deflected ball that Bowman grabbed and returned 89 yards for the game’s final score and final nail in the Falcons coffin.
Special Teams – Grade: B
The 49ers special teams also had its good and bad moments. The good was Andy Lee and Phil Dawson. Lee averaged over 50 yards on his 3 punts, while Dawson hit both of his field goal attempts. The return game was also a positive contributor with 79 yards on 3 kick returns and a 10 yard average on punts. However, the coverage unit allowed a big return at the end of the first half, and the hands team failed to recover an onside kick that put the game very much in danger.
The specials teams played well, but very nearly cost the team a win. The good did outweigh the bad though as the mistakes were a fluke and a great play by the Falcons return team.
Tale Of Two Halves
It took a half, but once they got things going it was clear who the better team on the field was Monday Night. The Falcons had nothing to lose and did everything they could to stay in the game, but once they relinquished the lead in the second half could never get it back. The win is the only way to close the gates on Candlestick Park, but punched the 49ers playoff ticket and even keeps them in a hunt for the top seed in the NFC. With a red hot Cardinal team up next week this was a huge game for the 49ers, and as they have done all year the team stepped up.
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Jerrell Richardson is a Bay Area native who due to a college career at San Diego State University has grown an appreciation for all things sports related in California. His heart will always remain in San Francisco though where he currently resides and covers everything from the San Francisco 49ers and Giants to the San Jose Sharks and California Bears Baseball team. Jerrell is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.