The 49ers beat the New Orleans Saints 36-32 in the NFC Divisional Playoff round at Candlestick Park on Saturday in one of the most thrilling games ever played in the historic stadium.
And that’s certainly saying something.
The high-powered Saints offense and ball control-oriented 49ers offense exchanged touchdowns in the game’s closing moments, leaving the 49ers Faithful in awe with what they saw: Smith calling his own number to run in a 28-yard touchdown and then responding to a Saints go-ahead score with a 14-yard touchdown to tight end Vernon Davis.
“It’s about as good as it gets,” said Smith on a day where he completed 24-of-42 passes for 299 yards and posted a 103.2 quarterback rating.
Smith also accounted for three of the team’s touchdowns, throwing one to Davis, one to
After a memorable postgame scene that saw many 49ers get emotional after the win, sportswriters and players were scrambling to name the play which rivaled Joe Montana’s touchdown pass to Dwight Clark, which took place in the opposite end zone 30 years ago.
Davis’ catch also took place in the same spot Terrell Owens caught Steve Young’s game-winning touchdown pass to beat the Green Bay Packers in the 1998 playoffs.
“History was going through my mind,” Davis said. “It was us against history. I said to myself, ‘It’s us against no and us against can’t.’ All those things. We just managed to pull it off. It was a very emotional game; it was like a roller coaster.”
Coach Jim Harbaugh credited quarterbacks coach Geep Chryst for calling the post pattern to Davis.
The 49ers trailed 32-29 with 14 seconds from New Orleans 14-yard line, and dialed up the play with the intent to get the ball to Davis.
“We told Alex, ‘Let’s go to Vernon here,” Harbaugh said.
Davis was the most targeted receiver on the day for San Francisco. He finished the day catching seven passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns.
If Davis’ last touchdown was special, consider his first score, a 49-yard touchdown, fitting for a 49ers franchise looking for its first playoff win since 2003.
“It was one of those games you watched growing up, the throwback games they show on NFL Films,” said right tackle
It didn’t quite seem like it would be the instant classic it turned out to be. Not when the 49ers built a 17-0 lead.
Much of the instant success could be attributed to turning the Saints over four times in the first half.
“It was a big momentum swing and it let the offense know we’re going to be physical all day,” said Whitner, who recorded five tackles on the day. “I told myself that I was going to hit everything moving out there today. I was going to be extremely physical, even if it’s my own guys. Luckily, I didn’t have to hit too many of my own guys.”
Whitner’s turnover set up Smith’s first touchdown pass of the day, a laser of a throw to Vernon Davis, who celebrated the 49-yard score by dunking the ball over the goalposts like his counterpart, Saints tight end Jimmy Graham.
The 49ers other starting safety,
The game’s biggest plays, however, came in the fourth quarter after the teams combined for just three points in the third quarter, a 41-yard field goal from All-Pro kicker
Akers’ third make from 37 yards out kick-started the memorable final frame. Although New Orleans outscored the 49ers 18-16 in the fourth, the 49ers found ways to respond to the Saints' seemingly back-breaking scores.
The first came when running back Darren Sproles took one of his 15 receptions for a 44-yard touchdown on a well-designed screen pass with 4:02 left in the game.
Smith rallied the 49ers offense down the field and found Vernon Davis for a 37-yard gain to put the offense in position for a field goal. But Smith ran in from 28 yards out on third-and-8 and it appeared as if Smith saved the day.
Not just yet.
Graham caught his second touchdown of the game on New Orleans’ ensuing drive with a 66-yard pass that made Patrick Willis sick to his stomach because it came at his expense. Graham simply out-jumped Willis and ran it the rest of the way following his seam route down the middle of San Francisco’s defense.
“I was hurting,” said Willis, who finished the day with eight tackles and a fumble recovery. “I was down because I know that my teammates always count on me to be that defensive player that I am and he made a good catch. I was feeling low, I’m not going to lie.
“But that’s one of the things I love about my teammates is that regardless of how you’re feeling, they always find a way to pull you back up.”
It was Willis’ offensive teammate who did the uplifting.
Smith and the 49ers offense started the biggest drive of their season from their own 15-yard line. Seven plays later, they were in the end zone with the entire offensive unit smothering Vernon Davis in the end zone in celebration.
“We knew they were going to make plays, we knew we were going to make plays,” Harbaugh went on to say. “We felt we would make more plays and it ended up that we made two or three more plays.”