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49ers set to close the 'Stick, take on Falcons

(SportsNetwork.com) - How about an NFC Championship Game rematch on "Monday Night Football" to celebrate the last regular-season game at Candlestick Park?

Sure sounds like fun on paper but the Atlanta Falcons, who came up just short against San Francisco for last season's NFC crown, haven't held up their end of the bargain this time around.

Injures and ineffectiveness have turned Atlanta from a 13-3 team which had home-field advantage throughout last season's NFC playoff process into a 4-10 bunch which will limp into the Bay Area to take on a 10-4 49ers team on the verge on clinching another trip to the postseason.

In fact San Francisco could be celebrating before the game even kicks off if Arizona becomes the Seattle Seahawks' 15th straight victim in the Pacific Northwest a day earlier. A Cards loss on Sunday or a Niners win over the Falcons will send Jim Harbaugh's team back into the playoffs for a third consecutive year, a fitting way to say goodbye to the team's home since 1971.

"There will be tremendous memories from everybody that's ever played there," Harbaugh said. "That's why it's important for us not to screw it up and make sure we get this win."

Atlanta, on the other hand, will miss the postseason dance for the first time since 2009.

It's looks unlikely that the 49ers will catch Seattle for the NFC West title, meaning this could be the final game ever at Candlestick. The team will be moving to the new Levi's Stadium in nearby Santa Clara, Calif. for the start of the 2014 season.

Over the past four decades, Candlestick Park has played host to five Super Bowl winning teams, the Beatles' final concert in 1966 and a Papal Mass by Pope John Paul II in 1987.

At each home game this season, the franchise has been counting down the top 10 moments in 49ers history at the stadium and has finally reached No.1, "The Catch," Dwight Clark's iconic snaring of a Joe Montana pass deep in the end zone as the Niners edged the Dallas Cowboys, 28-27, in the 1982 NFC Championship Game.

The present day 49ers are trying to create some of their own lasting images and moved closer to a playoff berth in Week 15 with a convincing 33-14 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium.

Colin Kaepernick threw for 203 yards with two touchdowns on 19-of-29 passing and also rushed for 39 yards on seven attempts against the Bucs. Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree each hauled in a touchdown on five receptions. Davis finished with 79 yards, while Crabtree recorded 45.

Frank Gore rushed for 86 yards on 22 carries for San Fran, which won its fourth consecutive game.

"They (Tampa Bay) have a great defense," said Kaepernick. "They cause a lot of problems for offenses and they do a lot of things well."

The Falcons are also coming off a win, albeit an ugly one when Kirk Cousins and the Washington Redskins nearly overcame a seven-turnover nightmare before Falcons CB Desmond Trufant tipped away a potential go-ahead two-point conversion in the waning seconds to give Atlanta a 27-26 victory at the Georgia Dome.

With the Redskins trailing 27-20, Cousins led a crisp two-minute drill that ended in a 3-yard touchdown pass to Santana Moss with 18 seconds remaining.

Mike Shanahan, just days after making the decision to shut down franchise quarterback Robert Griffin III, made another headline-worthy call by going for the win.

Cousins rolled to his right and flew a floater into traffic, Trufant knocked the ball out of the back of the end zone and Atlanta secured the onside kick to win for just the second time in the past eight weeks.

"It wasn't perfect by any stretch ... but we found a way to win the ballgame," Falcons head coach Mike Smith said.

Steven Jackson rushed for two scores and Tony Gonzalez caught a touchdown pass from Matt Ryan, who finished with 210 yards and an interception on 29-of-38 passing.

The 49ers hold a significant 45-30-1 edge in their all-time series with Atlanta and an impressive 26-11 home mark, which includes a 17-2 edge between 1983-2001 when the Falcons called the NFC West home.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

The 49ers' defense has generally been stout all season but the club has taken off and won four straight because the offense and specifically Kaepernick have started to show a bit more consistency.

Kaepernick has thrown seven touchdown passes and turned it over just once during San Francisco's current run, amassing a 104.7 passer rating over that span -- a key number because the 49ers are a perfect 11-0 when the second-year starter finishes a game over the century mark.

Gore has also been heating up recently, rushing for 196 yards over the past two weeks and passing the 1,000-yard plateau for the seventh time in his career against Tampa Bay.

