Sports Out West

49ers Week 16 primer: Saying goodbye to Candlestick

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The San Francisco 49ers will say goodbye to Candlestick Park in Week 16 as they play host to the Atlanta Falcons on Monday Night Football. There is still an outside chance that the Niners can return home for the NFC Championship game (should they make it that far) but in all likelihood this will be the last game at the Stadium as the team prepares to move into it’s new home in 2014. The game will be another memory for a franchise that has a countless amount of them on Monday night. In addition, the Niners can clinch a playoff spot with a win (or an Arizona loss).

Recent History

The history between the former division rivals goes a long way but the first thing that will come to mind as far as recent meetings is the 2012 NFC Championship game. It was a defining moment for the 49ers as they came back from a 17-0 deficit on the road to claim a trip to the Super Bowl. San Francisco ultimately won the game 28-24 behind three rushing touchdowns (two by Frank Gore and  one by LaMichael James) and a gutsy performance from Colin Kaepernick.

As far as the regular season, the two teams have met 76 times and 49ers have had the advantage with a 45-30-1 record. The most recent meeting came in Week 4 of 2010 when San Francisco jumped out to 14-0 lead before Atlanta started a comeback of their own. The Falcons scored the next 16 points on their way to the victory. The 49ers fell to 0-4 and would not win until Week 6 that season.

Players to watch

Whether it has been the return of Michael Crabtree or he’s just starting to make the proper adjustments, Colin Kaepernick has played well over the past four games. He has thrown for over 200 yards in three of those contests, after only eclipsing that mark twice over the first 10 games. Since Week 11, Kaepernick has thrown for 888 yards and has seven touchdown passes and only one interception. He has also run for 114 yards. Possibly the most encouraging sign is Kaepernick has completed just under 62 percent of his passes during this span, which is a significant improvement over the 56 percent completion percentage he posted through Weeks 1-10.

Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez will be playing his second to last game as he winds down a Hall of Fame career. The 17-year vet is having another very good season with 71 catches for 740 yards and seven touchdowns. For his career, Gonzalez ranks second all-time with 1,313 receptions and fifth all-time with 15,008 receiving yards. Gonzalez is also only one of eight players in the history of the NFL to have at least 100 receiving touchdowns (he has 110) and is the only tight end on that list. Week 16 will be one of the last times to watch and appreciate one of the truly great tight ends to ever play the game. 

Stats to know

With 86 yards in Week 15, Frank Gore brought his total to 1,017 for the season. It’s the seventh time in his nine year career that he’s broken the 1,000 yard mark. He failed to do so in 2005 when, as a rookie, he only received 127 carries and in 2010 when injuries limited him to 11 games. Gore is also coming close to achieving something that only 28 other players in NFL history have, 10,000 career rushing yards. Gore currently ranks 30th on the all time list with 9,856. He needs 144 yards over the next two games to hit the mark this season. Gore is averaging 72.6 yards per game in 2013. If he maintains his average over the final two games, that will give him 145 more yards which would put him at 10,001 for his career.

Game changing factor

It’s unknown how the loss of Bruce Miller will effect the running game for the 49ers, but it’s unlikely the team would move away from their offensive philosophy because of the injury to their full back. Gore and company will still get plenty of touches as San Francisco attacks the 29th ranked rushing defense in the NFL. The Falcons have given up 1,840 yards on the ground and opposing runners are averaging 4.6 yards per carry. With Atlanta struggling to stop the run, it will open up more things through the air for the rejuvenated Kaepernick.

On the other side of the ball, Julio Jones destroyed the 49ers in last year’s NFC title game with 11 catches for 182 yards and two scores. Without him to stretch the field, it’s unlikely Atlanta will be able to put up enough points against a San Francisco defense that is allowing just 13 points a game over the last seven.

Bottom line

Considering the emotion of the night and the fact that the 49ers can clinch a playoff spot with a win, San Francisco should come out strong against a team that is basically just playing out their schedule. Sure, the Falcons will want to get revenge after the 49ers ruined their Super Bowl dreams last season, but they lack the fire power and defense to put up much of a fight.

 Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

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Al Sacco

Al Sacco is sports expert who knows football, baseball, basketball and hockey. He has spent his time as a sports journalist covering the San Francisco 49ers as a staff writer for 49erswebzone.com and 49ersgab.com. He is also a contributor to Yahoo! Voices and has had his work used on ESPN NFL Insiders.