|WR Michael Crabtree set a new single-game career high with 177 yards receiving. (US Presswire)|
Shortly after Alex Smith took a knee to close out San Francisco’s regular season with a 27-13 win against Arizona, the NFC West Division champions put their fan hats on for the conclusion of Green Bay at Minnesota.
Not literally -- the players all immediately donned NFC West championship hats -- but the 49ers locker room did turn into perhaps the most vocal cheering section for the Vikings in the country. The first big cheer came when Adrian Peterson set up a 29-yard field goal with a 26-yard run in the final minute and when kicker Blair Walsh converted moments later, it might as well have been Times Square at Midnight on New Year’s Eve.
The 49ers (11-4-1) had every right to cheer. Minnesota’s win locked up the No. 2 seed for San Francisco, gave the 49ers a first-round bye and prevented a potential return to Lambeau Field. For a team as dinged up as San Francisco, the week off couldn’t have come at a better time.
“That was big. Big ups to the Vikings for doing that and winning,” LB Patrick Willis said. “My man, Adrian Peterson is a good friend of mine. But really, for us it’s big. It gives us a chance to get healthier in areas and hopefully get one of our marquee guys back, Justin (Smith).”
Smith missed his second straight game Sunday with a partially torn triceps ligament, but against Arizona, his absence wasn’t much of a detriment. In the playoffs, that could be different.
If Green Bay rebounds and beats Minnesota in the first round of the playoffs next week, San Francisco will host the Packers. If Minnesota beats Green Bay again, the 49ers will host the winner of Seattle/NFC East champion.
The day began with an assumed win for the 49ers and after a slow start, they finished strong. A career day from WR Michael Crabtree was enough to carry the 49ers into the postseason on a high note.
When the game turned: After going three-and-out three times to open the game and settling for a missed field goal on the fourth drive, the 49ers finally woke up the fifth time they got the ball with a two-play, 80-yard touchdown drive. Both plays were Colin Kaepernick passes to Crabtree -- a 31-yard strike was followed by a 49-yard touchdown. It sparked what ended up as career days for both players and gave the 49ers a lead they never relinquished.
Highlight moments: A one-handed grab by Crabtree on the left sideline in the second quarter for 19 yards might have been the best catch of his professional career.
- 49ers WR Michael Crabtree -- 8 catches, 172 yards, 2 TD
- 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick -- 16 for 28, 276 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
- Arizona WR Michael Floyd -- 8 catches, 166, 1 TD
What they said about getting the first-round playoff bye:
- 49ers TE Delanie Walker -- “We’ve got a lot of guys who got injured and have been sitting out and waiting for their moment to come back. So now we have a bye week, let some of those guys heal and get some extra time in conditioning and working out so they can be ready to play in this postseason. It’ll give Vernon (Davis) some extra time to come back, Justin Smith. I think this is going to be great for us.”
- 49ers RB Frank Gore -- “We get Justin Smith back on the top, in his position, in the league that will help our defense a whole lot. Knowing we get the bye and whoever comes here to the west coast gets to see how we do.”
- 49ers C Jonathan Goodwin -- “I need it. I think I have about 20 bruises on my body right now. And I’m not exaggerating.”
Numbers you should know: RB Frank Gore scored the 51st rushing TD of his career, which breaks the franchise’s all-time record, previously held by Joe Perry and Roger Craig. Gore said Craig texted him to congratulate him. … QB Alex Smith fell six pass attempts shy of qualifying for the passer rating title. His rating (104.2) would have finished behind Aaron Rodgers at No. 2 in the NFL. … OLB Aldon Smith finished with 19.5 sacks, second in the NFL behind J.J. Watt and three behind Michael Strahan’s single-season NFL record. Both WR Michael Crabtree (172 yards receiving) and QB Colin Kaepernick (276 yards passing) established career highs.
Smith cheered: QB Alex Smith was greeted to a standing ovation and chants of “Let’s go Alex,” by the fans at Candlestick Park when he entered in relief of Kaepernick. His teammates took notice:
Akers’ struggles continue: K David Akers missed on 44- and 40-yard field goal attempts on his first two attempts, which prompted questioning for Harbaugh in regards to Akers’ job security.
“I don’t know that we have to,” Harbaugh said when asked if the team has to look at other options. “We’ll evaluate the position. It’s his job to make the field goals. And not to his standard.”
Akers was good from 43 and 26 yards after the initial misses, but has now only converted on 29 of 42 attempts this year.
Injury update: Cardinals -- G Pat McQuistan left the game with an ankle injury and did not return. … CB Patrick Peterson (hamstring) was injured and did not return. 49ers -- There were no known injuries to the 49ers sustained against Arizona.
Going forward: Cardinals – Arizona will head to the offseason having lost 11 of 12 games to end the season after a 4-0 start. 49ers – The 49ers have a week off before hosting a divisional-round playoff game on Sat, Jan. 12 at 8 p.m. ET.