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2012 NFL Playoffs: 49ers Get Late-Game Magic To Beat Saints

Danny Lee |
January 14, 2012 | 7:47 p.m. PST

Staff Writer

49ers QB Alex Smith got his first playoff win. (John Martinez Pavliga/Wikimedia Commons)
49ers QB Alex Smith got his first playoff win. (John Martinez Pavliga/Wikimedia Commons)

The San Francisco 49ers squeaked past the New Orleans Saints, 36-32, at Candlestick Park on Saturday to earn a spot in next week's NFC Championship game. Here is a look back on a wild NFC divisional round affair, which saw four lead changes in the final four minutes of the game.

The game was over when...

San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis caught a 14-yard touchdown pass up the middle from Alex Smith with nine seconds left to put the NFC West champs ahead. The scoring drive took just seven plays and 1:28 to complete as the Niners offense moved the ball 85 yards down the field before punching it in.

When San Francisco had the ball

The 49ers' run-oriented offense was conspicuously absent in the first half, when they ran 23 passing plays to just eight rushes, but running back Frank Gore came alive in the second half. Gore finished with 89 rushing yards on 13 carries, with the longest run going for 42 yards.

Smith looked relaxed and played a smart game in his first playoff start, thanks to the 17-0 lead his defense spotted him. The seventh-year pro passed for 299 yards to go along with three touchdown throws and no interceptions.

When New Orleans had the ball

Saints QB Drew Brees. (dbking/Wikimedia Commons)
Saints QB Drew Brees. (dbking/Wikimedia Commons)

 The Saints carried a nine-game winning streak into Saturday's divisional encounter, compiling five 40-point outings during that stretch. But hanging up 40 on a physical and relentless 49ers defense was going to be a tall order.

Quarterback Drew Brees threw for 462 yards and four touchdowns, but the 49ers defense made him earn every single one of them. The NFL Most Valuable Player candidate needed 63 attempts to accumulate his stats and his two interceptions were partly why the Saints found themselves in an early hole. 

New Orleans did find its usual balance on offense, however, as Marques Colston, Darren Sproles and Jimmy Graham all turned in 100-plus receiving yards.

Most Valuable Player: Vernon Davis

Davis had seven receptions for 180 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winning catch. 

With the reception, the sixth-year pro could find himself in 49er lore alongside Dwight Clark and Terrell Owens for producing memorable postseason catches. Despite its dilapidated state, The Stick sure generates more than its fair share of playoff magic for the home team. The Niners might want to hold off on that Santa Clara stadium proposal. 

No harm, no flag

The lack of yellow flags thrown in this game must be a new sight for Raiders fans tuning in to see how the team west of the Bay Bridge is doing. The Saints did not rack up a single penalty in the game, which is a pretty remarkable feat considering the amount of pressure the 49ers' pass rushers applied. San Francisco was not too shabby itself, being charged just three penalties for 33 yards.

Defense wins championships

The 49ers have rolled to an early NFC West lead. (John Martinez Pavliga/Wikimedia Commons)
The 49ers have rolled to an early NFC West lead. (John Martinez Pavliga/Wikimedia Commons)

Head coach Jim Harbaugh's team made Brees uncomfortable in the pocket, and conceded the short-yardage plays to New Orleans, while having ample success clamping down on the deep balls.

Brees did connect for 44- and 66-yard touchdown plays late in the fourth quarter, but the slow start may have been too much to overcome.

During the game, FOX ran a graphic showing that teams who had a plus-4 turnover margin are 71-1 in postseason history — that mark is now 72-1 after the Niners victory. 

San Francisco, who topped the league in turnover ratio during the regular season, forced the Saints to cough up the ball five times — three of which came in the first quarter. New Orleans could be kicking itself over those miscues during the long offseason that looms ahead.

Streaks ended

The Saints' loss snapped a nine-game winning streak that dated back to Oct. 30. It also put an end to New Orleans' four-game stretch of 40-point games.

For the 49ers, the victory marked the franchise's first playoff win since the 2002 season and first NFC Championship game appearance since the 1997 season.


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