49ers hand Harbaugh era-ending win
LEVI’S STADIUM — The San Francisco 49ers sent off head coach Jim Harbaugh in fitting fashion Sunday, giving the man who had helped return this franchise to prominence one final win in his NFL career.
The 20-17 win gives Harbaugh a 49-22-1 overall record during his four years as 49ers head coach, during which he led the team to three NFC championship games and one Super Bowl berth.
Though Harbaugh’s departure has been draped in controversy, the now former-49ers coach reflected fondly of his time with the team, despite the disappointing end to his NFL career:
“As I’ve said all along, you work at the pleasure of the organization. It’s been a tremendous four years. And it’s been a pleasure to work and serve for this organization, for these players, for this football team. I feel great about what we accomplished.”
Harbaugh declined to comment on where he would be signing with after his departure from the team, but reports indicate that he will accept the University of Michigan’s offer to return to his alma mater on a contract worth as much as $49 million.
Photos by Trevor Will/SFBay
Harbaugh leaves the NFL without the illustrious Lombardi trophy he eagerly sought when he took the job in 2011. He may have come up short of the trophy, but Harbaugh said he felt no regrets about his string of three playoff appearances that ended without the ultimate prize:
“It was a tremendous thrill, one of the great thrills of my life. I’ll be forever proud of what we accomplished.”
Frank Gore made a historic night out of what may have been his final game as a member of the 49ers, running for 144 yards while breaking the 1,000-yard rushing mark on the season for the eighth time in his career. Gore also reached 11,000 career rushing yards Sunday.
After signing with the 49ers at 21 years old, Gore has finally played out the final year of his contract with San Francisco, making him a free agent for the first time in his career.
Gore was candid about his desire to return to the only team he has known during his NFL career:
“You’ve got two young backs who got a chance to be great, and you know the business of the NFL. But I know I can play this game still and I wanna be back here.”
With just four starters remaining on defense from the beginning of the season, the Cardinals looked poised to move the ball early in the game against San Francisco. But the 49ers stiffened up, allowing zero second-half points while fashioning their own comeback.
San Francisco trailed 17-13 heading into the third period, but a 3-yard touchdown reception from FB Bruce Miller gave the 49ers a 20-17 lead they would ride out until the final whistle, ending their season with an 8-8 record.
The 49ers defense looked porous during the opening drive of the game, allowing the Cardinals to steadily march down the field both through the air and on the ground.
With all the lows of the disappointing 49ers season, QB Colin Kaepernick stated that the hard fought victory was a way to end Harbaugh’s career on a high note:
“We wanted to make sure today was a good one, that we went out the right way. We knew this was a possibility and we wanted to make sure we laid it all on the line for coach.”
Arizona got on the board quickly after rookie CB Dontae Johnson was burned on a flea-flicker, leaving WR Michael Floyd alone in the middle of the end zone for Lindley’s first career touchdown pass and a 7-0 Arizona lead.
San Francisco quickly formed a rebuttal for Arizona’s early score when Kaepernick found Anquan Boldin streaking across the middle of the field for a 76-yard touchdown on just their third play from scrimmage.
The 49ers offense continued to put points on the board after a third down grab by WR Michael Crabtree moved San Francisco into field goal range on their second possession.
K Phil Dawson barely converted a 53-yard try, his long attempt squeaking through the uprights and bouncing off the goal post in the process.
San Francisco would cash in on a turnover opportunity in the second quarter after Lindley threw a strike to LB Michael Wilhoite deep in 49ers territory.
The 49ers stalled short of the goal line again, but Dawson converted his second attempt of the day from a much more manageable 37 yards out for a 13-7 advantage.
After a solid opening drive, the Cardinals would not score again until late in the second quarter when K Chandler Catanzaro converted his first attempt of the day from 36 yards out to cut the deficit to 13-10.
Lindley exploited the coverage of starters Johnson and S Craig Dahl, as a defensive breakdown led to a 41-yard touchdown reception from Floyd and a 17-13 Cardinals lead heading into the half.
The 49ers regained the lead right before the end of the third quarter on the back of a historic Frank Gore drive.
Gore’s 44 rushing yards during the drive put him over the 1,000 yard mark for the eight time in his career, as well as pushing him past the 11,000 yard career total mark.
Gore’s backfield mate, FB Bruce Miller, capped the drive with a 3-yard reception in the corner of the end zone for a 20-17 lead.
The score would be all the 49ers would need, as the defense would hold the Cardinals to zero second half points before S Craig Dahl‘s interception with 1:38 to play sealed the 49ers final victory of the season.
The win secured the 49ers a .500 record on the year, preventing their first losing season since 2010 when they posted a 6-10 record, finishing 3rd in the NFC West.