Falcons running back Steven Jackson, right, celebrates a touchdown with tight end Tony Gonzalez last week against the Redskins. The Falcons play the 49ers tonight in Monday Night Football in what will likely be the final game at Candlestick Park. (Reuters)
SAN FRANCISCO — It was less than a year ago when the San Francisco 49ers travelled to Atlanta with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.
It might seem like a decade for the Falcons.
Since the Falcons took a 17-0 lead in that game, not a lot has gone well. First it started with the 49ers’ improbable comeback to win 28-24, but at the time the franchise still seemed to be in a good place. Tight end Tony Gonzalez returned for one more crack at the Super Bowl, and no one was questioning that as unrealistic.
Atlanta has won four games since then and travel to San Francisco today for what will likely be the last game to ever be played at Candlestick Park.
“They’ve had some close losses and some games that haven’t gone their way,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. “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.”
San Francisco would clinch a playoff spot with a win and is looking to latch on to the No. 5 seed. If it can leap either Carolina or New Orleans for that spot, there remains a chance the team could play another game at the ‘Stick as a No. 5 seed against the No. 6 in the NFC Championship Game.
Last year, the 49ers went into the playoffs as the No. 2 seed and Atlanta the No. 1.
For Gonzalez, who played both football and basketball at nearby Cal, the game will serve as a final hurrah in the Bay Area. Gonzalez ranks No. 1 all-time among tight ends with 109 touchdown receptions, while 49ers tight end Vernon Davis ranks tied for seventh on that list with 52.
“I’ve not gotten to personally know him,” Harbaugh said of Gonzalez. “Just through watching him like other coaches or fans would. A fabulous, fabulous player. A future Hall of Fame player. And, he does not look like a guy that’s playing his final year.
“So, he’s very much a top-notch competitor.”
For 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the stakes don’t change much week to week and it’s no different in Candlestick’s final game.
“I think for us, we want to leave Candlestick with a win,” he said. “That’s what we’re worried about.”
The 49ers are tied with Baltimore with an NFL-best four-game winning streak.