Statistics Through Week 15
Points per game: 24.9 (#13) previous week: 24.3 (#11)
Yards per game: 316.1 (#27) previous week: 311.5 (#28)
Passing yards (per game): 179.1 (#30) previous week: 178.3 (#32)
Rushing yards (per game): 137.1 (#5) previous week: 133.2 (#6)
3rd-down conversion rate: 37.04 percent (#18) previous week: 36.78 percent (#16)
Red zone scoring rate (TDs): 56.52 percent (#11) previous week: 59.52 percent (#7)
Points per game: 16.3 (#3) previous week: 16.5 (#3)
Yards per game: 301.1 (#3) previous week: 310.2 (#4)
Passing yards (per game): 201.7 (#4) previous week: 206.2 (#4)
Rushing yards (per game): 99.4 (#6) previous week: 104.0 (#10)
3rd-down conversion rate: 33.16 percent (#4) previous week: 34.43 percent (#6)
Red zone scoring rate (TDs): 54.29 percent previous week: 52.94 percent (#11)
Turnover margin: +8 (26 takeaways, 18 giveaways) previous week: +6 (24 takeaways, 18 giveaways)
Penalties per game: 6.6 (#18) previous week: 6.5 (#17)
Penalty yards per game: 55.7 (#18) previous week: 55.2 (#18)
NFC West Standings (record, division)
Seattle Seahawks (12-2, 3-1)
San Francisco 49ers (10-4, 4-1)
Arizona Cardinals (9-5, 1-3)
St. Louis Rams (6-8, 1-4)
NFC Playoff Standings (record, conference)
1. Seattle (12-2, 9-1)
2. New Orleans (10-4, 8-2)
3. Philadelphia (8-6, 7-3)
4. Chicago (8-6, 4-6)
5. Carolina (10-4, 7-3)
6. San Francisco (10-4, 7-3)
In the Hunt
7. Arizona (9-5, 5-5)
8. Green Bay (7-6-1, 5-5-1)
9. Detroit (7-7, 6-4)
10. Dallas (7-7, 6-4)
What It Means
With the Falcons (4-10) coming to San Francisco to play the final regular season game ever at Candlestick Park, it would appear the emotion of the night will prevent the 49ers from coming out with a lackluster performance.
The game takes on less meaning if the Cardinals lose in Seattle on Sunday, which would allow the 49ers to clinch a third-straight playoff berth. But there's a big advantage in being the fifth seed over the sixth seed this year. Assuming the Seahawks maintain their hold on top the conference's top seed, the No. 6 seed would have to travel to Seattle in the second round of the playoffs should they advance past the divisional game.
The 49ers would prefer to put a trip to Seattle off as long as possible, allowing a team like Carolina or New Orleans to take that trip first. With the way San Francisco has played of late, they have to believe they can go win anywhere in the NFC, even Seattle. But getting a revenge game against the Panthers or Saints on the road would be to their benefit. Also, netting the fifth seed means there's at least the possibility of hosting the NFC championship game, but those chances would be very remote at best.
The common theme at the 49ers' facility in Santa Clara since their win over the Seahawks has been "peaking at the right time." That feeling hasn't gone away after their road win in Tampa Bay Sunday because the offense has rounded into shape over the last three games with the addition of Michael Crabtree after tearing his Achilles in the offseason.
"We're getting there," Frank Gore said. "Everybody's making plays...I think it's our time. I think we're hitting our stride at the right time."
With the passing game emerging from the mud over the last four games, all three phases are starting to click for the 49ers. Colin Kaepernick has a 104.6 passer rating since Nov. 25's Monday nighter in Washington following up the team's two losses to Carolina and in New Orleans.
On special teams, Andy Lee continues to do his thing. The 49ers are second in the NFL in net punting, averaging 44.2 net yards thanks to their stellar coverage highlighted by gunners Kassim Osgood and C.J. Spillman. The team continues to be one of the league's best in net starting field position as well.
Phil Dawson continued his run on the 49ers' record books by hitting his 24th straight field goal Sunday and extends the team record with each kick. He's made 27 of 30 kicks (90 percent) and hasn't missed a since Week 4 in St. Louis when he tried a 71-yard free kick before halftime.
San Francisco's defense has continued to play well since struggling the first three weeks of the season. They have allowed 20 points or more just twice and are holding opponents to 13 points per game over the last 11.
Colin Kaepernick's progression from the early portion of the season has been very noticeable. And one of the biggest reasons has been the ability to extend plays and find receivers open in traffic. When plays broke down early in the year, Kaepernick would often throw the ball away or take a sack. With Crabtree back, he's been able to make plays after the initial call has broken down. The days of relying on Marlon Moore and Kyle Williams are clearly behind San Francisco.
"I think (Crabtree) and Anquan (Boldin) both have a great feel as far as where openings are on defenses and finding them," Kaepernick said.
It would be appear Crabtree's return has both sparked tangible and intangible improvements for his quarterback. Clearly the former 10th-overall pick provides a far more talented target for Kaepernick to go to than the previous options before he was healthy. But the chemistry between the two has also allowed Kaepernick to play with more confidence than knowing he has another option than can win battles against corners.
Against the Buccaneers, Kaepernick connected with Crabtree five times on six targets, including the game's first touchdown in the opening quarter. Crabtree broke down rookie Johnthan Banks after the play broke down and became the first 49er not named Boldin or Davis to catch a touchdown pass this year.
Areas to Improve
San Francisco's defense gave up two touchdown drives to Tampa Bay that featured a lot of no-huddle from the offense. On those two scoring drives, Mike Glennon completed 13 of 15 for 145 yards with a pair of touchdown passes. He finished with just 18 completions on the day and notched just 34 yards on his other 10 possessions.
"I think we took our foot off the gas pedal a little bit," NaVorro Bowman said of those two scoring drives. "We let our foot off the gas pedal and it showed. And we just can't do that if you want to be great."
When asked if playing a hurry-up offense is an area the team needs to improve, Bowman said he didn't think so and credited the Buccaneers for providing a wrinkle the 49ers weren't ready for.
"Usually when we're prepared for them and we know teams like to do it we're alright with it," he said. "We didn't think that they would do it, but they did it and we just have to continue to adjust and continue to play the game."
The 49ers players don't seem overly nostalgic about playing their last game in Candlestick Monday with the playoffs ahead. Instead, they're more concerned about winning and getting themselves ready for a third-straight deep run into the playoffs. Securing the No. 5 seed is the team's top priority.
Locking in the fifth seed is as easy as winning the last two games. Carolina and New Orleans (both 10-4) play each other Sunday in a game that will likely decide the winner of the NFC South. If the 49ers win out, they would jump ahead of Sunday's loser who would be in line for the No. 6 seed.
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