SAN FRANCISCO (AP)—When Joe Nedney booted an overtime field goal through a drizzle as miserable as these teams’ records, everybody won something in the San Francisco 49ers’ season finale against the Houston Texans.
The 49ers salvaged some pride with consecutive victories—and the Texans definitely won by losing soon-to-be-fired coach Dom Capers’ final game, wrapping up the No. 1 draft pick and the chance to dream about Reggie Bush.
Mike Adams lateraled his second interception to Ben Emanuel for a 35-yard return in OT, and Nedney set off an unlikely celebration with a 33-yard field goal with 3:52 left to end the 49ers’ 20-17 victory Sunday.
The kick also provoked a giant sigh of relief in Houston, as the Texans (2-14) narrowly avoided ruining the only solace left in their awful season. After the game, a person close to the organization told The Associated Press that Capers will be fired Monday to start an offseason of big changes— probably peaking with a red-white-and-blue jersey for Bush.
If Houston had won, the New Orleans Saints would have received the top pick and first dibs on Bush, the Heisman Trophy-winning tailback from USC who’s widely expected to enter the draft.
“You heard the talk all week: ‘Play well, but don’t win,”’ said Texans quarterback David Carr, sidelined in the first half with a right elbow injury. “All that stuff was a little distracting at times. Maybe a lot of fans were glad I busted my elbow and Andre (Johnson) got hurt. There were some wild things about this football game.
“If we couldn’t win them all, if we couldn’t make the playoffs, I guess having the first pick, as bad as it is, might be good.”
Both teams sometimes seemed determined to lose during a wacky afternoon that included a scoreless fourth quarter. Houston lost Carr (right elbow) and top receiver Johnson (left ankle) to injuries in the first half, then went scoreless for nearly 32 minutes to end the game.
Adams returned a third-quarter interception 40 yards for a tying touchdown for the 49ers (4-12), whose own No. 1 pick, Alex Smith, finally threw his first touchdown pass late in the first half.
“It is nice to win two weeks in a row,” said Smith, who went 16-of-29 for 159 yards and hit Brandon Lloyd for a 14-yard score. “It shows a lot about this team, going down both weeks, and we came back. We came together at the end of this season and we gained momentum.”
The Texans are in for big offseason changes, with Capers expected to be fired Monday after four seasons. Bush has been on fans’ minds in Houston and San Francisco since November—but the 49ers, Bush’s favorite team growing up, dropped out of the top five in the draft by doubling their win total from last season.
“I hope this is the last time we have the No. 1 pick,” said Texans owner Bob McNair, who said he would address the team’s coaching situation Monday. “At the same time, it is of great value to us. … We’re going to have four picks in the first 70 players. That means we’re going to get some good players.”
“It’s a little premature right now to say who we’re taking,” said general manager Charley Casserly, who’s expected to keep his job. “But I think everybody knows we aren’t taking Matt Leinart.”
Bush, who watched from Los Angeles while preparing for Wednesday’s Rose Bowl against Texas, claims he still doesn’t know whether he’ll enter the draft.
“Whatever happens in this game, it won’t have any effect on me,” Bush said. “Obviously it will just (affect) who gets the first pick in the NFL draft. … Like I said from Day 1, I won’t be worried about it until after the season.”
Both teams had ample chances to finish their seasons with a win. Houston’s Kris Brown missed a 31-yard field goal with 6:07 left in regulation, slicing it right in a stiff wind, and the Niners then drove to the Houston 35—where they decided to punt with 50 seconds left instead of trying a long field goal by the strong-legged Nedney.
“With the time on the clock and their timeouts, I thought that they had too much in their hands,” 49ers coach Mike Nolan said.
After three overtime punts, backup Houston quarterback Tony Banks’ long pass was intercepted near midfield by Adams, who lateraled to Emanuel for a rambling return. Two plays later, Nedney capped his stellar season with the winning kick.
“That’s the pinnacle right there,” Nedney said. “A walk-off home run right there. That’s what you dream about. It seems like it has been a long time since we have had one of those.”
The Niners—an NFL-worst 2-14 in 2004—finished with a two-game improvement in Nolan’s first season, though they also set a franchise record for the fewest offensive yards in a season.
After the Niners made consecutive 14-play drives resulting in 10 points, Banks hit Corey Bradford with a 25-yard touchdown pass to put Houston up 17-10 late in the third. Banks led another strong drive in the fourth, but Brown couldn’t score from the exact distance of his missed field goal at the end of a 13-10 loss to Tennessee on Dec. 11.
The Texans also played without injured RBs Domanick Davis and Jonathan Wells. Rookie Vernand Morency rushed for 83 yards and a TD. … Carr, who’s from Bakersfield, Calif., had more than 200 friends and family members in the stands. … Frank Gore rushed for 108 yards to become the 49ers’ first rookie rushing leader since 1990.