Saturday January 14, 2012 marked the first playoff game for the San Francisco 49ers since 2002.
The Saints finished the 2011-’12 regular season with a 13-3 record identical to the Niners, but lost the tie breaker for having a worse record against NFC teams. Because of the dominating fashion in which the Saints ended their season, many analysts (including Las Vegas odds makers) favored New Orleans on the road.
Those who did pick the 49ers, sited the stellar defense and kicking game as their reason in most cases, dismissing the offense, specifically quarterback Alex Smith, as a liability that needed overcoming in order to win.
The defense got the opportunity to prove itself first, as San Francisco deferred the kickoff to the second half, giving New Orleans first possession on offense.
Drew Brees drove down the field almost with ease it seemed, entering the red zone in 8 plays.
On 3rd and 6 at the San Francisco 7 yard line, Brees threw a dump pass to Pierre Thomas, who was drilled by Donte Whitner, causing Thomas to fumble the ball while being knocked out cold. Thomas left the game for good.
Brees answered with 2 touchdowns of his own, pulling to within 3 points at 17-14.
The two teams then traded field goals to make it 23-17 San Francisco.
New Orleans took its first lead on a 44 yard touchdown pass to Darren Sproles and went up 24-23 with 4:02 remaining in the game.
San Francisco drove down the field and Alex Smith ran the ball in for a touchdown from 28 yards out. The Niners then decided to go for the 2-point conversion to make it a 7 point game but failed to get the ball into the end zone on a draw play to Frank Gore, leaving the score 29-24 with 2:11 left.
Summoning the offensive greatness the Saints displayed all season long, Brees threw a perfect pass to Jimmy Graham for 66 yards and a touchdown.
New Orleans also went for two only they were able to convert, putting the Saints up by 3 (32-29).
With 1:32 remaining in the game, San Francisco had their backs to the wall and the pressure was on. With David Akers kicking on your team, much of that pressure is relieved.
The Niners started their drive from their own 15 yard line. On the fourth play of the drive, Smith connected with Vernon Davis for 47 yards to the New Orleans 20 yard line, giving the 49ers the distance desired to at least tie the game on a field goal.
After a 6 yard pass to Frank Gore and a ball spike, Alex Smith called an over the middle cross pattern route to his primary target Davis.
The pass was a thing a beauty. Smith fired the ball through defenders into the waiting arms of Davis, as he fell into the end zone, the crowd erupting in sheer elation.
It was reminiscent of the Niners legends of old. “The Play” Joe Montana to Dwight Clark, “The Catch II” Steve Young to Terrell Owens, and now “The Grab” Alex Smith to Vernon Davis.
The 49ers proved they belong in the upper ranks with the championship contenders. And what’s more, Alex Smith proved himself a Super Bowl worthy quarterback.