SAN FRANCISCO -- The Falcons bid farewell to Candlestick Park Monday night. To help them remember the occasion, the 49ers kicked them in the mouth.
With the Falcons driving in for the go-ahead touchdown inside the last two minutes, Matt Ryan's pass intended for Harry Douglas was broken up by San Francisco cornerback Tramaine Brock, popped up into the waiting arms of 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman, who raced 89 yards for a touchdown to secure a 34-24 victory.
The locals stood for the final minutes and were chatting, "Candlestick, Candlestick."
Douglas was not sure if he was interfered with on the play.
"When it popped up in the air, I was just hoping that it would hit the ground," Douglas said. "It was just one of those plays."
After playing a strong first half, the Falcons were outscored 10-0 in the third quarter and fell behind 20-10 early in the fourth.
But like they have in so many games in Ryan's first five seasons, the Falcons rallied behind him and closed to within 27-24 with 2:14 to play. Then they even got the onside kick recovery from Jason Snelling to set up the potential game-winning drive.
Enter Bowman, whose touchdown came with 1:31 left.
"This was a tough one," center Joe Hawley said. "We just got a bad break on that last play. We were right there. We had them on the ropes and let it get away from us."
The 49ers improved to 11-4, while the Falcons dropped to 4-11, guaranteeing that they will be drafting no lower than eighth in the upcoming NFL draft in May 8-10.
"When we got the onside
kick at the end of the game, I thought we had a great opportunity to go win it," Ryan said. "But it wasn't meant to be. Sometimes the ball bounces in the other direction and that's kind of been the case for us."
There was nothing on the line for the Falcons, but that draft position and some pride. They played a solid first half, led 10-3 at the break and then were manhandled again in the third quarter. For the season, the Falcons have been outscored 89-49 in the third period.
"We had a little lull in the second half, but you have to give them credit where credit is due," linebacker Joplo Bartu said.
The 49ers opened like a team needing a win to make the playoffs.
Behind a couple of passes to wide receiver Anquan Boldin and a 10-yard run by running back Frank Gore, the 49ers quickly moved into Atlanta's territory.
On third-and-2 from the 30, defensive tackle Corey Peters sacked 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick kicker Phil Dawson made a 49-yard field goal to make it 3-0.
Peters would later leave the game after injuring his right Achilles and did not return.
After picking up a first down on the next Falcons possession, the offense couldn't overcome a false start penalty by left tackle Lamar Holmes.
Punter Chris Bosher boomed a 56-yard punt that forced 49ers returner LaMichael James to call a fair catch at the 49ers' 8.
Atlanta' defense forced a punt after linebacker Stephen Nicholas sacked Kaepernick early in the second quarter.
The Falcons received a big-chunk play from an unlikely source. On third-and-6 from their 36, Ryan stepped up in the pocket and tossed a 14-yard pass to wide receiver Drew Davis, who put a spin move on Brock and dashed for 45 yards after the catch down to the 49ers' 5.
Two plays later and after a unsportsmanlike penalty on 49ers safety Donte Whitner, Falcons running back Steven Jackson scored a 2-yard touchdown for a 7-3 lead.
Atlanta got the ball back at San Francisco's 47 with 1:41 left in the half and Matt Bryant added a 35-yard field with 5 seconds left for the halftime margin.
The Falcons have struggled all season in the third quarter and they did so again.
"We were going against a good defense," Ryan said. "I think we knew coming into that, again, there were going to be drives where we had opportunities to convert. We needed to convert and create some explosive plays on third down."
On two possessions, the 49ers crafted a 10-yard touchdown reception fromBoldin and a 30-yard field goal from Dawson to take a 13-10 lead with 3:16 left in the third quarter.
Kaepernick added a 4-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter and with the 49ers up 20-10, the festive crowd started to sense a victory.
But they couldn't start the party. The Falcons drove in for a touchdown when Ryan hooked up with Roddy White for a 39-yard score with 8:34 left in the game.
Needing a stop, the Falcons defense yielded a six-play, 77-yard drive that was capped by Gore's 1-yard touchdown run for a 27-17 advantage.
The 49ers didn't have to throw the ball as they powered the ball at the Falcons on runs for 17, 9, 3, 45, 1 and 1 yards.
Backup running back Kendall Hunter had the 45-yard run.