SAN FRANCISCO — Two teams separated by just a few plays and all of four points for a berth to the Super Bowl last February now find themselves on opposite ends of the spectrum and standings.
The San Francisco 49ers (10-4) are riding a four-game winning streak and surging down the stretch with a playoff berth practically in hand. The Atlanta Falcons (4-10), meanwhile, sit in last place in the NFC South and soon will be headed into a longer offseason than they imagined less than a year after a loss to San Francisco on their home field.
“They’re a different team, we’re a different team,” San Francisco left tackle Joe Staley said. “New season.”
Now, the NFC champion Niners are more determined than ever to defend their home turf in the final game at Candlestick Park. Next season, San Francisco moves into new Levi’s Stadium at team headquarters in Santa Clara.
“It’s the last game in Candlestick,” coach Jim Harbaugh said. “We don’t want to be the guys who screw up the last game in Candlestick. These players will come back 20-25 years from now and they want to have a good memory of winning at Candlestick.”
Harbaugh’s players are treating it like any other important game on the schedule, not getting caught up in the fanfare and memories of the iconic stadium.
“For us, we want to leave Candlestick with a win,” quarterback Colin Kaepernick said. “That’s what we’re worried about.”
The way things have gone for Atlanta, the Falcons know how quickly things can turn.
“The dynamics of the team change each and every year,” coach Mike Smith said. “We’ve been a relevant team for the last five years. Unfortunately, we have not played up to our expectations. We are extremely disappointed in the way we’ve played in all three phases and the way we’ve coached.”
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