It was a tale of two halves at Candlestick Park Sunday. After lulling the crowd into a yawn-inducing slumber with a first half full of mental mistakes, dropped passes and missed tackles the 49ers rebounded to dominate the Cardinals and win the NFC West title.
Still rusty from a shellacking in Seattle, the 49ers waited until the second half to break open the game, spurred by career high days from Michael Crabtree and Colin Kaepernick.
“Coming out after halftime, we knew that we had to buckle down,” said Tarell Brown. “We wanted to go out there and prove that we were the best team on the field.”
Kaepernick came out guns blazing, leading four scoring drives to stretch a one point halftime lead to 21 a quarter of the way through the fourth, and ended the day with a career high 276 yards through the air.
The 27-13 win over Arizona ensures the 49ers the number two seed in the playoffs and a first round bye.
“One of our goals was to win this division, but our ultimate goal was to make it to the Super Bowl and win that,” said Patrick Willis. ”[The first round bye] is a chance to get healthier in areas and really just mentally be that much more in tune as to what we need to do as a team.”
With many playoff games being decided by one field goal, David Akers may be a liability heading into the postseason, and could be the difference between a Superbowl run or an early exit from the playoffs.
Akers missed two field goals from 40 and 44 yards Sunday, making him a dismal 9 of 19 from 40+ yards on the season. Jim Harbaugh twice went for it on fourth down instead of attempting a long range field goal, showing lack of faith in his kicker.
When asked if he had to think about changing kickers for the playoffs, Harbaugh responded, “I don’t know if we have to. We will evaluate the position. It’s his job to make field goals.”
Crabtree hauled in eight passes on the day for a career high 172 yards and two touchdowns. The standout effort for the evasive WR increased his season total to 1,105. He is the first 49er to break the 1,000 yard recieving mark since Terrell Owens in 2003.
Alex Smith guided the last two series on offense, essentially during garbage time, however as the former starting quarterback took the field the fans gave him a standing ovation.
“To go out there and get that kind of response was very cool. We’ve been through a lot, the fans and me,” Smith stated after the game.
It could have been the last snaps that Smith has taken for the 49ers, as speculation is that the eight year veteren will not return next season.
Frank Gore showed off his tenacity in the final frame, putting an exclamation mark on a 68 yard rushing day with a game sealing touchdown after a turnover deep in Arizona territory.
With the two yard plunge, Frank Gore recorded his 51st career rushing TD, breaking the franchise mark he previously shared with Roger Craig and Joe Perry.
After the score Gore flung the football into the crowd, just as Crabtree did after his two touchdowns, making the regular season home finale somewhat of a fan appreciation football giveaway. The NFL fines players $5,000 for throwing balls into the stands, but for three lucky fans, a priceless gift was given.
The 49ers will have a home playoff game at 5:00 PM PT on Saturday January 12. If the Packers beat the Vikings in their playoff game next week, the Packers would travel to San Francisco. If The Vikings win, the winner of the Redskins/Seahawks game would play at the 49ers.