SAN FRANCISCO (AFP) – NaVorro Bowman’s interception return for a touchdown sealed San Francisco’s 34-24 win over Atlanta, clinching an NFL playoff spot for the 49ers in their farewell to Candlestick Park.
The 49ers almost wasted a chance to punch their post-season ticket, and the underdog Falcons almost spoiled what was supposed to be a celebratory send-off to Candlestick in the last regular-season game to be held there.
There’s still a remote chance the 49ers could host a playoff game, but they’ll need plenty of other results to fall their way next week to gain home field advantage and give fans one more look at them in the stadium where they’ve played since 1971.
At least they’re playoff bound, holding on after quarterback Matt Ryan and the Falcons nearly came back from a 10-point deficit.
Ryan connected with Roddy White for a touchdown with less than nine minutes to play and found Tony Gonzalez for a two-yard touchdown with 2:09 left to pull the Falcons within 27-24.
Atlanta’s Jason Snelling then secured the ensuing onsides kick with a one-handed catch along the sideline.
Atlanta moved to the San Francisco 10-yard line with 1:31 to play, and Ryan threw a short pass intended for Harry Douglas that was disrupted by Tramaine Brock.
The ball squirted up and Bowman grabbed it and charged 89 yards down the field for a touchdown that sent the Candlestick crowd crazy.
“That was one of the greatest plays I’ve ever seen,” said a delighted 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, who turned 50 on Monday. “And it was the best birthday present I’ve ever gotten.”
Harbaugh said the hoopla surrounding the last regular-season game at Candlestick hadn’t been a distraction.
“The build up to the final regular-season game at the iconic Candlestick Park — I love history, I appreciate history as much as anyone, but for the men that were in the arena it’s about the future,” Harbaugh said. “This game was about that — what our destiny was.”
Candlestick Park — known for the fickle wind and fog blowing off San Francisco Bay — opened in 1960 as the home of baseball’s San Francisco Giants. It became home to the 49ers as well in 1971 and has served as the home field for five Super Bowl winning 49er teams.
The stadium, which hosted a Beatles concert in 1966 and a papal appearance in 1987, is slated for demolition in about a year.
The Giants moved out in 1999 and the 49ers are set to move into a new $1.2 billion stadium in the Silicon Valley city of Santa Clara next season.
But Bowman was glad his 49ers capped a celebratory evening attended by such Candlestick luminaries as Giants great Willie Mays and 49ers legend Jerry Rice with a victory.
“There’s a lot of history in this stadium, and for this to be the last game, we cannot leave it with an ‘L.’ So I’m glad we got the ‘W,’” he said.