“And it’s in the hands of [linebacker NaVorro] Bowman, who’s got all green grass. NaVorro Bowman is going to take the 49ers to the playoffs,” ESPN’s Mike Tirico announced, as the 49ers’ middle linebacker intercepted Falcons’ quarterback Matt Ryan’s pass.
Bowman took the interception back for a touchdown, leading to the infamous “Pick at the Stick” moniker, as the 49ers punched their ticket into the postseason and put an exclamation mark in Candlestick Park’s final chapter.
Six years later, San Francisco has a chance to repeat history by clinching their first playoff berth since against the Falcons on Sunday. Outside of the ownership, the uniforms and tackle Joe Staley, just about everything is different with this 2019 49ers’ squad.
Since the last time they tasted January football, the 49ers have moved and call Levi’s Stadium home, have revamped their entire front office and coaching staff multiple times and have also done a complete overhaul of the roster.
General manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan have built a Super Bowl contender, while completely changing the public perspective of this team over the past few years. Forty-six games into their time with San Francisco, they have a chance to do something that only one regime has done with the 49ers in this decade — make the postseason.
In 2013 when the 49ers took down a 4-11 Falcons’ team, they were led by the likes of running back Frank Gore, quarterback Colin Kaepernick and likely Hall-of-Fame linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. It was a team that was built on a tough-nosed defense and an innovative offense featuring a dual-threat quarterback. The 49ers were a reflection of their head coach, Jim Harbaugh, a motivator and leader who turned the tide for San Francisco in the early 2010s.
After trying to patch the problem with Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly, CEO Jed York decided to wipe the slate clean and start fresh with Lynch and Shanahan before the 2017 season. Looking back, it looks like a genius move as the 49ers on the cusp of making the playoffs for the first time in six years.
“Brick by Brick,” was the motto that the two decision-makers preached as they took on a multi-year rebuild job. Here were some of the key bricks that they were able to lay to build a foundation that’s leading San Francisco towards the promised land.
May 2, 2017 — The 2017 NFL Draft netted the 49ers key contributors, from the league’s best tight end George Kittle to lineman D.J. Jones to starting corner Ahkello Witherspoon. It was Lynch’s first draft, and he found multiple starters that are pivotal pieces on this championship-level roster.
October 31, 2017 — Halloween did not bring a trick; it instead brought a treat to the 49ers in the form of franchise quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. San Francisco sent the Patriots a second-round pick for Garoppolo, and the cornerstone and face of the franchise were in place.
December 31, 2017 — San Francisco defeated the Rams by 21, and Garoppolo closed out the 2017 season with five-straight wins, and this gave fans the hope that a Shanahan-Garoppolo combination could win games.
Free Agency 2018 — With an abundant amount of salary cap space, San Francisco picked positions of need and added center Weston Richburg, guard Mike Person, running back Raheem Mostert and corner Richard Sherman — all capable starters on this 49ers’ team.
September 24, 2018 — An MRI confirmed that quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo had torn his ACL vs. Chiefs and was going to be out for the rest of the season. While the injury ended any chances the 49ers had of the playoffs; it would net them a dominant pass rusher in the next NFL Draft.
April 27, 2019 — After finishing the season 4-12, San Francisco was able to draft pass rusher Nick Bosa, wideout Deebo Samuel, linebacker Dre Greenlaw, and punter Mitch Wishnowsky. A poor 2018 season gave Lynch the arsenal to hit on most of his draft selections this past year.
I still remember the image of Kyle Shanahan sitting in the visiting locker room after a loss in the 2018 season, as San Francisco was unable to display their growth because of Garoppolo’s injury. Thirteen games into the 2019 season, the 49ers are the NFL’s second-best team and on the eve of securing a playoff spot in the tough NFC.
Six years removed from “The Pick at the Stick,” the 49ers are once again in the same situation. Playoffs on the line, with the Falcons coming into town. Will the result be the same?