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49ers beat Falcons 34-24 to clinch playoff berth

SAN FRANCISCO -- The San Francisco 49ers bade farewell to Candlestick Park with a suitably exciting and important victory on Monday, beating the Atlanta Falcons 34-24 to seal a berth in the NFL playoffs.

Navarro Bowman returned an interception 89 yards for a touchdown with 1:10 remaining, fittingly providing a 49ers' win in what was likely to be the final game at San Francisco's longtime home.

“There's a lot of history in this stadium,” Bowman said. “For this to be the last game, we cannot leave it with an L. So I'm glad we got the W.”

Tramaine Brock deflected a pass intended for Harry Douglas and Bowman got his hands on the ball and took off for the sealing TD.

“I always say a lot of plays are made when you run to the ball,” Bowman said. “That's all I was doing was just running to the ball, trying to make a tackle, and it popped up and I was able to make a play for my team.”

The 49ers had a big second half to clinch a fifth straight win and third successive playoff appearance. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick ran for a 4-yard touchdown and threw a 10-yard TD pass to Anquan Boldin, and Frank Gore had a 1-yard touchdown run. They had 169 yards in the third quarter after managing just 113 in the first half.

Boldin had a 10-yard touchdown catch that tied the game 10-10 with 12:03 left in the third, and Kaepernick then ran for his score early in the fourth.

The Falcons — 4-11 and long out of playoff contention — made things interesting until the end, with Matt Ryan throwing a 39-yard touchdown pass to Roddy White with 8:42 remaining and a 2-yard score to Tony Gonzalez with 2:09 left.

The Falcons recovered the ensuing onside kick and were driving for a potential go-ahead score when San Francisco (11-4) capitalized with the turnover.

The 49ers still have a slim chance at winning a third consecutive NFC West crown if St. Louis wins at Seattle in next Sunday's conclusion of the regular season and they beat Arizona on the road.

While the current team is focused on the immediate future, Monday's game was also as much about recalling Candlestick Park's past and the former great 49ers teams that called it home while winning five Super Bowl titles.

The 49ers are set to move into US$1.2 billion Levi's Stadium at team headquarters in Santa Clara while Candlestick waits out its implosion day, likely in late 2014.

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Quarterback Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers goes down after being tackled by linebacker Stephen Nicholas #54 of the Atlanta Falcons during a game at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, California on Monday, Dec. 23. (AFP)

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