GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) -- The way things have gone for the San Francisco 49ers the last six weeks, of course they were going to find a way to pull out a wild one in Arizona.
Phil Dawson's 40-yard field goal as time expired Sunday gave the 49ers a 23-20 victory over the Arizona Cardinals that has the reigning NFC champions riding a six-game winning streak heading into their first-round playoff game at Green Bay.
Unlike the previous two seasons, when San Francisco won the NFC West, the fifth-seeded 49ers (12-4) are going in as a wild card.
''Now we have to do what Baltimore did, go from the bottom and try to win,'' cornerback Carlos Rogers said.
Arizona (10-6) had a shot at the playoffs but needed to beat San Francisco and have New Orleans lose to Tampa Bay. Neither occurred, and the Cardinals - in their first year under coach Bruce Arians - had to settle for a 10-win season, something that's happened only twice before since the franchise moved to Arizona in 1988.
''It's just the beginning, that's how you have to look at it,'' linebacker Daryl Washington said. ''Next year it's time to go all the way.''
Here are five things learned from San Francisco's close victory:
BOLDIN IS GOLDEN: Anquan Boldin is headed to the playoffs. His two former teams - Arizona and Baltimore - are not.
Boldin caught nine passes for 149 yards and a touchdown against the Cardinals, the team that traded him to the Ravens after the 2009 season. He had six catches for 104 yards and a score in the first quarter alone.
''What a football player. You can sum it up right there,'' 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. ''Football player. He's all of it. Leadership, big-play ability, competitiveness. Competitive always, great talent.''
It was Boldin's first game back in Arizona since being traded away, but he said that held no significance to him.
''It's another team, division opponent,'' he said. ''For me, there wasn't any added motivation. I'm motivated by winning and that's it.''
RESILIENT CARDINALS: Arizona didn't fold after falling behind 17-0 in the first quarter.
That wasn't surprising to Arians or his players. The team was coming off a victory at Seattle and had won seven of eight going into Sunday's finale.
''When we were down 17-0 no one looked at each other and panicked,'' defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said. ''Everybody looked for the solution and bought in on the solution and started playing ball. I take my hat off to my teammates. I have been in this organization for 10 years and I've been on some teams that in a game like that they would have checked out.''
MAGNIFICENT BOWMAN: San Francisco linebacker NaVorro Bowman did just about everything a dominating defender can do.
First, he intercepted a pass to set up a 49ers touchdown. Then he ripped the ball from the arms of running back Rashard Mendenhall and recovered the fumble. Finally, he sacked Carson Palmer at a crucial point late in the game.
Bowman won't disagree with anyone who says he should be the NFL defensive player of the year.
''It's the last game of the season, so I'm going to say yes,'' Bowman said. ''The reason why is me and Pat (Willis), we do so much and work so hard to be the best and lead our team. That's all we've been doing, and I think that's what you want in a defensive player of the year, so that's why I think I deserve it.''
PALMER'S SEASON: Palmer got off to a rough start but finished the game strong with some big numbers.
The 11-year NFL veteran completed 28 of 49 passes for 407 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. That pushed him past 4,000 yards for the fourth time in his career. He became the first player in NFL history to do it for three teams: Cincinnati, Oakland and Arizona.
''Personal goals are always nice,'' Palmer said. ''That wasn't one of my personal goals. I wasn't worried about it, or thinking about it. I was thinking about wins and losses.''
Palmer struggled early in the season with Arians' offense.
''I'm proud of how we were resilient on offense because it took us a while,'' Palmer said. ''It took us weeks to get going.''
PATTON'S CATCH: Colin Kaepernick didn't hesitate to go to rookie Quinton Patton at a crucial point in the game, and the young receiver came through for San Francisco.
''He's our guy - my guy,'' Harbaugh said. ''He's definitely one of us. I couldn't be more excited for him.''