"I guess we have to take four games for us to get the trophy," Gore said.
One down, three to go.
The 49ers ended their schedule with a sixth consecutive victory, a 23-20 nail-biter over the Cardinals on a
The quest to return to the Super Bowl continues.
While Arizona (10-6) was eliminated from the postseason, San Francisco (12-4) had already clinched its playoff spot in Week 16 but didn’t receive the help it needed in Week 17 to become one of the NFC’s top two seeds.
Neither the Seattle Seahawks (13-3), which beat St. Louis at home, nor the Carolina Panthers (12-4), with its win in Atlanta, proved cooperative. The West and South champs enter January as the No. 1 and 2 seeds respectively.
This ends the 49ers two-year run as division titleholder. Jim Harbaugh and Co. had entered the last two postseasons as the second seed. They’ll be No. 5 seed this time around and will visit the Green Bay Packers, the NFC North winner, in the Wild Card round.
"They don't want to slip. That's them. That's those fighters behind me, in that locker room," Harbaugh said postgame. "You have some control about who you play, where you play at this point, but the thing they have the most control over is how they play, the effort that they give, how they play the game, and that'll be the most important thing as it always is."
The 49ers jumped out to a 10-0 lead within the game’s first seven minutes and a season-best 17-0 advantage before the end of the opening quarter but would have trouble scoring for the remainder of the game.
After Cardinals kicker Jay Feely missed a 37-yard three-point try, the 49ers offense got back to work. Kaepernick connected with Boldin on a 63-yard catch-and-run – fellow pass-catchers
Twenty of Kaepernick’s 21 touchdowns have landed in the hands of Davis (13), who tied his single-season career high, and Boldin (7). The third-year signal-caller had never before tossed two touchdowns in a game’s first 15 minutes.
Not long after a 49-yard completion to wideout Larry Fitzgerald, Palmer’s one-yard scoring strike to tight end Jake Ballard on fourth-and-goal with fewer than five minutes before halftime got the Cardinals on the scoreboard, 10 points down going into the locker room.
Another Bowman highlight kept San Francisco ahead in the third quarter. The inside linebacker stripped Mendenhall of the ball – for his single-season career high fourth forced fumble – and recovered it at Arizona’s 37-yard line.
The 49ers didn’t score off the turnover, leaving the door open. The Cardinals pushed it open further on the second play of the fourth quarter, when Feely nailed a 49-yard field goal, cutting the team’s deficit to seven points.
Feely missed a 47-yarder that would have drawn Arizona even closer with seven-plus minutes remaining, but Arizona’s offense was given another shot after its defense forced a third San Francisco three-and-out in a row.
Palmer’s 36-yard touchdown toss to wideout Andre Roberts tied the score at 17 with 3:20 showing on the clock.
Arizona's veteran quarterback finished the game 23-of-41 passing for 323 yards; he became the first player in NFL history to pass for 4,000-plus yards in a season with three different teams.
With 1:45, Dawson connected from 56 yards to put the 49ers up for good, 20-17.
The back-and-forth kicker duel continued when Feely nailed a 49-yard field goal with 29 seconds left.
Kaepernick and Co. started at their own 40-yard line and 18 ticks left. After two completions to Boldin (18 yards) and Patton (22), Dawson came on with two seconds left to attempt a 40-yard field goal.
It was true.