This week will feature a sad moment for 49ers fans. The good news is the 49ers can clinch a playoff birth with a victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Monday Night Football. The bad news is that this is the final regular season game at Candlestick Park. The old stadium will finally be put to rest after this season. That being said, expect the 49ers to come out on fire and shut down Candlestick with a bang. Here are five things to watch for when the 49ers face the Falcons:
1) The Continued Return To Form By Michael Crabtree
The 49ers passing game got a major boost with the return of Michael Crabtree. He is gradually working his way back to form. He has already shown that he has regained his start and stop ability along with his ability to change direction.
There is however still room for him to improve. This will be his third game back from his injury. Nothing can get a player back into game shape more than actually playing in games. He is currently going through his own “training camp” as he works to regain his 2012 form. This is perfect for the 49ers because the playoffs are right around the corner and they will need their alpha receiver.
The things that he brings to table for Colin Kaepernick was really on display against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week. He is very strong at catch point. He and Kaepernick have chemistry when it comes to working the scramble drill. The two combined for a touchdown along with a key first down on third and long last week. His return has somehow helped Kaepernick settle down and make good decisions with the ball. Crabtree is developing into one of the better boundary receivers in the NFL and is starting to remind me of Hall of Fame receiver Chris Carter,
The Falcons have two corners that simply can’t match up against Crabtree. He is too big and physical for the rookie Desmond Trufant. Asante Samuel has proven that he isn’t the best tackler. Expect to see Crabtree catch a few short passes and break a tackle as he racks up yards after the catch.
2) The Elite Pass Rushing Ability of Aldon Smith
The Falcons will be in a world of trouble against the 49ers pass rush, specifically Aldon Smith. He is an elite pass rusher. I watched how he set up Donald Penn, one of the best pass blockers in the NFL. He was able to consistently use his hands to keep him off of him and was able to swiftly use a swim move to get by Penn. Aldon also used a bull rush to literally forklift the other tackle, Demar Dotson back into the quarterback and get the sack. He possesses the full package of pass rush moves. Aldon has speed, power, anticipation, superior hand quickness and extremely long arms. Seeing him in person makes me believe that he was created to be a pass rusher.
Lamar Holmes is a second year player from the University of Southern Mississippi. He played in one game last year, so he is basically a rookie. Holmes is the left tackle for the Falcons. He will have the unfortunate assignment of taking on Aldon Smith and having to deal with Justin Smith at times as well. Aldon Smith had an epic game on Monday Night Football last year against the Chicago Bears. This will be the last game at Candlestick and the nation will be treated to a display of one of the best pass rushers in the NFL.
3) Frank Gore Will Close Out Candlestick
The 49ers have one of the best running backs in Frank Gore. He is the most patient runner in the NFL. Watch how he lets his blocks develop. Watch how he squeezes into the smallest holes and squirts out for a long gain. The Falcons are the 29th ranked team in rushing defense. They are giving up 131.4 rushing yards per game. The 49ers are fifth in the NFL gaining 137.1 yards rushing per game.
Gore is one of the more passionate players on the 49ers. He knows the history of Candlestick. He spoke about how privileged he feels to play on the same field as Roger Craig, Tom Rathman, Jerry Rice, etc. This could also be his final regular season game at home in front of his 49er fans. There will be a hard decision to be made next year regarding bringing Gore back. His cap number will be over $6million.
4) Tony Gonzalez
Tight ends have been able to put together a few good games against he 49ers this season. Timothy Wright had a solid game last week for the Bucs. Tony Gonzalez is one of the best tight ends ever. His career is coming to a close. Despite this, he is still a solid matchup option for Matt Ryan and the Falcons. He has 71 receptions, 740 yards and seven touchdowns on the season. His size and quickness makes him a likely red zone target. Simply put, even after 16 years of service in the NFL, he can get it done.
5) Farewell To Candlestick
This is the last regular season home game at Candlestick. Whether you are watching the game at home or at the stadium, be sure to take in all of the moments that are reflected upon. There are so many. Yes, the obvious ones include The Catch, The Catch II and The Vernon Post. However, don’t forget about Steve Young’s epic scramble against the Minnesota Vikings. Don’t forget about the run that Garison Hearst had against New York Jets in overtime. How could we forget Jerry Rice scoring his 127th touchdown and becoming the all time leader in touchdowns. The moments are endless for this iconic stadium that has been a part of the San Francisco sports scene since the 1950s.