SAN FRANCISCO – Bare-chested Joe Staley and Mike Iupati jumped up and down wearing only their shorts, each offensive lineman doing his best to will the Vikings to victory from afar.
The 49ers – sporting fresh red NFC West champion caps after beating the Arizona Cardinals 27-13 on Sunday – crammed into the cozy confines of their locker room and became Minnesota’s fiercest cross-country cheering section. When Blair Walsh’s 29-yard field goal sailed through the uprights for the Vikings as time expired to give San Francisco a playoff bye, the tiny dressing area in Candlestick Park’s south corner erupted into a crazy, celebratory scene.
C’mon, baby, bye week! shouted defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois.
The Vikings certainly deserved some thanks. So did Michael Crabtree.
Crabtree’s career day and dazzling catch-making display sent San Francisco to a second straight division title and into the playoffs with some much-needed momentum.
Crabtree caught touchdown passes of 49 and 7 yards and finished with a career-high 172 yards on eight receptions, leading the 49ers to another rout of Arizona after a slow start.
Colin Kaepernick threw for a career-best 276 yards and two TDs as the Niners (11-4-1) did their part to control their postseason fate – then waited all of about 15 minutes to watch Minnesota beat Green Bay and give San Francisco the NFC’s No. 2 seed and a week off before hosting a divisional playoff game.
It was a lot harder this time around to get it, said safety Donte Whitner, his new hat on backward. We were the target this year and got everybody’s best shot. To come out and still win our division and have the opportunity to get a first-round bye is tremendous.
Frank Gore ran for a 2-yard score early in the fourth quarter for his franchise-best 51st touchdown rushing, breaking a tie with mentor Roger Craig and late Hall of Famer Joe Perry.
With yet another new face under center, the Cardinals (5-11) lost for the 11th time in their last 12 games in what might have been Ken Whisenhunt’s final game as coach. Brian Hoyer went 19 of 34 for 225 yards and a late TD toss in his first NFL start as Arizona’s fourth quarterback this season.
He couldn’t keep up with Crabtree and Kaepernick.
Crabtree’s outstanding outing was the best by a 49ers receiver since Terrell Owens’ 166-yard performance on Nov. 25, 2002, against Philadelphia.
My dude made it happen, Crabtree said, looking at Kaepernick. I’m really focused on these playoffs.
Crabtree caught a 31-yard pass to set up his team-leading eighth TD reception on the next play. The sequence put him over 1,000 yards, giving San Francisco its first 1,000-yard receiver since Owens in 2003.
The Cardinals ended a six-game stretch without a touchdown pass when Hoyer hit Michael Floyd on a late 37-yard score. Floyd had eight catches for 166 yards.