Things couldn’t have worked out better for the 49ers Sunday.
Just a week after getting mauled by the Seattle Seahawks on national TV, the 49ers rebounded Sunday at Candlestick Park by beating the Arizona Cardinals 27-13 to clinch the NFC West championship.
When the Packers then lost a 37-34 decision to the Vikings, San Francisco (11-4-1) earned the NFC’s No. 2 playoff seed (behind Atlanta) and a first-round bye in the postseason.
That gives the 49ers two weeks off until they host a playoff game at Candlestick. The Niners will face the highest-seeded team still alive from next weekend’s wild-card matchup of Minnesota at Green Bay or Seattle at either Washington or Dallas (which play Sunday night).
It’s the second straight division championship for San Francisco in head coach Jim Harbaugh’s second season, but the 49ers started slowly against the Cards.
Arizona took a 6-0 lead early in the second quarter on two Jay Feely field goals, but then the 49ers responded with a 49-yard pass from Colin Kaepernick to Michael Crabtree to take a 7-6 lead at halftime.
San Francisco extended its lead to 17-6 on a 43-yard David Akers field goal and Crabtree’s 7-yard TD catch in the third quarter, then pushed its lead to 27-6 in the final period on Frank Gore’s 2-yard run and a short Akers field goal, ensuring a second straight division title.
Going into Sunday’s regular-season finale, the Niners knew they needed a win to capture the division. A loss and a win by the Seahawks over the Rams (Seattle eventually won in OT, 20-13) would have given the division title to Seattle.
Kaepernick, who had a disappointing performance in the loss at Seattle the previous week, responded by throwing for 276 yards and two TDs without an interception. Eight of his 16 completions (in 28 throws) went to Crabtree, who had a career-high 172 receiving yards.
All told, the 49ers had 407 yards of total offense and held the Cardinals – who were starting quarterback Brian Hoyer for the first time – to 262 net yards.
Though the 49ers sacked Hoyer twice, 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith was shut out,
That means he ends the season with a team-record 19½, but wasn’t able to record one in the team’s final three games, falling short of the NFL record of 22½ held by Michael Strahan of the Giants (set in 2001). Since the elbow injury suffered by right defensive end Justin Smith against the Patriots in Game No. 14, teams have been able to give more attention to Aldon Smith.
There was also one nice touch at the end of the game:
Alex Smith, replaced at quarterback by Kaepernick after suffering a concussion in November, got in for several plays late in the game and was greeted by cheers and chants of “Al-ex! Al-ex!” by San Francisco’s fans.
According to Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee, Smith appreciated the fans’ reaction.
“Very humbling,” Smith told Barrows. “To go out there and get that sort of response – it was very cool.”
Now comes something even more cool, indeed, for the 49ers – another trip to the playoffs and a first-round bye.