Niners send out the Stick in style 

click to enlarge Niners linebacker NaVorro Bowman dives into the end zone after returning an interception 89 yards for the game-clinching score. - JOSIE LEPE/SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS VIA AP
  • Josie Lepe/San Jose Mercury News via AP
  • Niners linebacker NaVorro Bowman dives into the end zone after returning an interception 89 yards for the game-clinching score.

Candlestick Park saw it's tenure likely come to end with a play that may force all those Top 10 memorable moments lists to be rewritten, as "The Return" capped a 34-24 win for the 49ers against the Atlanta Falcons on Monday, clinching a third straight trip to the postseason for the Niners.

After Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez scored on a 2-yard catch to bring the Falcons to within 27-24, 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman missed his chance to recover Atlanta's onside kick, giving the Falcons a chance to at least tie the game, if not take the lead, in the closing minutes.

But Bowman redeemed himself by picking off a pass Tramaine Brock helped jar loose from Falcons receiver Harry Douglas. Bowman took it back 89 yards for the likely last touchdown scored at Candlestick Park.

Niners coach Jim Harbaugh, who turned 50 on Monday, certainly appreciated it.

"It was the best birthday present I've ever gotten," he said. "Second only to being born. That was awesome."

The size of the moment was not lost on Bowman.

"That's my best play yet," he said. "I told [linebacker Patrick Willis] I'm good for one interception a year. I'll take that one any day. ... My first pick of the year gets us into the playoffs, now I just want to keep it going and make some more plays."

San Francisco could do little right in the first half. It picked up just 113 yards of offense on the way to a 10-3 deficit, helping the Falcons' cause with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Donte Whitner for a hit on Falcons running back Steven Jackson that preceded a 2-yard touchdown run by Jackson on the next play.

Quarterback Colin Kaepernick rediscovered his groove with receiver Michael Crabtree in the third quarter, when the wideout picked up 99 of his 102 yards. San Francisco tied the game 10-10 with a touchdown catch by Anquan Boldin. The 49ers later took a 13-10 lead on a 30-yard field goal by Phil Dawson.

Following a 39-yard touchdown catch by Roddy White that cut the lead to 20-17, Frank Gore helped San Francisco answer back when he capped off a 76-yard drive that consisted entirely of running plays by charging into the end zone from the 1-yard line.

It was a play Gore called for when he saw what the defense was doing on the previous play.

"I'm happy he listened to me," Gore said of Kaepernick. "That's one thing I love about Kap. He listens to his players. His teammates."

Kaepernick finished the day with 197 passing yards with one touchdown while rushing for 51 yards and a score.

The 49ers will wrap up the season next week with a visit to Arizona to play the Cardinals with a chance to still win the NFC West if the Seattle Seahawks lose their season finale.

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Ben Martin

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