- Vaughn McClure, ESPN Atlanta Falcons reporter
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Game changer: San Francisco fans surely won't stop talking about linebacker NaVorro Bowman's game-winning, playoff-clinching 89-yard interception return for a touchdown. But the play was a product of the 49ers sending a seven-man rush at Matt Ryan, which forced a quicker throw. Ryan still delivered a catchable ball to Harry Douglas, but 49ers cornerback Tramaine Brock outmuscled Douglas and popped the ball in the air, resulting in Bowman's timely pick-six after he snatched the free ball from midair. "We both got there at the same time," Douglas said of the collision with Brock. "When the ball popped up in the air, I was hoping that it hit the ground. It was just one of those plays." Said Ryan, "I threw it and then I was hit and went to the ground, so I really didn't see what happened. I was on the ground." The Falcons certainly were grounded at the most inopportune time -- a microcosm of their season.
Wearing down: Defensively, the Falcons put up quite a fight in the first half, limiting the 49ers and quarterback Colin Kaepernick to 113 total yards and a 1-of-5 conversion rate on third down. But in the second half, the Falcons surrendered 266 total yards, including a 47-yard pass play from Kaepernick to Michael Crabtree and a 45-yard run to running back Kendall Hunter that set up a touchdown. "Once they got the momentum, it was hard to get it back,'' Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant said. "They had the crowd behind them. They're a good team. We were holding them for a while. We couldn't get the stops when we needed them.''
Tough call: It's fair to ask if the 49ers would have even seized the momentum had it not been for a tough call on Falcons linebacker Paul Worrilow. The rookie was whistled for pass interference while attempting to cover 49ers receiver Anquan Boldin down the middle. Worrilow appeared to do nothing wrong. And the play occurred with the 49ers facing third-and-19 from the Falcons' 39. The end result was a field goal that gave the 49ers their first lead of the game; a lead they wouldn't relinquish. "Third-and-19 and we get a call like that," safety William Moore said. "I don't know what to say. Our linebacker was in excellent position. We don't agree with everything, but they call the game. And stuff like that is unfortunate."
Special play: Buried in the loss was the outstanding play made by running back Jason Snelling in recovering Matt Bosher's onside kick. Bosher bounced the ball underneath eventual game hero Bowman, and Snelling corralled it with one hand while tip-toeing the sideline to give the Falcons a chance to either tie or go ahead in the final moments. "It was executed extremely well," head coach Mike Smith said of the play. "Jason Snelling made a great, one-handed catch there on the sideline. And unfortunately, we weren't able to make the plays that we needed to make there at the end." Special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong also deserves credit for having his bunch ready to execute such a play under those circumstances, although it went for naught after Bowman's pick-six.
A look at four key issues from the Atlanta Falcons' 34-24 loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Monday night:Game changer: San Francisco fans surely won't stop talking about linebacker NaVorro Bowman's game-winning, playoff-clinching 89-yard interception return for a touchdown.