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Lowell Cohn: 49ers saved by NaVorro Bowman, their best player

  • 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman turns the game around with an interceptions and touchdown on Monday at Candlestick Park. (JOHN BURGESS / The Press Democrat)

SAN FRANCISCO - When the 49ers' season was about to take a strange turn, a U-turn, a very bad turn, their best player saved them.

NaVorro Bowman.

A minute and a half remained and the Falcons had driven to the 49ers' end zone, right to the 10-yard line. They were breathing into the end zone. And Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan was in a groove, feeling it, doing it.

San Francisco 49ers vs. Atlanta Falcons

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A touchdown would have given the Falcons the game. Obviously. And a field goal would have tied it and then there would have been overtime. The risks make you dizzy.

And, if they lost, the Niners were staring at going to Arizona next week and playing a one-and-done game.

Either they'd be in the playoffs or they'd be out. No post season no nothing. And Ryan dropped back and stood tall and threw a pass over the middle to receiver Harry Douglas — strange call that pass over the middle — and Niners' cornerback Tramaine Brock tipped the ball and it squirted, it fled, it flew into the air.

And there was Bowman. Catching it. With a gasp he ran down the field, steamed 89 yards into the end zone. At the edge of the end zone, he leaped, flew onto the ground for the score. He looked like a kid doing a belly flop. The sheer joy of it.

And the Niners won — would win. Bowman, their best player, saved them.

How fitting.

As Bowman stood up and gathered himself — green grass stains streaking his jersey — and as he started to jog along the west sideline toward his teammates who were going out of their skulls, Jim Harbaugh rushed over to him on the field. On his face, Harbaugh had a grin as big as Alaska. He yelled something at Bowman. He ran over to Bowman.

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