The Saints haven’t lost a game since the day before Halloween, but 49ers' quarterback Alex Smith and tight end Vernon Davis scared the pants off of them and earned their team a shot at the NFC championship.
Powered by Smith, who threw for 299 yards and threw for three touchdowns and added another one the ground, the 49ers defeated the Saints 36-32. They now await the winner of the New York Giants, Green Bay Packers game for a chance at an NFC title.
TD passes to Davis (seven catches, 180 cards) and Michael Crabree [four catches, 25 yards] and a David Ackers field goal put the 49ers ahead 17-0 early in the second quarter. While Drew Brees (458 passing yards, four TDs) had success against the 49ers secondary, hurling a pair of touchdowns to Jimmy Graham and Marques Colston in the second quarter, his two interceptions in the first half left him guessing more than usual. The 49ers were also solid against the run in the first half, allowing just 21 yards.
In the third, San Francisco shut down the high-powered Saints on offense. The fourth quarter was a wild affair though, as 35 combined points were scored. After a pair of field goals by Akers and one by John Kasay made it a 17-23 game, running back Darren Sproles, who set a playoff record with 14 receptions, made the most of a missed tackle and a great block by Graham, and took a Brees pass into the end zone for a 24-23 New Orleans lead.
The 49ers wasted no time getting it back. On the next drive, Smith hit Davis for 32 yards to get into field goal position. After a too many players on the field call, the 49ers faced a crucial third and seven. With their season on the line, Smith ran 28 yards for the score. A missed two-point conversion put the 49ers up 29-24 with just 2:11 remaining.
Brees needed only 34 seconds to get the lead back. He hit Graham, who took advantage of a mismatch against 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis, for a 66 yard score with 1:37 left. Sproles then made a catch out of the backfield for the two-point conversion to give the Saints a 32-29 advantage.
Facing elimination, Smith refused to give up. He connected with Davis twice on their final drive, with the last throw spiraling through double coverage for a 14-yard score to make it 36-32. With nine seconds left, Brees and the Saints had one play to win it, but were stonewalled, leading to the 49ers win.
Published at 5:42 PM PST on Jan 14, 2012 | Updated at 11:05 AM PST on Jan 18, 2012