23 Dec 2013 02:22 PM EST
-by Daniel Mogollon, Staff Writer; Image: Colin Kaepernick has thrown 16 TDs to two INTs in San Francisco's wins. (Image Source: Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Here’s a look at tonight’s Monday Night Football matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the San Francisco 49ers:
Series: 49ers Lead 44-29-1; Streaks: Falcons Won Past 4; Last Meeting (Regular Season): Falcons 16, 49ers 14 (10.03.10)
Time: 8:40 PM ET; TV: NBC (Mike Tirico, Jon Gruden & Lisa Salters)
Injury Report: Falcons: Out: WR Darius Johnson (ankle), S Zeke Motta (hand, neck); Questionable: TE Tony Gonzalez (toe), RB Antone Smith (knee), LB Sean Weatherspoon (knee); Probable: S Thomas DeCoud (concussion)
49ers: Questionable: G Mike Iupati (knee), WR Mario Manningham (illness, knee), TE Vance McDonald (ankle), LB Dan Skuta (foot); Probable: LB Navorro Bowman (wrist), CB Tarell Brown (ribs), WR Michael Crabtree (ankle, wrist), C Jonathan Goodwin (not injury related), RB Frank Gore (ankle, knee), DT Justin Smith (shoulder)
Where They Stand: With the Arizona Cardinals upset over the Seattle Seahawks, the San Francisco 49ers remain in contention in NFC West title race, one game behind the first-place Seahawks. While it’s unlikely that they repeat as division champs, San Fran can clinch a spot in the playoffs with a win tonight. The Niners are probably disappointed their road to the Super Bowl will probably be on the road, the Atlanta Falcons wish they had those problems. This rematch of last season’s NFC Championship Game is not the playoff preview the schedule makers anticipated. The Falcons are on pace to go from first to worst with 10 losses and counting after winning a conference-best 13 games in 2012.
The Falcons: In the NFC Championship Game loss, QB Matt Ryan threw for 396 yards and three TDs, while completing 71.4 percent of his passes, numbers he has rarely approximated this season, as injuries have robbed him of many of his weapons. One player who has managed to stay healthy is veteran TE Tony Gonzalez, who is second on the team with 71 receptions and 740 receiving yards, while pacing all Falcons with his seven TDs. He is fifth in NFL history with 15,008 receiving yards and enters tonight’s action with the second-longest reception streak in the history of the league at 209 straight games. On the defensive side of the ball a pair of rookies have emerged as key figures. One was expected, while the other is a surprise. First-round pick CB Desmond Trufant leads the Falcons with 16 passes defensed to go with his 65 tackles and two INTs. His was anticipated, while LB Paul Worrilow has emerged out of relative obscurity. The undrafted free agent out of Delaware didn’t just make the team and crack the starting lineup, he also leads the Falcons with his 109 tackles.
The 49ers: It’s safe to say as QB Colin Kaepernick goes so go the 49ers. He’s known for his ability to run the ball and while he can be a dynamic dual-threat force, San Francisco is 11-0 when Kaepernick has a passer rating of 100 or better. RB Frank Gore leads them on the ground and with 1,017 yards rushing he’s reached the 1,000-yard plateau for the seventh time in his career. WR Anquan Boldin is also looking to reach quadruple digits, as the veteran pass catcher needs 42 receiving yards to reach 1,000 yards for the sixth time in his pro career. They have a pretty good TE of their own in Vernon Davis, whose 48 TDs since 2009 leads the position. Davis has crossed the goal line 10 times in the past 11 games. Working his way back into the mix is WR Michael Crabtree, who caught his first TD pass of the season last week. The defensive headliners have been ILB Patrick Willis and OLB Aldon Smith. They’re still outstanding players, but ILB NaVorro Bowman and OLB Ahmad Brooks shouldn’t be overlooked. Bowman leads the team with 124 tackles and Brooks has a team-best 8.5 sacks this season (tied with Smith), including five in the past six games.
Prediction: This isn’t just the final Monday Football Game of the season but the final regular-season game in San Francisco’s Candlestick Park. The 49ers have played their home games there since 1971 and tonight will be the Park’s 36th MNF game, the most of any NFL stadium. Before they move to Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara next season you’d think the 49ers would want to send the Stick out on a winning note while clinching their postseason bid. They aren’t the dominant team they think they are, except when they play average to below average teams. Against teams that currently have a losing record the Niners are 7-0 with an average margin of victory of 21 points.
Score: 49ers 31, Falcons 10
Daniel Mogollon is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America. He is also a voter for the Thorpe and the Rotary Lombardi Award, as well as the Latino Sports MVP Awards.