After so much talk about past moments and memories made at Candlestick Park, NaVorro Bowman’s interception and subsequent touchdown felt like getting pulled out of a dream.
Wake up! Real things are happening! Crazy things, things you never would’ve imagined!
The 49ers won 34-24, and made the postseason for the third straight season. But that’s like saying your wedding day was a party where people ate some cake. The entire evening was packed with action, drama and Chris Berman. But mostly action and drama.
It all started with one of the most regrettable plays of this season for Bowman, when as a member of the hands team he failed to corral an onside kick that was recovered by the Falcons. Atlanta was down by three points with two minutes left, and the best the 49ers could hope for was a tie and an extra quarter of football on Candlestick Park’s last night.
Then Tramaine Brock broke up a pass to Harry Douglas, the ball landed in Bowman’s hands, and the rest is history.
“It was an all-out blitz. I aborted my blitz and read the quarterback. T-Brock made a great job of breaking on the ball and I came up with it and took advantage,” Bowman said. “It’s my best play yet. I told Pat (Willis), I’m good for one interception a year.”
I was holding my video camera, and by the time I realized what we were witnessing and turned the stupid thing on, Bowman was already at the 20-yard line and Jim Harbaugh probably wasn’t far behind. You can check out a great GIF compilation my wife made of the play itself; the best I could do was put together this video of what it was like on Bill Walsh Field as Bowman dove into the end zone and everyone lost their minds.
You might notice in the video that several members of the team were having a good laugh, especially Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin. There was no other way one could react. The 49ers were staring at a situation where they would probably have to win at Arizona to make the playoffs, and instead the guy who screwed up royally became the last Candlestick King.
“He made up for what happened before that,” said Crabtree, who noted afterward that he isn’t on the hands team.
“Now he is,” said Anquan Boldin, who laughed once again.
Nobody was even smiling early on, as the 49ers began their final night at their longtime home as if it was a preseason game in August. The offense gained just 113 yards in the first half, and the Falcons took the lead on a touchdown run by Steven Jackson that was set up by a personal foul penalty on Donte Whitner, who crushed Jackson on the previous play (GIF of the hit can be seen here).
San Francisco came out firing in the second half, with Colin Kaepernick playing perhaps his best quarter of the season as he passed for 128 yards (99 to Crabtree) and a touchdown in the third.
The 49ers finished with 379 total yards, including 97 rushing yards by Frank Gore, who scored his 60th rushing touchdown (70th overall) and is now 47 yards short of 10,000 in his career.
Another longtime 49er who shined was Patrick Willis, who played as if he wanted to leave a part of his soul here. Willis made 18 tackles (15 solo), three tackles for loss and a pass deflection. After one hit he emerged from the pile helmetless. It brought to mind Harbaugh’s oft-used phrase “compete like a maniac.” It’s an image I’ll always remember from this game, one of many.
– Vernon Davis left the game for a few plays, and the way he left the field and kept wiping his face on the sideline made it seem like he might have suffered another concussion. I asked Davis about the injury, and he told me he got poked in his right eye. That makes sense, because it seemed like he had trouble locating a couple of Kaepernick’s passes later on.
– After Kaepernick looked particularly motivated during a nine-yard read option scramble in the red zone, I tweeted this:
Kaepernick wouldn’t mind rushing one in and “Kaepernicking” one last time at The Stick.
— Bay Area Sports Guy (@BASportsGuy) December 24, 2013
Three plays later, Kaepernick took it in from four yards out. I asked Kaepernick if the chance to get one last rushing touchdown at Candlestick was on his mind.
“No, I wasn’t worried about that. I was worried about trying to win this game and get into the playoffs,” he said.
Fair enough, but I detected the slightest hint of a smile when he answered the question.
– Joe Montana didn’t make it, as the figures who took the stage along with Berman at the 10-yard line after the game included Steve Young, Jerry Rice, Dwight Clark, Terrell Owens, Jed York and Eddie Debartolo (who was wearing sunglasses after trying to twist off the top of an Anchor Steam earlier in the evening). Then Boyz II Men took the stage, which was my cue to head to the locker room.
– I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface on this game. There are more GIFs, tons of photos, and I got a chance to speak with a very emotional Eric Wright (who grew up within walking distance of The Stick). But we’ll have to get to all that tomorrow, since it’s midnight as I type these words. Goodnight all, and goodbye Candlestick. You sent us off with one last crazy game we’ll always remember. Here’s one last photo before I make the long trek back to my car.