Talk about heart stopping. The San Francisco 49ers win over the New Orleans Saints in the final seconds will always be remembered in franchise history. How the touchdown from Alex Smith to Vernon Davis that propelled the 49ers to the NFC Championship will be referred to is still waiting to be written. My vote is for The Catch 3.0. Before the game the 49ers were not given a chance to defeat Drew Brees and the Saints. Even with the best defense in the NFL most thought the 49ers would be no match for the Saints offense. And there was no way Alex Smith could be counted on in the clutch in his first career playoff game. All week the 49ers heard knock after knock and why they would loose even with home field advantage, which makes the way the 49ers won the game in the final minutes so much sweeter.
In the hours before the game I was antsy waiting for kickoff. Right before the game started I got nervous and excited. I could only imagine what it felt like being inside the stadium and on the field as a player. Momentum swung back and forth for the 49ers and Saints. With how nail baiting the game was and four touchdowns scored in the last 4 minutes and 2 seconds of the game, this was the best 49ers game I have ever seen.
Watching Alex Smith engineer two scoring drives in the final minutes to win the game was glorious. It was redemption to all his critics, including me, who said he was bust and could not come through in the clutch. Smith proved all of the criticism wrong with not one, but two clutch drives. Smith ran for a huge 28-yard touchdown on a sweep to the left on 3rd-and-8. The 49ers were trailing 24-23 with 2:18 left in the game before Smith ran in for the touchdown. The 29-24 lead seemed like it would be enough to win with the way the defense had been playing. But Brees answered back 34 seconds later with a 66-yard touchdown pass to Jimmy Graham. Watching Graham break two tackles, then run all alone for the go ahead TD was shattering. But I kept saying we only need three points to tie the game.
I had confidence in Alex Smith before he led another clutch drive to win the game. Never before had I felt that with Smith and it was kind of a weird feeling. Something I had not felt since Steve Young was on the team, confidence in the 49ers QB to come through in the clutch. The winning touchdown pass had to go to Davis who is one of the leaders on the team and was once thought of as a potential draft bust like Smith. Davis has come a long way from his “cannot win with them, cannot coach with them, can’t do it,” days. After the touchdown grab I was crying with excitement right with Davis.
Alex Smith did his best impression of Joe Cool Montana with how was cool and confident he was through out the game, even after his fumble and the Saints taking the lead with 1:37 left. He looked like Steve Young on his 28-yard TD run. Smith has etched his own history in 49ers lore and still has plenty more to go. The 49ers Faithful have waited six seasons to be able to compare Smith to Montana and Young. Something tells me this will not be the last time. Onward to the NFC Championship, it feels great to be able to say that.
Let’s hand out some Game Gold Nuggets.
= VERY GOOD
The offense got off to quick start with 14 points in the first quarter thanks to great field position. After the first quarter the offense sputtered out with only two field goals in the second and third quarters. But when the offense and Alex Smith (299 yards, 3 passing TD’s, 1 rushing TD, 0 INT’s) needed to come through not once but twice in the final minutes to take the lead, they came up big. What is most impressive about the two drives is they were 80 and 86-yard drives both led by Smith. The game winning pass from Smith to Vernon Davis (7 REC, 180 yards, 2 TD’s) had to be right on target. Smith delivered the pass perfectly to Davis that capped off two impressive drives by the quarterback. On the final two drives Smith was 7-for-10 for 135 yards, 1 passing and 1 rushing touchdown. Davis had three catches for 98 yards and 1 touchdown on the final two drives.
Frank Gore (89 rushing yards, 1 touchdown, 7 REC, 38 receiving yards) cannot be overlooked. Gore’s successful day running the football set up the passing game as was a continued threat to the Saints defense. The offense showed the NFL world to take notice of them not only in the running but the passing game as well.
The 49ers defense came out hitting the Saints hard with tackles that caused drops and turnovers. On the opening drive Donte Whitner let the Saints offense know what they would have to deal with all game with a knockout hit on Pierre Thomas that forced a fumble. The defense forced a total of three turnovers, the team finished with five, with two interceptions on Brees and one fumble recovered. The turnovers allowed the 49ers to stay in the game as the offense could not put the game away in the second and third quarter. Usually when the defense gives up 32 points, 462 passing yards and allows three receivers with over 100 receiving yards, five game gold nuggets should not be awarded, if any at all. But this is the playoffs and the 49ers won the game in part to the defense keeping the Saints offense in-check by limiting touchdowns scored. Dashon Goldson had a huge game with 11 tackles and 1 INT, and he laid plenty of hard hits on the Saints.
Darren Sproles destroyed the 49ers defense with 119 receiving yards and 1 touchdown. But he was destroyed by the 49ers coverage team on kickoff and punt returns. Sproles had his first fumble on a punt return this season in the game and did not have a return of over 13-yards. On a kickoff return in the first quarter Madieu Williams forced a fumble that led to field goal and the 49ers going up 17-0. The return game for the 49ers did not have much of an impact.
Andy Lee came up big per usual with four punts landing inside the 20-yard line. On eight punts Lee averaged 49.5 yards. David Akers was needed on three field goals of 25, 41, and 37 yard, making all three.
The 49ers game plan to attack the Saints offense and defense was brilliant. Jim Harbaugh prepared the team well and did not let the hype and excitement over take the team resulting in bad plays. Credit to defense coordinator Vic Fangio for having the players come out hitting the Saints hard. Fangio had the defense pressuring Brees at all the right times forcing throwaways and dropped passes. Offense coordinator Greg Roman found a way to get the offense in the end zone in the final minutes with two great play calls that resulted in touchdowns giving the 49ers the lead. The Saints defense was caught off-guard on the 28-yard touchdown sweep by Smith. On the game winning play to Davis, Roman called the play for the first-time this season as it was installed on Wednesday. The credit should actually go to quarterbacks coach Geep Chryst who after the game said he knew Saints safety Roman Harper gets flat-footed near the goal line. Chryst was a coach with the Panthers and he saw the Saints plenty of times. The play was the right call as Davis was open on the post pattern for the touchdown
I love the fact that Harbaugh went for the win instead of the tie to send the game into overtime. Harbaugh showed with that decision how much trust and confidence he has in Alex Smith and Vernon Davis.
NEXT UP: @home vs. Giants or @Green Bay
NFC Championship! The win over the Saints was the first in the playoffs in almost a decade. The 49ers are now in the NFC Championship game for the first time since 1997. I would love to take on the Packers and see Alex Smith vs. Aaron Rodgers. But another home playoff game would be awesome and that can only happen with a Giants win.