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    34


    NFL Preview - Atlanta (4-10) at San Francisco (10-4)



    By John McMullen, NFL Editor

    (SportsNetwork.com) - How about an NFC Championship Game rematch on "Monday Night Football" to celebrate the last regular-season game at Candlestick Park?

    Sure sounds like fun on paper but the Atlanta Falcons, who came up just short against San Francisco for last season's NFC crown, haven't held up their end of the bargain this time around.

    Injures and ineffectiveness have turned Atlanta from a 13-3 team which had home-field advantage throughout last season's NFC playoff process into a 4-10 bunch which will limp into the Bay Area to take on a 10-4 49ers team on the verge on clinching another trip to the postseason.

    In fact San Francisco could be celebrating before the game even kicks off if Arizona becomes the Seattle Seahawks' 15th straight victim in the Pacific Northwest a day earlier. A Cards loss on Sunday or a Niners win over the Falcons will send Jim Harbaugh's team back into the playoffs for a third consecutive year, a fitting way to say goodbye to the team's home since 1971.

    "There will be tremendous memories from everybody that's ever played there," Harbaugh said. "That's why it's important for us not to screw it up and make sure we get this win."

    Atlanta, on the other hand, will miss the postseason dance for the first time since 2009.

    It's looks unlikely that the 49ers will catch Seattle for the NFC West title, meaning this could be the final game ever at Candlestick. The team will be moving to the new Levi's Stadium in nearby Santa Clara, Calif. for the start of the 2014 season.

    Over the past four decades, Candlestick Park has played host to five Super Bowl winning teams, the Beatles' final concert in 1966 and a Papal Mass by Pope John Paul II in 1987.

    At each home game this season, the franchise has been counting down the top 10 moments in 49ers history at the stadium and has finally reached No.1, "The Catch," Dwight Clark's iconic snaring of a Joe Montana pass deep in the end zone as the Niners edged the Dallas Cowboys, 28-27, in the 1982 NFC Championship Game.

    The present day 49ers are trying to create some of their own lasting images and moved closer to a playoff berth in Week 15 with a convincing 33-14 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium.

    Colin Kaepernick threw for 203 yards with two touchdowns on 19-of-29 passing and also rushed for 39 yards on seven attempts against the Bucs. Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree each hauled in a touchdown on five receptions. Davis finished with 79 yards, while Crabtree recorded 45.

    Frank Gore rushed for 86 yards on 22 carries for San Fran, which won its fourth consecutive game.

    "They (Tampa Bay) have a great defense," said Kaepernick. "They cause a lot of problems for offenses and they do a lot of things well."

    The Falcons are also coming off a win, albeit an ugly one when Kirk Cousins and the Washington Redskins nearly overcame a seven-turnover nightmare before Falcons CB Desmond Trufant tipped away a potential go-ahead two-point conversion in the waning seconds to give Atlanta a 27-26 victory at the Georgia Dome.

    With the Redskins trailing 27-20, Cousins led a crisp two-minute drill that ended in a 3-yard touchdown pass to Santana Moss with 18 seconds remaining.

    Mike Shanahan, just days after making the decision to shut down franchise quarterback Robert Griffin III, made another headline-worthy call by going for the win.

    Cousins rolled to his right and flew a floater into traffic, Trufant knocked the ball out of the back of the end zone and Atlanta secured the onside kick to win for just the second time in the past eight weeks.

    "It wasn't perfect by any stretch ... but we found a way to win the ballgame," Falcons head coach Mike Smith said.

    Steven Jackson rushed for two scores and Tony Gonzalez caught a touchdown pass from Matt Ryan, who finished with 210 yards and an interception on 29-of-38 passing.

    The 49ers hold a significant 45-30-1 edge in their all-time series with Atlanta and an impressive 26-11 home mark, which includes a 17-2 edge between 1983-2001 when the Falcons called the NFC West home.

    WHAT TO WATCH FOR

    The 49ers' defense has generally been stout all season but the club has taken off and won four straight because the offense and specifically Kaepernick have started to show a bit more consistency.

    Kaepernick has thrown seven touchdown passes and turned it over just once during San Francisco's current run, amassing a 104.7 passer rating over that span -- a key number because the 49ers are a perfect 11-0 when the second-year starter finishes a game over the century mark.

    Gore has also been heating up recently, rushing for 196 yards over the past two weeks and passing the 1,000-yard plateau for the seventh time in his career against Tampa Bay.

    "Frank's an amazing running back," Kaepernick said when asked about Gore, who has 1,017 yards on the season. "I feel like he's the most underrated running back in the NFL. He does everything for our offense. What he means to this team and what he contributes really can't be quantified."

    The Falcons will try to quantify it but on paper the 49ers' ground game looks too strong for Atlanta. Spearheaded by Gore, San Francisco ranks fifth in the NFL, averaging 137.1 yards a game on the ground. Conversely Atlanta allows 131.4 ypg and 4.6 yards a carry, a bottom-five mark in the league.

