A dramatic, fourth-quarter interception return clinched a playoff spot for the San Francisco 49ers as they edged the Atlanta Falcons 34-24 on Monday to celebrate their final regular-season game at Candlestick Park.
With the 49ers leading by just 27-24 and about two minutes left, Atlanta drove down to San Francisco’s 10 yard-line, before quarterback Matt Ryan saw his pass intercepted by NaVorro Bowman, who took it 89 yards for the clinching score.
“Just reading the quarterback. I was just running to the ball, it popped up and I was able to make a play for my team,” Bowman told reporters. “[There’s] A lot of history in this stadium and for this to be the last game, we could not leave with the [loss].”
The wild finish put San Francisco (11-4) back in the playoffs after they reached the Super Bowl last season.
They still have a chance to capture the NFC West division if they win next week’s season finale and the first-placed Seattle Seahawks (12-3) lose.
However, what is more likely is that the 49ers have played their last game at Candlestick Park, where they have a 42-year history and indelible memories of five Super Bowl winning seasons.
They are set to move into a new stadium next season.
San Francisco’s successful sendoff was sparked by Colin Kaepernick, who tossed for 197 yards and a score, before running for 51 and another touchdown.
He led the 49ers to 17 straight points and a 20-10 lead early in the fourth, after they trailed 10-3 at halftime, but the Falcons would not give up in the riveting final period.
Ryan threw a 39-yard touchdown strike to Roddy White to get the visitors within three.
San Francisco responded with a drive that was capped by Frank Gore’s one-yard score, but Atlanta answered again on a quick drive and two-yard touchdown pass to Tony Gonzalez to make it 27-24 with 2:09 to go.
The Falcons successfully recovered an onside kick to set up the game-altering possession and interception.
Ryan finished with 348 yards passing, two scores and two interceptions in the defeat, while his primary target, White, had 12 catches for 141 yards.
“When we got the onside kick in the end, we had a great opportunity to win, but it wasn’t meant to be,” Ryan said.
After facing off with the 49ers in last season’s NFC Championship, the Falcons (4-11) are poised to miss the post-season for the first time since 2009.