"Frank's an amazing running back," Kaepernick said when asked about Gore, who has 1,017 yards on the season. "I feel like he's the most underrated running back in the NFL. He does everything for our offense. What he means to this team and what he contributes really can't be quantified."

The Falcons will try to quantify it but on paper the 49ers' ground game looks too strong for Atlanta. Spearheaded by Gore, San Francisco ranks fifth in the NFL, averaging 137.1 yards a game on the ground. Conversely Atlanta allows 131.4 ypg and 4.6 yards a carry, a bottom-five mark in the league.

To their credit the Falcons haven't given up on the season and have continued to play hard with the finish line approaching. Atlanta has won two of three overall and has forced 11 turnovers over that stretch.

Meanwhile, Ryan generally excels against San Francisco. He is 2-0 in the regular season against the Niners and completed 30-of-42 passes for 396 yards with 3 TDs and a 114.8 rating in last year's championship game.

"The first (a team has to accomplish) is winning the turnover battle and the second one is winning the explosive battle," Smith said. "You put those two things together, and it's the toxic differential that you look at."

Big plays are something the Niners defense is usually adept at stopping, however. The San Fran D has given up just 36 explosive plays (defined as 20 yards or more), the second-lowest amount in the NFL.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

The 49ers have plenty to play for here. They want to give Candlestick a proper sendoff and they also want to hit the postseason running.

"I think for us, we want to leave Candlestick with a win. That's what we're worried about," Kaepernick said.

On the other hand, Atlanta has shown pride but May's draft positioning may be more important than notching a fifth win at this point.

"We desperately want to win," Harbaugh said. "(The Falcons have) had some close losses and some games that haven't gone their way. This year, more than any year I've been coaching or in this league, everybody's fighting tooth and nail for these wins and this will be no different on Monday night."

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: 49ers 27, Falcons 14

12/20 14:49:22 ET

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Schedule

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Standings

 2013 American Football Conference Standings 
East Division W L T Pct. PF PA Home Away Div Conf
y-New England 12 4 0 .750 444 338 8-0 4-4 4-2 9-3
NY Jets 8 8 0 .500 290 387 6-2 2-6 3-3 5-7
Miami 8 8 0 .500 317 335 4-4 4-4 2-4 7-5
Buffalo 6 10 0 .375 339 388 4-4 2-6 3-3 5-7
 
North Division W L T Pct. PF PA Home Away Div Conf
y-Cincinnati 11 5 0 .688 430 305 8-0 3-5 3-3 8-4
Pittsburgh 8 8 0 .500 379 370 5-3 3-5 4-2 6-6
Baltimore 8 8 0 .500 320 352 6-2 2-6 3-3 6-6
Cleveland 4 12 0 .250 308 406 3-5 1-7 2-4 3-9
 
South Division W L T Pct. PF PA Home Away Div Conf
y-Indianapolis 11 5 0 .688 391 336 6-2 5-3 6-0 9-3
Tennessee 7 9 0 .438 362 381 3-5 4-4 2-4 6-6
Jacksonville 4 12 0 .250 247 449 1-7 3-5 3-3 4-8
Houston 2 14 0 .125 276 428 1-7 1-7 1-5 2-10
 
West Division W L T Pct. PF PA Home Away Div Conf
y-Denver 13 3 0 .813 606 399 7-1 6-2 5-1 9-3
x-Kansas City 11 5 0 .688 430 305 5-3 6-2 2-4 7-5
x-San Diego 9 7 0 .563 396 348 5-3 4-4 4-2 6-6
Oakland 4 12 0 .250 322 453 3-5 1-7 1-5 4-8
 
x= clinched playoff berth
y= clinched division title
 2013 National Football Conference Standings 
East Division W L T Pct. PF PA Home Away Div Conf
y-Philadelphia 10 6 0 .625 442 382 4-4 6-2 4-2 9-3
Dallas 8 8 0 .500 439 432 5-3 3-5 5-1 7-5
NY Giants 7 9 0 .438 294 383 4-4 3-5 3-3 6-6
Washington 3 13 0 .188 334 478 2-6 1-7 0-6 1-11
 
