For weeks there has been a warm-and-fuzzy farewell to this city’s relative toxic waste dump of a football stadium. It’s not that anybody has ever really loved Candlestick Park. But when a venue plays host to five Super Bowl teams, several Hall of Famers and even a Beatles concert, it probably deserves a salute before being subdivided into condos and 7-Elevens.
The Falcons tried to spoil the party Monday night. But like most weeks this season, it didn’t go well. There were too few flashes of the Beatles (Matt Ryan to Roddy White for a 39-yard touchdown. Yes, this year!) and too many moments that cried for a gong (the last: an 89-yard pick six with 1:10 left).
The Falcons led 10-3, trailed 20-10, rallied to close to 27-24 and recovered an onside kick. But in the end, they were just good enough to lose 34-24 Monday night.
So this season provided at least one more thrill ride, even if it ended with nausea. Again.
The loss dropped the Falcons to 4-11. They remain in contention for a top five draft pick and nothing else. The win elevated the 49ers to 11-4. They remain in contention for a Super Bowl.
The study in alternate universes just 11 months after these teams met for the NFC championship continues.
The Falcons won’t be sorry to see Candlestick go, even if the pain of this loss didn’t match the conference championship last year, when they blew leads of 17-0 and 24-14 in the Georgia Dome. Nor did it carry the embarrassment of a 41-3 loss to the Niners in 1992. (Then coach Jerry Glanville toted his ill-conceived “California Trophy” with him after a three-game road sweep of games in San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego the year before. The Falcons committed six turnovers, lost and the trophy wound up broken in pieces on the sideline.)
But they were deprived a real season highlight: Their first win over a team with a winning record.
The backdrop of this game was far different than last January, when the Falcons lost 28-24. They have been circling the drain ever since.
The inevitable market correction by the defense came in the second half. Osi Umenyiora jumped offside on a third-and-10 incompletion from the 49ers’ 17, extending a drive. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who was a pedestrian 6-for-11 through two quarters, found second-half life, similar to last January. He had completions of 47 and 19 yards to Michael Crabtree and soon after connected with Anquan Boldin for a 10-yard touchdown pass, tying the score 10-10.
The Falcons’ rail-jumping commenced. The Niners drove to a field goal on their second possession – albeit benefiting from a suspect pass interference penalty on Paul Worrilow on third-and-19 — and then went 61 yards on nine plays for another touchdown, via Kaepernick’s four-yard run, to jump ahead 20-10.
But give the Falcons credit for not fizzling. Matt Ryan’s 39-yard touchdown to Roddy White brought them back. Another touchdown drove, capped by Tony Gonzalez’s two-yard catch, answered a 49ers score to make it a three-point game again at 27-24.
Then the Falcons tried an onside kick and Jason Snelling recovered with just over two minutes left.
Could they actually do this?
Ryan drove the team all the way down to the San Francisco 10 with just over a minute left. But on second-and-one, he tried to connect with Harry Douglas, who wrestled for the ball with defender Tramaine Brock. The ball popped up in the air and was grabbed by NoVorro Bowman, who returned it 89 yards for a the game-clinching touchdown with 1:10 remaining.
The 49ers had another memory.
The Falcons had another loss.
Welcome to 2013.
It was the final regular season game at Candlestick Park. The weathered dump of a major sports venue is going to be razed soon. It’s long overdue. Don’t confuse the Falcons and Braves bolting the Georgia Dome and Turner Field, respectively. The Stick was built for the baseball Giants in 1960. It’s more than twice as old (53) as the Georgia Dome (21). Candlestick also has played host to a Beatles’ concert (1966). Historical comparison: The Georgia Dome played host to the Carolina Panthers’ first game (1995).
There remains a chance the 49ers can host a playoff game. They can still be the NFC’s No. 1 seed.
The Falcons will host Carolina next week. It will be their final game of the season. They’ll seek a more pleasant ending than Monday’s. But there haven’t been many of those this year.