"75 for 75" is an article series from the 49ers Museum highlighting legendary moments in 49ers history as part of the team's 75th Anniversary celebrations in 2021.
January 14, 2012
The 2011 NFC Divisional Playoff featured the wildest four minutes of football ever seen at Candlestick Park.
In a game that opened with a touchdown pass from quarterback Alex Smith to tight end Vernon Davis, and concluded with another scoring strike from Smith to Davis, the final tally was reached after four lead changes in the fourth quarter.
"I haven't seen a game like that in all the years I've played," said 49ers defensive back Carlos Rogers, who was playing in his seventh NFL season. "Two good teams, two good offenses, two good defenses."
New Orleans signal caller Drew Brees got the fireworks started by hitting running back Darren Sproles on a 44-yard pass to put the Saints in front 24-23 with 4:02 remaining in the game.
Smith quickly retaliated by marching the 49ers 80 yards on six plays. He capped off the drive by dramatically racing 28 yards to the end zone on a naked bootleg. With 2:18 on the clock the 49ers were on top again 29-24. Meanwhile, nearly 70,000 exuberant fans at Candlestick erupted in a delirious frenzy thinking the 49ers were on their way to the NFC Championship Game.
However, two minutes was plenty of time for Brees. He needed just 30 seconds to hook up with tight end Jimmy Graham on a 66-yard scoring bomb to give New Orleans a 32-29 advantage. That set the stage for the 49ers final dramatic act with Smith and Davis in the starring roles.
After the kickoff, the 49ers took over at their own 15 yard line with 1:32 remaining, then quickly picked up a first down. With 44 seconds remaining, San Francisco was still 67 yards from the end zone.
Smith then found Davis on a 47-yard catch-and-run that put the 49ers in field goal range. A short completion to running back Frank Gore moved the 49ers to the 14 yard line with 14 seconds left in the game. It looked like a game-tying field goal was in order. Instead, head coach Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman called for the Vernon Post.
Davis broke from the huddle and lined up in the left slot. Tight end Justin Peelle was aligned a few steps outside of Davis.
"I looked at Alex. He looked back at me," Davis said. "I took off, came off the line with some explosion, got about 10 yards and planted my left foot. As soon as I could turn, the ball was right on me."
Smith's pass was perfectly placed. Davis snagged it as he crossed the goal line, then was leveled by Saints safety Roman Harper. He hung on to the ball but could not contain his emotion.
"When I got up," Davis recalled, "all I could feel were tears running from my eyes." The overwhelmed Davis then sprinted to the 49ers sideline and into the arms of Harbaugh.
"We needed a great throw, thrown to a spot," Roman said. "Vernon knew he was going to get blown up after the catch, but he had to secure the ball, which he did."
The 49ers 36-32 victory launched them into their first NFC title contest in 14 years. Smith connected on 24 passes for 299 yards with three touchdowns and one rushing score. Davis finished the game with seven catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns.
During his 10 seasons in San Francisco, Davis posted 441 receptions for 5,640 yards and 55 touchdowns, ranking first among tight ends in franchise history in all three categories. The two-time Pro Bowl selection also recorded 27 receptions for 600 yards and seven touchdowns in the postseason.