49ers thwart Falcons, clinch playoff berth
NaVarro Bowman returns interception to seal win for San Francisco
Linebacker NaVarro Bowman's 89-yard interception return with 1:10 to play sealed the 49ers' 34-24 win over the Atlanta Falcons and clinched a postseason berth for San Francisco.
The 49ers (11-4) hung on for the victory in the final regular-season game at their home for the past 43 seasons, Candlestick Park.
The Falcons (4-11) sliced the 49ers' lead to 27-24 with 2:14 remaining when tight end Tony Gonzalez caught a 2-yard touchdown pass from Matt Ryan.
Atlanta running back Jason Snelling then recovered an onside kick at San Francisco's 30-yard line, and two completions by Ryan moved the Falcons to the 10-yard line.
On second-and-1, Ryan's pass was knocked loose by cornerback Tramaine Brock and snared by Bowman, who sprinted for the score.
Held to a field goal in the first half, San Francisco controlled the ball for more than 11 minutes in the third quarter on running back Frank Gore's pounding runs and the passing and running of Colin Kaepernick. The 49ers quarterback completed 13 of 21 passes for 197 yards and a touchdown, and he ran six times for 51 yards and another score.
Gore amassed 97 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries. San Francisco wide receiver Michael Crabtree made five receptions for 102 yards.
The 49ers, moving to a stadium under construction in Santa Clara, 40 miles to the south, built a an apparently safe 27-17 lead before the Falcons came back.
Ryan finished 37-for-48 for 348 yards and two touchdowns. He was intercepted twice. Atlanta wide receiver Roddy White caught 12 passes for 141 yards and a touchdown.
The Falcons left the field at the end of a rather dull first half with a 10-3 lead. The touchdown was set up by a 59-yard pass play from Ryan, who escaped several tacklers, to wide receiver Drew Davis, who escaped a great many tacklers and made it to the 5.
After an Atlanta penalty moved the ball back to the 7, San Francisco safety Donte Whitner was called for unnecessary roughness breaking up a pass -- there is a belief the NFL is looking out for Whitner, who briefly asked to change his last name to "Hitner" -- and Jackson punched in the ball from the 2.
The Falcons had 170 yards in offense before intermission, compared to 113 for the Niners, who came in having won their last four in succession.
NOTES: Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice, now an ESPN broadcaster, ran pass patterns pregame in a suit and tie. ... Willie Mays and Willie McCovey, baseball Hall of Famers who starred for the San Francisco Giants, were in attendance for the farewell to Candlestick Park. ... Falcons QB Matt Ryan, who said he watched 49ers games on TV when Steve Young and Joe Montana were QBs, thought it was "cool" to be in the apparent final game at the 'Stick. ... G Mike Iupati, out the previous four games, started for the Niners. ... Atlanta DT Corey Peters left in the second quarter with an Achilles injury.