49ers play with big picture in mind

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh frantically sprinted down the sideline in the Sunday evening desert, trying to get one last timeout as the final seconds ticked toward overtime.

He was on the mission of a coach trying to save his season. Or at least the No. 5 seed in the playoffs.

It is Harbaugh’s way to coach every game like it’s his last. He has said it’s a sin not to play like it’s always on the line.

That’s why his 49ers have to be considered one of the most dangerous teams in the NFL headed into the 12-franchise playoff tournament.

"Now, it’s all about that gold ball," San Francisco fullback Anthony Dixon said. "That’s what this team is playing for. We always have to win. That’s our mindset. Losing doesn’t help us much."

It can be argued that when Phil Dawson’s 40-yard field goal attempt went through the uprights as time expired, the 49ers didn’t do themselves any favors. Dawson’s kick gave San Francisco a 23-20 win and secured the fifth seed in the NFC playoffs and a date at Green Bay in the wild-card round Sunday.

The Packers, who won in the final seconds over Chicago on Sunday, are going to be tough for anyone to beat at home with a healthy Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay weather and the aura of Lambeau Field. The suggestion was winning at either Philadelphia or Dallas next weekend would be easier.

The 49ers started the day eligible for the No. 1, No. 2, No. 5 or No. 6 seeds. The first two possibilities were out of their control and never materialized. The allure of being the No. 5 seed was having a better chance of not having to go to No. 1 seed Seattle until the NFC title game if No. 6 seed New Orleans wins at the NFC East winner.

Yes, the edge is minor, but the 49ers didn’t seem to care. Losing is for losers.

“But that’s not how we play,” San Francisco cornerback Carlos Rogers said. “We know what our task is. We will go out and try to win anybody, win anywhere.”

There is no team headed to the postseason hotter than the 49ers. They have won a league-best six straight games. The 49ers, who finished the regular season 12-4, have won 11 of their past 13 games. Their two losses during the stretch, to Carolina and New Orleans, were by a total of four points.

So while winning at Green Bay is no easy task, the 49ers approach the playoffs as one of the NFL’s toughest tasks for opponents.

“We feel like we can play with anybody,” Dixon said. “We are always confident we will win.”

The 49ers frantically displayed their self-imposed mandate of never letting down Sunday. They roared to a 17-0 lead in the first quarter, but slowly let the Cardinals, who entered the game winners of seven of their previous eight games, back in the game.

As the 49ers’ offense went to sleep for eight drives, the Cardinals chipped away and tied it at 17 in the fourth quarter. The two teams traded field goals in the final two minutes.

The 49ers took possession at their own 36 (after a nice return by LaMichael James) with 25 seconds to go. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick then hit receivers Anquan Boldin and Quinton Patton for receptions of 18 and 29 yards. Patton, a fourth-round pick, made a tremendous sideline catch that inspired Harbaugh to run down field to call the timeout to set up Dawson’s field goal.

“It was pretty exciting,” said Dawson, whose two late field goals made up for a 24-yard miss at the end of the first half that halted his consecutive field goal streak at 27.

All for the fifth seed.

Now that the 49ers did all they could they are looking to start a new journey and do something they couldn’t do last year -- win in February. The 49ers lost the Super Bowl to Baltimore. They were five yards from winning. It eats at this team.

“It’s all about that big game,” Dixon said. “We all want another shot at it. That big game still has left a nasty taste in our mouths. We all want it bad. This game was just a part of achieving that.”