Candlestick Park has been home to the San Francisco 49ers since 1971. On Monday Night, it will host its final regular season game when the 49ers face the Atlanta Falcons in a rematch of last season’s NFC Championship Game.
With the Seahawks loss to the Cardinals yesterday, San Francisco still has a chance not only at the NFC West title, but also the number 1 seed in the conference.
In order for San Francisco to win the West, the team needs to beat the Falcons this week, the Cardinals next week, and needs the Seahawks to lose to the Rams in week 17. An additional loss by the Panthers next week would give them the number 1 seed in the NFC. They could also miss the playoffs all together.
Aside from the scenarios, the 49ers are playing as good as they’ve played all season and have won four straight games. The Falcons season has been a complete disaster, but they’re coming on late. Atlanta has a chance to spoil the 49ers San Francisco farewell.
Michael Crabree’s return to the 49ers lineup has worked wonders for Colin Kaepernick and this offense. In his last 4 games, Kaepernick has thrown 7 touchdowns and just one turnover. He had 10 in his first 12 games of the season. The running game though is the strengths of this offense. San Francisco sports the NFL’s 5th ranked rushing attack averaging 137.1 yards on the ground per game. Frank Gore just surpassed the 1,000 yard plateau for the 7th time in his career and he’s stepped up his game recently rushing for 196 yards over his past 2 games. The passing attack though ranks 2nd to last, and the offense overall ranks 30th behind teams like the Jets, Bills, and Raiders. That doesn’t mean that this offense can’t explode like it did in week one with weapons like Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis.
The Atlanta Falcons may be 4-10, but it’s not because of the play of Matt Ryan. Ryan has had to overcome the NFL’s worst rushing attack, and one of the NFL’s worst defenses this season. He’s completing 66 percent of his passes, is 113 yards shy of 4,000 for the season, and has thrown for 22 touchdowns even with the loss of Julio Jones for the majority of the season. The addition of Steven Jackson was supposed to be a game changer for Atlanta. It was, in a bad way. Jackson’s play has been atrocious. He’s rushed for 449 yards, and is averaging 3.5 yards per carry. The Falcons are averaging a league worst 79.3 rushing yards per game which has resulted in the offense’s inability to extend drives.
49ers – If you can’t run the ball, you have no chance, and the Falcons simply can’t run the football. San Francisco’s offense is significantly more efficient.
Entering Week 16, the 49ers have the NFL’s top rated defense. Overall, San Francisco is 4th best against the pass, and 5th best against the run. Last week, Tampa Bay was held to 183 total yards against the 49ers defense. The key has been the emphatic return of Aldon Smith to the lineup. Smith is tied for the team lead with 8.5 sacks, and he’s only played in 9 games. Ahmad Brooks also has 8.5 sacks. Brooks, along with NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis are far and away the best set of linebackers on one team in the NFL. Eric Reid and Tramaine Brock have been big time playmakers in the secondary with 4 interceptions apiece. Donte Whitner and Carlos Rogers round out an outstanding pass defense.
The biggest reason why the Atlanta Falcons are 4-10, and not 10-4 at this point is defense. The Falcons have been unable to stop the run, or the pass, and haven’t been able to get to opposing quarterbacks. Atlanta ranks dead last in the NFL with 28 sacks and are 22nd in total defense. If Colin Kaepernick has all the time in the pocket, and Frank Gore has all the running room in the world, the Falcons would basically have no chance to stop this offense. Osi Umenyiora has been the only legitimate player on this defense all season. He has over 25 percent of the teams sacks with 7.5. It’s essentially been a case of everything that could have gone wrong, has gone wrong in Atlanta.
49ers – San Francisco has the top ranked defense in the NFL, and the Falcons can’t do anything right defensively.
Kicker: Matt Bryant vs. Phil Dawson
Punter: Matt Bosher vs. Andy Lee
Return Man: Jacquizz Rogers vs. LaMichael James
Phil Dawson may be 38, but you wouldn’t no it by looking at his stats. Dawson’s hit a team record 24 straight field goals and he hasn’t missed a kick since September 26th. Matt Bryant, like Dawson, has 3 misses this year, but 2 of them have occurred in the past month.
Matt Bosher and Andy Lee have two of the strongest legs in the NFL. Both rank in the top 10 in the league in yards per punt. Bosher though has only 1 touchback, while Lee has 7.
In the return game, neither LaMichael James or Jacquizz Rogers have made significant impacts.
49ers – Phil Dawson is having the best season of any kicker in 49ers history.
The Falcons will keep it close, but the 49ers aren’t losing its final regular season game in such a historic stadium.
49ers 31 Falcons 21