Matt & Mindi: Bye allows 49ers to get healthy
UPDATE: (6:07 p.m.) The NFL has announced the 49ers will host their divisional round playoff game on Saturday, Jan. 12 at 5:00 PST. Their opponent is yet to be determined.
SAN FRANCISCO --They took a completely different path, but the 49ers are in the same position entering the NFC playoffs as a year ago.
The 49ers claimed the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye in the playoffs with a 27-13 victory over the lowly Arizona Cardinals on Sunday at Candlestick Park.
The 49ers leapfrogged the Green Bay Packers for the No. 2 seed based on their loss at the Minnesota Vikings.
The 49ers will host a divisional round game on Saturday, Jan. 12 at 5:00 p.m. PST against a to-be-determined opponent. The top-seeded Atlanta Falcons will play host to the worst remaining seed after the wild-card round of the playoffs next weekend, while the best-remaining seed will visit Candlestick Park.
SLOW START: It took a while, but the 49ers heated up Sunday afternoon behind Colin Kaepernick and Michael Crabtree to secure the franchise's 19th division championship.
Kaepernick and Crabtree combined for two touchdowns and the 49ers' defense put the clamps on quarterback Brian Hoyer and an anemic Arizona Cardinals offense.
The 49ers finish the regular season with an 11-4-1 record and the NFC West title. The 49ers will play at least one playoff game at Candlestick Park.
Jim Harbaugh became just the third coach to win a division title in both of his first two seasons after inheriting a team with a losing record. Chuck Knox (Los Angeles Rams) and Ted Marchibroda (Baltimore Colts) were the others.
If not for a 48-second span of the second quarter when Kaepernick and Crabtree cut a swath through the Cardinals' defense, the 49ers would have trailed at halftime.
With Arizona leading 6-0 on two short Jay Feely field goals, the 49ers took over at their own 20-yard line. Kaepernick hit Crabtree with a 31-yard bullet. Then, on the next play, Kaepernick found a wide-open Crabtree for a 49-yard touchdown.
The play sent Crabtree over the 1,000-yard receiving mark for the season. He became the first 49ers player since Terrell Owens in 2003 to eclipse 1,000 yards receiving.
And Crabtree did not stop there.
Kaepernick unloaded a dart before Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson could jump the route, and Crabtree made the catch for a 7-yard touchdown to give the 49ers a 17-6 lead in the third quarter.
Crabtree finished with a 8 catches for a career-high 172 yards in the game.
The 49ers played their second game without All-Pro defensive tackle Justin Smith, who hopes to return for the playoffs despite a partially torn left triceps tendon. With Ricky Jean Francois filling in on the right side, the Cardinals tested him with a large majority of their run plays over that side.
Outside linebacker Aldon Smith did not record a sack in the final 2 1/2 games without Justin Smith on the field. Aldon Smith finished second in the NFL behind Houston's J.J. Watt with 19.5 sacks on the season.
Smith was penalized in the fourth quarter for an unnecessary roughness penalty for a blind-side block on former 49ers lineman Adam Snyder on Tarell Brown's interception return.
Tight end Vernon Davis received medical clearance to return from a concussion he sustained last week against the Seattle Seahawks. Davis was tested right away when he caught a 5-yard pass and was leveled with a hit from Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson.
Colin Kaepernick completed 16 of 28 passes for a career-high 276 yards, to go along with two touchdown passes.
GORE'S RECORD: Running back Frank Gore scored his club-record 51st rushing touchdown on a 2-yard run early in the fourth quarter to give the 49ers a 21-6 lead.
It was Gore's 51st rushing touchdown to set the 49ers' NFL record, which he previously shared with Joe "The Jet" Perry. While the 49ers were a member of the All-America Football Conference, Perry scored 18 rushing touchdowns. The NFL does not recognize stats from leagues other than the NFL in team records.
AKERS STRUGGLES: Kicker David Akers heard boos at Candlestick Park after missing two field-goal attempts of 44 and 40 yards in the second quarter. After missing his second try just before the half, Akers stormed to the sideline and fired his helmet at the bench.
Akers opened the second half with a 43-yard field goal that he barely squeezed inside the left upright. In the fourth quarter, Akers made a 26-yard field goal that gave the 49ers a 27-6 lead.
Several weeks ago, the 49ers worked out veteran kickers Nate Kaeding and Billy Cundiff. Kaeding recently signed with the Miami Dolphins. Cundiff is still available as a free agent.
ROOKIE REACTIONS: Running back LaMichael James, a second-round pick from Oregon, had a 26-yard run in the second quarter on a misdirection pitch. He showed his ability to start-and-stop with a zig-zagging run through the Cardinals defense.
However, the 49ers are still waiting to get some production from first-round pick A.J. Jenkins, who dropped the only pass thrown his way. Jenkins failed to hold onto a third-down attempt in the first quarter.
SMITH RETURNS: Backup quarterback Alex Smith saw his first game action since losing his job after sustaining a concussion Nov. 11 against the St. Louis Rams. Smith entered with 5:57 remaining in the game to a nice ovation from the Candlestick crowd. After he left the game following the first series, a brief chant of “Alex! Alex!” was heard.
Smith completed his only pass attempt to Bruce Miller for six yards.