While tonight might be the last scheduled 49ers game at Candlestick Park, Sunday's results in the NFC West have opened the door to the possibility of more games at the Stick.
With the Arizona Cardinals' upset win against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday — ending Seattle's 14-game home winning streak — the 49ers can still win the division by winning their final two games of the season, starting with the Atlanta Falcons tonight, but they would need the Seahawks to lose their finale against the St. Louis Rams. A third straight NFC West crown would mean at least one home playoff game for San Francisco before bidding a final farewell to the team's home since 1971.
Despite a new glimmer of hope, however, the win by Arizona keeps its playoff hopes alive, and means the 49ers still have a chance of missing the playoffs altogether if they lose their final two games. They can take care of that tonight, however, as a win over the Falcons means San Francisco is guaranteed at least a wild-card spot.
This is hardly the same Falcons team the 49ers rallied to beat in the NFC Championship Game last season. They come in with a 4-10 record, already guaranteed their first losing season since 2007. Quarterback Matt Ryan has thrown 14 interceptions; the team's leading rusher, Steven Jackson, has the same number of rushing yards as 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick at 449.
San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh, however, said the team is not as different as their record would indicate.
“A lot of the same players,” he said. “Like everybody, you fight tooth and nail for wins on Sundays, Mondays, Thursdays, whatever the case may be. And they've had some close losses and some games that haven't gone their way. This year, more than any year I've been coaching or in this league, everybody's fighting tooth and nail for these wins and this will be no different on Monday night.”
Kaepernick said he expects the Falcons to come in with something to prove as they try to salvage some pride from a lost season.
“They're going to bring everything they have,” Kaepernick said.
For the 49ers' part, they will have to adapt to the loss of fullback Bruce Miller, who injured his shoulder blade during last week's win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Backup running back Anthony Dixon will shift roles and try to fill the void left by Miller's absence for the rest of the season.
“Anthony Dixon will step up and do a great job, as he has been doing in that backup fullback role,” Harbaugh said. “I know we'd like to, at times he'd like to be running the ball more, but never a complaint about that. And you never have to worry about A.D.'s effort and I look forward to watching him compete.”
49ers vs. Falcons
WHEN: Today, 5:40 p.m.
WHERE: Candlestick Park
TV: ESPN, KPIX (Ch. 5)
RADIO: KNBR (680 AM), KSAN (107.7 FM)
1:30 p.m.: Parking lots open
2 p.m.: Stadium gates open
National anthem: SFPD Sergeant Jerry D'Arcy and the colors will be presented by the SFPD Honor Guard
First-quarter break: Candlestick Park card stunt
Halftime: Gold Rush's final performance at Candlestick Park, as well as tributes to key individuals in Candlestick history
Postgame: Ceremony to honor the team's tenure at the Stick