    To their credit the Falcons haven't given up on the season and have continued to play hard with the finish line approaching. Atlanta has won two of three overall and has forced 11 turnovers over that stretch.

    Meanwhile, Ryan generally excels against San Francisco. He is 2-0 in the regular season against the Niners and completed 30-of-42 passes for 396 yards with 3 TDs and a 114.8 rating in last year's championship game.

    "The first (a team has to accomplish) is winning the turnover battle and the second one is winning the explosive battle," Smith said. "You put those two things together, and it's the toxic differential that you look at."

    Big plays are something the Niners defense is usually adept at stopping, however. The San Fran D has given up just 36 explosive plays (defined as 20 yards or more), the second-lowest amount in the NFL.

    OVERALL ANALYSIS

    The 49ers have plenty to play for here. They want to give Candlestick a proper sendoff and they also want to hit the postseason running.

    "I think for us, we want to leave Candlestick with a win. That's what we're worried about," Kaepernick said.

    On the other hand, Atlanta has shown pride but May's draft positioning may be more important than notching a fifth win at this point.

    "We desperately want to win," Harbaugh said. "(The Falcons have) 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."

    Sports Network Predicted Outcome: 49ers 27, Falcons 14

    12/20 12:15:09 ET

    Powered by The Sports Network.

    Welcome to Great38 Tampa Bay WTTA-TV/DT - WFLA News Channel 8

    Welcome to Great38 Tampa Bay WTTA-TV/DT - WFLA News Channel 8

      Great 38: Win tickets to Daytona 500

      Updated:

      Here's your chance to win tickets to the 2015 Daytona 500. Entering is easy, simply fill out the entry form included. More>>

      • Great Stuff

      News Now: Media General CEO talks about his career, future for company Video included

      Updated:

      In December, LIN Media and Media General merged to create the second largest broadcasting company in the country. The former CEO and President of LIN Media, Vince Sadusky, was placed at the helm of the new and improved Media General. More>>

      Bill Schifino, Jr talks about being President-Elect of the Florida Bar Video included

      Updated:

      Earlier this month, Bill Schifino, Jr. was announced as the 2015-16 President-Elect of the Florida Bar. Schifino comes to this position with a strong resume. More>>

      Trio sets off on 900 mile trek across Florida Video included

      Updated:

      Joe Guthrie, Mallory Lykes Dimmitt, and Carlton Ward Jr. are embarking on a journey of a lifetime. The trio are setting off on a 70-day, 900 mile trek across the state???without any automobiles.
      More>>

      How this guide dog helps one blind triathlete chase her Paralympic dream

      Updated:

      Every time Paralympic hopeful Amy Dixon makes it to the end of another grueling triathlon, she knows her trusty companion will be waiting for her at the finish line. Sixteen years after she lost vision in her right eye, which she says she viewed as "a death sentence" at the time,  More>>

      Legoland Florida hotel to open in spring; built for kids

      LEGOLAND Florida photo LEGOLAND Florida photo
      Updated:

      Legoland Florida Hotel will welcome its first guests a month earlier than previously expected.During an announcement Thursday, Legoland executives announced May 15 as the revised opening date.  More>>

      3 rhinos escape from safari zoo, return safely Video included

      Updated:

      Three rhinoceroses escaped from their site at a safari zoo in Israel this week, NBC reported.  More>>

      VIRAL VIDEO: Bossy 4-year-old girl feeds 6 pit bull dogs

      Little Girl Controls Pit Bull Dogs | Future Dog Trainer, Jukin Video on YouTube Little Girl Controls Pit Bull Dogs | Future Dog Trainer, Jukin Video on YouTube
      Updated:

      A video of a very authoritative 4-year-old girl feeding six very obedient pit pulls in the middle of a kitchen has gone viral on the web and is prompting a heated debate about the pit bull breed.
      More>>

      8 fun things to do in Tampa Bay this weekend | January 17-18 Video included

      Updated:

      See 8 fun things happening this weekend in Tampa Bay!
      More>>

      'Birdman,' 'Budapest' top Oscar nominations with 9 nods each

      Updated:

      Two extravagant comedies, "Birdman" and "The Grand Budapest Hotel," tied for the most Oscar nominations Thursday morning with nine nods each, including best picture. More>>

      109th Tarpon Springs Epiphany: Schedule of Events, Road Closures

      TARPON SPRINGS EPIPHANY CELEBRATION 2011 photo by Sue Thomas TARPON SPRINGS EPIPHANY CELEBRATION 2011 photo by Sue Thomas
      Updated:

      The 109th Epiphany celebration begins Monday, January 5 with the Arrival of His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios and the blessing of the fleet and continues on Tuesday, January 6 with Epiphany Services, Procession, Cross Dive and Glendi Celebration.  More>>

      Out and About
      Powered by WorldNow

      200 South Parker Street, Tampa, FL 33606

      Telephone: 813.228.8888
      Fax: 813.225.2770
      Email: news@wfla.com

      Can???t find something?
      Powered by WorldNow
      All content © Copyright 2000 - 2015 Media General Communications Holdings, LLC. A Media General Company.