The Atlanta Falcons taking on the San Francisco 49ers in the last regular-season game at Candlestick Park could’ve been a MNF game for the ages. A rematch of the 2012 NFC Championship Game, the 49ers and Falcons seemed like a perfect Monday Night Football finale before the season started. Then the Falcons went 4-10, and the 49ers achieved a 10-4 record only after a big turnaround. Tonight’s Monday Night Football game still marks the last regular-season game at Candlestick Park, so the hometown team will be motivated to give its fans something to cheer for. And with the Seattle Seahawks losing to the Arizona Cardinals yesterday, tonight’s MNF game promises to be live, as the 49ers can clinch a wild-card playoff berth with a MNF victory. Those unable to watch MNF live on ESPN can watch Monday Night Football online free using one of several different tools.
The 49ers should win handily over the Falcons for several reasons. On offense, tonight’s 49ers game is another opportunity for quarterback Colin Kaepernick to showcase his rejuvenated passing game. After struggling for much of the season, Kaepernick has a 104.7 passer rating with seven touchdown passes and just one turnover during his past four games. Michael Crabtree’s return really got the 49ers offense going, but Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin have also come on strong. Tight end Davis is a tough matchup for most defenses, and he will pose a particular challenge for a Falcons team tonight on Monday Night Football that struggles against that position.
Yet the test may not just come from Davis. The Falcons secondary started three rookies last Sunday against the Redskins, though Atlanta’s defense has forced 11 turnovers in the past three games. Knowing their weak spot, the Falcons have moved defensive end Osi Umenyiora to a pass-rushing position for tonight’s Monday Night Football game. Whether it slows Kaepernick remains to be seen, so we’ll have to watch MNF online free to see how it works out. Umenyiora currently leads the Falcons with 7.5 sacks, including one last week as a reserve designated pass-rusher, the same role he’ll have on MNF tonight.
If the Falcons do stop the 49ers air attack, the Niners will turn to their fifth-ranked ground game. Kaepernick hadn’t posed the dual threat like last season until his passing game picked up recently. With defenses once again paying attention to the 49ers QB, running back Frank Gore has been able to extend his 1,017-yard season. Through 15 weeks the 49ers average 137.1 rushing yards per game, with Gore alone averaging eight yards per carry. Meanwhile Atlanta’s run defense is among the bottom five in the league. Tonight’s MNF game therefore poses a big rushing opportunity for both Kaepernick and Gore.
Falcons QB Matt Ryan could have a nice game as well, though he’ll need better protection than he’s had recently. Ryan’s had a statistically sound season, completing 374 passes for 3,887 yards and 22 touchdowns. Those are amazing numbers considering the Falcons offensive line has allowed its quarterback to be hit 115 times this season. The Falcons used their seventh different starting offensive line combination against Washington, and Atlanta may actually try an eighth tonight with 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith back on the field and playing well.
You can watch Monday Night Football online free on ESPN3, which is also available through the ESPN mobile app and ESPN app on Xbox 360, if you’re an ESPN subscriber to the cable sports network through a satellite or cable package. You can also watch MNF online free via DirecTV’s website if you have the NFL Sunday Ticket with MAX package. The package requires a subscription, but anyone who has one can watch the live streaming version free of any NFL game. You may also be able to watch Monday Night Football online free with the Verizon NFL mobile app, which costs $5 per month.