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With their 23-20 win yesterday over the Arizona Cardinals, the 49ers finished the 2013 regular season with 1 more victory than a year ago and wrapped up the 5th seed in the NFC playoffs.
After building up a 17-0 first quarter lead, the 49ers stumbled through the second and third quarters, blowing good drives with a missed field goal, and failed 3rd and 4th down plays. As a result the Cardinals were able to climb back into the game and tie it late in the 4th quarter.
The 49ers responded with a quick drive to retake the lead 20-17, only to see the Cardinals come right back down and tie the game up with a field goal of their own with 34 seconds remaining.
When LaMichael James returned the ensuing kickoff 41 yards to the 36 yard line, they were in business, especially with Phil Dawson on their sideline. An 18 yard completion, followed by an amazing 29 yard throw and catch to Quinton Patton put the 49ers in field goal position and Dawson drilled it home for the win.
Here are the answers to the 5 burning questions I asked on Friday.
1) Can the 49ers defense force Carson Palmer into interceptions? - Yes
"It is very likely that the 49ers will get at least one interception on Sunday which leads to a sub question, will they be able to make Arizona pay?" Yes
The Palmer interception came early, on their second possession of the game and unlike in the week 6 game the 49ers were able to make Arizona pay when Colin Kaepernick hit Anquan Boldin for a 4 yard touchdown to extend the lead to 10-0.
2) Can the 49ers offense create mismatches in the passing game? - Yes
"Much of the 49ers success through the air against Arizona in their first matchup this season had to do with the offensive coaches being able to create mismatches against the Arizona secondary."
Just as they did in week 6 the 49ers found a mismatch and attacked it. This time it was Jerraud Powers trying to cover Anquan Boldin. The 49ers threw the ball to Boldin 7 times with Powers in coverage on him, completing 6 of those throws for 103 yards and 1 touchdown.
3) Will the 49ers be able to overcome the Cardinals home field advantage? - Yes
The Cardinals came into the game averaging just over 27 points per game at home while allowing 17. The 49ers were able to both hold the Cardinals under their average by allowing only 20 points, and score over the average by scoring 23.
The Cardinals finished the season 6-2 at home, their losses coming to Seattle and San Francisco. Among those wins is a 22-6 victory over Carolina, the number 2 seed in the NFC playoffs.
4) Can the 49ers keep their ground game going? - No
After averaging 184 yards per game rushing the last three weeks, the 49ers were held to only 83 yards on 23 attempts on Sunday, and those numbers drop to 37 yards on 19 attempts when you take out the runs by Anquan Boldin and Quinton Patton along with the 2 scrambles from Colin Kaepernick.
5) Is a 49ers loss really such a bad thing? - To Be Determined
"The last wildcard team to win its final regular season game on the road and then win all of its playoff games on the road and win the Super Bowl, the 1969 Kansas City Chiefs, and they only had to win 2 playoff games to get there."
In addition to history, saying that it is unlikely that the 49ers will win the Super Bowl, think about this. The Green Bay Packers were 5-2 when Aaron Rodgers went down with a broken collarbone. In addition to the Rodgers injury, the Packers were also dealing with the loss of Randall Cobb. It is very likely that had Rodgers not gone down the Packers would have finished with 11-12 wins, and instead of being the #4 seed would have wound up #3 or possibly #2.
Now with a healthy Rodgers, a healthy Cobb, and to go along with what has become a formidable rushing attack the Packers are quite possibly the most dangerous team for the 49ers to face during the wildcard round.
49ers 23 Cardinals 27
"In a tightly contested game similar to the one we saw week 6, the Cardinals pull it out."
Sometimes it is good to be wrong. It was the 49ers who pulled it out in the end to finish the regular season tied for the second best record in the NFC.
Can I at least get a golf clap for getting the 49ers score right?