The Gatorade bath found the back of coach Jim Harbaugh with less than two minutes left in the fourth quarter as the 49ers broke their playoff drought, beating the St. Louis Rams 26-0 to claim their first NFC West title since 2002.
“We’ve had some tough years here and to get the opportunity to play in the postseason … it’s a blessing,” San Francisco running back Frank Gore said.
Gore and quarterback Alex Smith, who have been with the team since 2005, have never been to the postseason in their career.
“They’ve gone through each year, they’ve been here thinking this is going to be the year [to make the postseason],” Harbaugh said. “It feels good for them.”
Smith, who has been the most scrutinized player in his time with San Francisco, is just enjoying the moment.
“It’s what you work for,” he said. “This team is so committed as a group.”
Gore has watched the postseason, specifically paying attention to Arizona’s run to Super Bowl XLIII, and has seen that all it takes is an invitation and something can happen.
“You see [what Arizona did] and that lets you know that anything can happen in the postseason,” said Gore, who ran for 73 yards, which were enough to set the franchise’s all-time career rushing mark. “It’s all about perfect timing.”
With St. Louis trailing 9-0, the Rams got the ball into San Francisco territory on their first possession of the second half, but the drive ended after a Dashon Goldson interception at the 10-yard line.
The 49ers, who had not scored a touchdown in seven consecutive quarters, finally broke through when Smith connected on a 52-yard touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree to extend the lead to 16-0.
“[Crabtree’s] been playing that way for quite a few weeks,” Smith said. “Great play on the deep ball and making the catch.”
The 49ers had not scored a touchdown since the third quarter of the 49ers’ 23-7 win against Arizona on Nov. 20.
Smith finished with 274 yards on 17-for-24 passing and two touchdowns. The second TD was a 56-yarder to Kyle Williams in the fourth quarter that put the game on ice.
Patrick Willis left the game in the first quarter with a hamstring injury and did not return, but the defense did not miss a beat.
The 49ers held the Rams to 157 total yards and did not allow a rushing touchdown for the 13th straight game.
Aldon Smith collected two of the 49ers’ four sacks in the absence of Willis.
“This whole week has been player driven,” Harbaugh said. “They knew what this was about. They knew what was at stake this week.”
Since division realignment in 2002, it is only the second time the NFC West has been clinched in Week 13, joining the 2005 Seattle Seahawks.
On his third field goal of the day, David Akers set the 49ers’ record for most made field goals in a single season (31), breaking the old record set in 1996 by Jeff Wilkins. Akers added a fourth field goal in the second half.