Posted: 4:49 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013
By Mark Sandritter
Atlanta mounted a comeback, but the 49ers made a crucial play late and are headed back to the playoffs.
The 49ers were in the middle of a collapse, potentially minutes from facing a win-or-go-home game at Arizona next week. Then, Navorro Bowman saved the day and sent the 49ers to the playoffs.
San Francisco went up 27-17 late in the fourth quarter, but Atlanta responded. The Falcons drove 80 yards for a touchdown to cut the lead to 27-24. The Falcons then recovered an onside kick and with the benefit of a penalty were in great field position. Matt Ryan started marching the Falcons down the field, moving Atlanta close to a go-ahead score with less than two minutes to play.
The Falcons were set up at the San Francisco 10-yard line but Ryan's pass attempt bounced off the hands of Harry Douglas. Bowman was there to coral it then raced 89 yards for a touchdown to seal the game.
The interception capped off a terrific second half for San Francisco. While Bowman made the big defensive play, Michael Crabtree sparked the offense in the second half.
Atlanta outplayed San Francisco in the first half, taking a 10-3 lead into the break. Crabtree, however, helped the 49ers erase that deficit early in the third quarter. He skied for a Colin Kaepernick pass on a 3rd-and-5 on San Francisco's first possession, hauling it in and breaking up field for a 47-yard gain. He added a 19-yard catch on the drive to set up a 49er touchdown. It was just the start for Crabtree in the half. He went on to catch five passes in the half, finishing the game with six receptions for 102 yards.
After scoring just a field goal in the first half, San Francisco scored 17-unanswered points to build a 20-10 lead. It appeared to be in firm control of the game, with Atlanta barely able to get a first down in the second half. The Falcons didn't roll over, however, with Ryan hitting Roddy White for a 39-yard touchdown pass.
The teams then went back-and-forth. Each putting together long touchdown drives. San Francisco got the scores it needed to stay in front, but Atlanta never quit and continued to put the pressure on up until Bowman's interception.
With Atlanta leading at the half and playing well, the 49ers were 30 minutes away from facing a win-or-go-home game at Arizona next week. Instead, the San Francisco responded in championship fashion. The 49ers punted on their final three drives of the first half and converted just 1-of-5 third downs. It was a different story in the second half, The 49ers scored on all four drives -- including three touchdowns -- and converted 3-of-4 third downs.
Colin Kaepernick was a big part of the second half success, using his arm and legs to attack the Falcons. He finished the game with 248 total yards and two touchdowns. It wasn't easy sledding however, and Kaepernick took a massive hit along the way when he turned right into a Falcon defender on a scramble.
To their credit, the Falcons played much better than a 4-10 injury-riddled team with nothing to play for. Atlanta matched San Francisco's physicality in the first half and did not fade in the second half, even when San Francisco surged. Ryan led the Falcons down the field on two fourth-quarter touchdown drives.
Kaepernick had a solid night, both through the air and on the ground. He threw for 197 yards and a touchdown while adding 51 rushing yards and another score.
Atlanta's Corey Peters suffered an Achilles' injury and did not return to the game.
San Francisco opened as a 10-point favorite according to OddShark.com. The 49ers came away with the win, but it was a push.
Atlanta will host Carolina next week while the 49ers will go on the road to face Arizona.