North Division W L T Pct. PF PA Home Away Div Conf
y-Green Bay 8 7 1 .531 417 428 4-3-1 4-4 3-2-1 6-5-1
Chicago 8 8 0 .500 445 478 5-3 3-5 2-4 4-8
Detroit 7 9 0 .438 395 376 4-4 3-5 4-2 6-6
Minnesota 5 10 1 .344 391 480 5-3 0-7-1 2-3-1 4-7-1
 
South Division W L T Pct. PF PA Home Away Div Conf
y-Carolina 12 4 0 .750 366 241 7-1 5-3 5-1 9-3
x-New Orleans 11 5 0 .688 414 304 8-0 3-5 5-1 9-3
Atlanta 4 12 0 .250 353 443 3-5 1-7 1-5 3-9
Tampa Bay 4 12 0 .250 288 389 3-5 1-7 1-5 2-10
 
West Division W L T Pct. PF PA Home Away Div Conf
y-Seattle 13 3 0 .813 417 231 7-1 6-2 4-2 10-2
x-San Francisco 12 4 0 .750 406 272 6-2 6-2 5-1 9-3
Arizona 10 6 0 .625 379 324 6-2 4-4 2-4 6-6
St. Louis 7 9 0 .438 348 364 5-3 2-6 1-5 4-8
 
x= clinched playoff berth
y= clinched division title
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    Saturday at 7:30 am on WRAL-2

  • PGA: RBC Heritage

    Saturday at 3:00 pm on WRAL-TV

  • PGA: RBC Heritage

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  • Canes head coach Kirk Muller presser

    Today at 11:00 am on 99.9 The Fan

Scoreboard
Local
Final
CHR 2
DUR 9
 
7:00pm Tonight
CHA
CHI
 
7:05pm Tonight
DUR
NOR
 
7:05pm Tuesday
PHI 0
ATL 0
7:05pm Tuesday
NYY 0
CHC 0
7:05pm Tuesday
BAL 0
TAM 0
7:08pm Tuesday
DET 0
CLE 0
Final
CIN 7
PIT 5
Final
MIA 11
WAS 2
Final
TEX 5
SEA 0
Final
CWS 2
BOS 1
Final
HOU 2
KAN 4
Final
MIL 1
STL 6
Final
MIN 3
TOR 9
Final
ARI 0
NYM 9
8th
ANA 6
OAK 9
 
8th
SDP 2
COL 3
 
7th
SFG 1
LOS 2
 
12:35pm Today
CIN
PIT
12:35pm Today
BAL
TAM
 
1:05pm Today
NYY
CHC
 
1:10pm Today
MIL
STL
 
3:40pm Today
ARI
NYM
 
7:05pm Tonight
PHI
ATL
 
7:05pm Tonight
NYY
CHC
 
7:08pm Tonight
DET
CLE
 
7:10pm Tonight
MIA
WAS
 
8:05pm Tonight
TEX
SEA
 
8:10pm Tonight
CWS
BOS
 
8:10pm Tonight
HOU
KAN
 
8:10pm Tonight
MIN
TOR
 
10:05pm Tonight
ANA
OAK
 
10:10pm Tonight
SDP
COL
 
10:15pm Tonight
SFG
LOS
 
Final
BRK 98
NYK 109
4th
LAC 103
DEN 90
 
7:00pm Tonight
CHA
CHI
 
7:00pm Tonight
ORL
IND
 
8:00pm Tonight
MIL
ATL
 
8:00pm Tonight
CLE
BRK
 
8:00pm Tonight
MEM
DAL
 
8:00pm Tonight
OKC
DET
 
8:00pm Tonight
NOP
HOU
 
8:00pm Tonight
SAN
LAL
 
8:00pm Tonight
MIA
PHI
 
8:00pm Tonight
NYK
TOR
 
8:00pm Tonight
MIN
UTA
 
8:00pm Tonight
BOS
WAS
 
10:30pm Tonight
DEN
GSW
 
10:30pm Tonight
POR
LAC
 
10:30pm Tonight
SAC
PHO
 
7:00pm Tonight
TAM
MON
7:30pm Tonight
PIT
CLB
10:00pm Tonight
ANA
DAL
Final
CHR 2
DUR 9
 
7:05pm Tonight
DUR
NOR