On one hand, the San Francisco 49ers clinched a playoff spot and still have a chance to win the division and even get a number one seed in the NFC if things go their way in the final week. But there’s also the negative side to their win over the Atlanta Falcons, as they barely made it through against a much weaker team until the final minute of the game.
An excellent onside kick by the Falcons gave them the ball on the 49ers’ 30 yard line with just over two minutes to go. The Falcons advanced 19 yards before Tramaine Brock tipped a pass from Matt Ryan and Navorro Bowman wound up with the ball, turning the interception into a touchdown after bringing it back 89 yards, sealing the game at 34-24, also clinching the playoff spot for the Niners.
But for a team that has been about winning comfortable against the weaker teams while getting outplayed by the better ones all season long shouldn’t have found it so complicated to defeat the 4-11 Falcons. True, last season this was a great NFC championship game, but a lot of things have happened since that game in Atlanta, and there was no reason for the 49ers to be on the verge of losing if it wasn’t for one outstretched hand by Brock when it seemed like everything was going against the Niners.
Offensively, the Niners played a good, solid game. No mistakes, no Colin Kaepernick trying to prove he’s a pocket passer, with a focus on the running game. The 49ers rushed for 199 yards on 30 carries, but they really struggled holding off the Falcons for most of the game. The Niners finally went all out on that deciding play, blitzing Ryan with 7 players, something they rarely do. In fact, the Niners bring added pressure on only 18.5% of dropbacks, the lowest ratio in the league.
What worked extremely well for the Niners in the second half (trailing by 7 points when it began) was the connection between Kaepernick and Michael Crabtree, something they’ve been missing for most of this season. Things are back to normal, as Vernon Davis finishes games without a single catch and only three targets, while Kaepernick has eyes almost for only one receiver. Crabtree caught five passes for 102 yards.
The Niners had a lot of trouble with Ryan, who finished with two touchdown passes, two interceptions (one of them in garbage time), throwing for 348 yards. Roddy White, finally healthy, caught 12 passes and went for 141 yards, scoring a touchdown. The consistency in their secondary problems is another issue for the Niners to be worried about.
So now all that’s left is to beat the Arizona Cardinals, and wait for Seattle to lose in order to win the division, and possibly even finish first in the conference if the Panthers lose as well. That is quite unlikely considering the opponents each team has to play, but the Niners have been slightly unlucky this season when it comes to injuries, especially during the first half of the year. Maybe it’s about time things start going their way.