Niners kick Redskins, then hire Singletary

You don't want to see it end. When's the last time you could say that about a 49ers season? Would you have even said that about THIS 49ers season a month ago? The 49ers made it fun to watch once again Sunday at Candlestick Park, rallying from a 10-point deficit to put away the Washington Redskins 27-24, then announced afterward that the Mike Singletary era is officially in full swing.

It was pretty big news as it was that the 49ers once again were able to overcome their own mistakes and missed opportunities to rally from behind and the finish strong to beat a decent Washington team and end what had been a wayward season with five victories in their final seven games.

That gave the Niners – who started the year 2-7 – a 7-9 finish that matched their best record of the past six seasons.

But then came the really big news: Once the game was over, and NFL rules allowed them to, the 49ers quickly removed the interim tag from Singletary's title and made him the 16th head coach in the team's 63-year history by signing him to a four-year contract.

After changing from his sideline coaching attire into a tie and jacket after the game, Singletary was officially introduced by new team president Jed York – that's another announcement that was made during a busy Sunday – and general manager Scot McCloughan before a packed media room that included Singletary's wife Kim and several of his children.

"I'm very thankful, very humbled to be the head coach of the 49ers," Singletary said.

He could be pretty proud of the way his team ended the season Sunday, too.

The 49ers came out like gangbusters, taking the opening kickoff and driving down the field for a touchdown on the game's first possession.

Then they did it again, driving to the Washington 30-yard line after their defense had forced a three-and-out on the Redskins' first possession.

But then Joe Nedney hooked a 48-yard field goal attempt wide right, and the celebratory mood and atmosphere amid an afternoon of brilliant sunshine took a decided turn south for the home team.

The 49ers started bumbling around as they've been known to do at times this season, and the Redskins reeled off 17 unanswered points in the second quarter to take a 17-7 lead into the locker room at halftime.

"We just weren't playing very well," Singletary said. "It's as simple as that. We go down the field, we score. We come back. We have the opportunity to go up 10-0, we don't. We miss that opportunity. Then they take it down the field …

"We talked about what good teams do, and for us, we wanted to answer that question today. And I'm just very thankful that we were able to come back and fight our way back into it and win. Good teams don't miss opportunities to score, and that's something we missed early, but we were able to come back. Good teams do find a way to come back. We did that."

Did they ever.

First it was an opportunistic play by a defense that had allowed lengthy touchdown drives of 10 and 16 plays in the second quarter.

On the fourth play from scrimmage in the third quarter, 49ers defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin stuck running back Clinton Portis and forced a fumble that was recovered by linebacker Takeo Spikes at the Washington 38-yard line.

The 49ers marched right into the end zone from there, needing only five yards to punch it in and narrow the gap to three points. With quarterback Shaun Hill efficiently running the offense, the 49ers assembled an eight-play, 80-yard touchdown that gave the lead back to San Francisco early in the fourth quarter.

"The game went in the wrong direction for us," Washington quarterback Jason Campbell said. "We let them get the momentum in their home stadium, and you can't let teams do that. Got to keep the momentum out of their hands."

The Redskins failed in that endeavor. After the Washington offense went three and out, Allen Rossum's 35-yard punt return allowed the 49ers to start their next drive at the 50-yard line. Hill then connected with Josh Morgan on a 26-yard completion on the next play and that led to a 33-yard field goal by Nedney and 24-17 lead with 5:11 remaining to play.

But the Redskins (8-8), who were playing for a winning season, weren't quite finished.

After a 43-yard return of the ensuing kickoff by Rock Cartwright, Campbell led the Redskins into San Francisco territory until they faced a fourth-and-goal play from the 2-yard line with 1:15 remaining.

The game hinged on this one play, and Campbell was able to scramble up the middle, lunge for the end zone and get the ball over the goal line to tie the score at 24-24 with just more than a minute remaining.

It looked like overtime. But Hill saw something different.

"I thought there was still plenty of time," Hill said. "As long as there's time on that clock, I'm not thinking about overtime, that's for sure."

As it turned out, there was plenty of time left for the San Francisco offense and Hill, who had another productive day, completing 21 of 30 passes for 245 yards while throwing for a touchdown and rushing for another.

The 49ers cruised right down the field, getting a 16-yard completion from Hill to Michael Robinson on third-and-1 to move into Washington territory, then a leaping 24-yard grab by Bryant Johnson two plays later to put the ball at the Washington 21.

It was time for Nedney. And after a spike to stop the clock, a kneel-down by Hill, and a timeout by both the 49ers and the Redskins, the 49ers' premier kicker came out to end both the game and season on a winning note.

"As soon as (Washington was) inside the 10-yard line and threatening to tie it up, I was already thinking about a game-winning field goal," Nedney said. "That's kind of my job. And there was no way I was going to spoil this by missing that kick. We had to make that ball. This was destiny. We had to make that kick."

Nedney did, pounding it through the uprights from 39 yards out as the clock struck :00.

And just like that, the 49ers matched their best season since 2002, have a two-game winning streak to take into the offseason, and a new coach who seems like he has a little something extra to lead them forward.

"We found a way and really got our eyes back on what it is we wanted to do today, the question we wanted to answer," Singletary said. "Going forward, we just have to continue to keep our eyes on the vision and go from there."

And now, after Sunday, they certainly are on their way.



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