The San Francisco 49ers hosted the New Orleans Saints on Saturday afternoon at Candlestick Park in a playoff game that was a long time coming for the beleaguered Bay Area franchise. When the smoke had cleared, the 49ers came out on top after a wild fourth quarter and advanced to the NFC Championship Game on a final score of 36-32.
Until the final seconds, it looked as if the major difference in the game would the turnovers by the Saints that the 49ers were unable to capitalize on. New Orleans turned the ball over an incredible five times, yet the Niners only managed one touchdown off of those five turnovers.
The Niners jumped out to a 17-0 lead by the beginning of the second quarter. The first quarter featured touchdown passes from quarterback Alex Smith to Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree. The second quarter got underway wil a 25-yard field goal from the nearly-automatic David Akers.
The Saints would climb back into the game in the second quarter, however, on touchdown passes from the dangerous Drew Brees to Jimmy Graham and Marques Colston, the latter being a pinpoint 25-yard pass to the very corner of the end zone on the fly. The 49ers held a 17-14 lead entering halftime.
In the third quarter, the only scoring by either team came on another Akers field goal, this one from 41 yards out to push the 49ers lead to six points.
The fourth quarter saw the largest frenzy of scoring in the game, including four lead changes. John Kasay made a 48-yard field goal in the opening two minutes to cut the Niners lead to 20-17. The 49ers countered with their own 37-yard Akers field goal midway through the quarter. Less than three minutes later, however, the Saints took the lead for the first time on a Darren Sproles 44-yard touchdown pass from Brees. The TD put the Saints on top, 24-23. Alex Smith turned around and led the Niners on a 6-play, 80-yard drive, capped off with a 28-yard touchdown run from Smith to put the Niners back on top, 29-24. San Francisco failed to complete a two-point conversion attempt. Just 34 seconds later, Brees launched a 66-yard touchdown pass to Jimmy Graham to take the lead once again. They completed their two-point conversion when Brees hooked up with Sproles in the end zone. Just like that, the Saints had a three-point lead with less than 2:00 remaining in regulation. The Niners were looking at a 32-29 deficit and looking to get into field goal range for Akers.
Smith began the final drive of the 49ers with a pair of passes to Gore. Following an incomplete pass, he launched a bomb to Davis for a gain of 47 yards in what was undoubtedly the biggest play of the game to that point. The play brought the Niners to the New Orleans 20-yard line. Smith then threw to Gore for another six yards, after which the 49ers spiked the ball. They knew that they had one timeout remaining, so they had enough time to attempt a first down and perhaps make one try for the end zone before bringing Akers on to tie the game. As it turned out, they would not need either the time out or Akers, as Smith completed a 14-yard touchdown pass right up the middle to Davis to take the lead for the last time. The catch was Davis' second touchdown of the game and the third TD pass for Smith. The 49ers were up 36-32 with 14 seconds left. A squib kick and a stop later, the 49ers had won their first playoff game in years and were headed to the NFC Championship Game.
It was one of the more exciting games in recent memory, one which the white-hot crowd at Candlestick Park will remember for a long, long time.