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  Monday, Jan. 3 9:00pm ET
Falcons finish dismal season on high note

ATLANTA (AP) -- Tim Dwight gave the Atlanta Falcons hope for the future. Jerry Rice showed the San Francisco 49ers why he's not ready to be part of their past.

Tim Dwight
Tim Dwight caught seven passes for 162 yards and two TDs. He added another touchdown on a 70-yard punt return.

Dwight caught seven passes for 162 yards, including two touchdowns, and returned a punt 70 yards for another score as the Falcons closed the NFL's regular season with a 34-29 victory over the San Francisco 49ers on Monday night.

"Things just started happening," said Dwight, whose 241 all-purpose yards were the third-highest in Falcons history. "It was kind of crazy out there."

The 49ers (4-12) fell behind 31-7 but showed a bit of pride in their worst season since 1979, scoring three second-half touchdowns to make it close. Although the Falcons recovered an onside kick with 2:45 remaining, they still had to bat down a desperation pass in the end zone to preserve the victory.

Rice, in what might have been his final game with the 49ers, added another highlight to his brilliant career with a 62-yard reception, setting up a San Francisco touchdown and drawing applause from Falcons defensive back Ray Buchanan. Rice finished with six receptions for 143 yards.

The 49ers, projected to be some $20 million over the salary cap, must decide if they can afford Rice and quarterback Steve Young, who missed most of the season following another concussion.

"I still feel I can help this team out and I can make big plays," Rice said. "I'm sure Steve -- he doesn't want to go out on this note also. We just want to come back, turn this thing around and be the 49ers of old."

Chris Chandler took advantage of the league's worst-rated pass defense to throw for 306 yards and three touchdowns, helping Atlanta (5-11) snap a 10-game losing streak on Monday night.

"We made it exciting, didn't we?" coach Dan Reeves said. "When you have control of a game like that, you shouldn't let the other team back in it. We did."

Atlanta won its final two games -- the team's only winning streak of the season -- but still equaled the 1990 Denver Broncos for the worst record in a post-Super Bowl year. Both teams were coached by Reeves.

San Francisco, a perennial powerhouse gone shockingly bad since Young was knocked out in Week 2, dropped 11 of its last 12 for the team's worst finish since a 2-14 mark in 1979.

Atlanta safety Eugene Robinson, the NFL's active leader in interceptions, said he hasn't made a final decision on his possible retirement. He plans an announcement by minicamp.
Terance Mathis had 81 catches this season, the most ever for a receiver on a Reeves-coached team.
There were no sacks and the teams combined for 849 yards, yet the Falcons rushed for only 37 yards.
San Francisco's 17 penalties were the second-most in team history.
Atlanta offensive tackle Bob Whitfield made his 112th consecutive start, tying Jeff Van Note's team record.

One consolation for San Francisco: the No. 3 pick in the draft. The Falcons didn't have to worry about draft ramifications, having traded their top pick in 2000 to Baltimore for a second-rounder in 1999.

Atlanta wound up with a reserve tight end, Reggie Kelly, who had only eight catches for 146 yards this season. The Ravens, meanwhile, will gladly take a prime No. 5 choice in the draft.

Dwight, a speedy, 5-foot-8 receiver, broke the game open in the final minute of the first half with his dazzling skills as a returner.

Atlanta was leading just 10-7 when Dwight took a punt at his own 30, broke free in front of the San Francisco bench, cut back toward the middle of the field and outraced Randy Krik without being touched, reaching the end zone with just 12 seconds remaining.

The Falcons increased the lead to 24-7 on their first possession of the second half, as Terance Mathis hauled in the 50th touchdown reception of his career on a 19-yard pass from Chandler. Mathis also assured his second straight 1,000-yard season with a 9-yard catch in the fourth quarter.

Atlanta blew it open when Dwight struck again, this time with a 60-yard touchdown reception. Cornerback Darnell Walker grabbed the receiver at the line, drawing a flag but failing to slow Dwight, who hauled in the pass between two defenders at the San Francisco 35 and stiff-armed Lee Woodall on the way to the end zone.

Dwight scored Atlanta's first touchdown on a 5-yard reception. Chandler hooked up with the speedy receiver on passes of 25 and 20 yards before going to him again on third-and-goal at the 5.

Morten Andersen added field goals of 49 and 38 yards.

The 49ers, showing an astonishing lack of discipline for a team that won at least 10 games every year from 1983-98, were penalized 17 times for 148 yards.

But they got within striking distance on Travis Jervey's 1-yard touchdown run late in the third period and quarterback Jeff Garcia's 5-yarder with 9½ minutes remaining. Then, Garcia hooked up with J.J. Stokes for a 43-yard touchdown with 2:46 left. Stokes caught five passes for 130 yards overall.

Garcia completed 26 of 34 for 373 yards, hoping to show he is a worthy successor if Young doesn't return next season. The CFL refugee also threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Terrell Owens in the second quarter.

After Stokes' touchdown, Atlanta's O.J. Santiago recovered the onside kick and the Falcons ran out most of the clock to win on Monday night for the first time since 1981 and only the sixth time in 23 games.

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Rice, Young hope to return to 49ers

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