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Smith and the Niners Stun the Saints 36-32 to End New Orleans’ Super Bowl Run

Drew Brees and the Saints shot themselves in the foot all day with turnovers, but in the end, it was not to be their year, losing a heartbreaker to the San Francisco 49ers 36-32 to end their season.

The team overcame five turnovers and a 17-point deficit, but the defense couldn’t close out the final 9 seconds, as the Niners scored on an Alex Smith to Vernon Davis TD to send the Saints home.

Brees was on fire in the comeback, as he capped his record-setting season by throwing for 462 yards and four touchdowns, throwing two go-ahead strikes in the final 5 minutes only to see the 49ers rally.

“It stings right now because of the expectation level that we had coming into this tournament and understanding that if we win here we’re into the NFC championship game and anything can happen,” Brees said. “That’s tough. Tough to swallow at this point.”

Brees threw a 44-yard touchdown pass to Darren Sproles to give the Saints (14-4) their first lead of the game with 4:02 to play. He then answered Smith’s 28-yard touchdown run with a 66-yard scoring pass to Jimmy Graham with 1:37 to go that had New Orleans close to victory.

But the defense failed to close it out, allowing the 14-yard game-winner from Smith to Davis with just 9 seconds to go, sending the Saints away losers in stunning fashion.

“There is a finality to the playoffs,” Brees said. “You go from thinking of the NFC championship to all of a sudden you’re going home and there’s no more football until next year.”

All those passing records Brees set turned out to mean nothing. Brees shattered Dan Marino’s 27-year-old mark of 5,084 yards passing by throwing for 5,476. He had 468 completions this season, breaking Peyton Manning’s 2010 mark of 450. He finished the season completing 71.6 percent of his passes, breaking his own 2009 NFL record of a 70.6 completion percentage.

He followed that up with 466 yards passing in a first-round win over Detroit and then a record-setting 40 completions in a losing cause against the 49ers. Brees has had the top two regulation playoff games in NFL history the past two games.

“They ended up making one more play than we did tonight,” coach Sean Payton said. “I was proud of how we fought. I was proud of our guys despite some of the early adversary — the turnovers.”

The Saints committed four first-half turnovers starting with running back Pierre Thomas getting knocked out by Donte Whitner on a hard hit near the goal line before fumbling on the opening drive. Brees then threw a pair of uncharacteristic interceptions, the first ending a record streak of 226 straight postseason passes without one.

Courtney Roby then lost a fumble on a kickoff to set up one of David Akers’ three field goals. Sproles fumbled on a punt in the third quarter to set up another field goal, but even with all of that, the Saints were in position to win.

Sproles took a short pass from Brees and sprinted down the field for his score that made it 24-23. But the oft-maligned Smith, whom most 49ers fans did not want back in San Francisco this season, delivered in the clutch.

He fooled the Saints on his 28-yard touchdown run around left end to put San Francisco back ahead. But Brees answered quickly, threading a perfect pass to Graham that beat Patrick Willis and Whitner to put the Saints ahead 32-29 on a 2-point conversion with thoughts of going to a third NFC title game in six seasons.

“I think we got too excited,” Sproles said. “We didn’t think they could score like that, but they did. They proved I was wrong.”

Smith completed five passes for 85 yards, mixing a couple of dumpoffs to Frank Gore with a pretty 47-yarder to Davis down the left sideline. Then with the Saints needing just one more stop to force the 49ers into a game-tying field goal attempt, Davis got inside of safety Roman Harper for the game-winner, absorbing a hard hit from the safety to make the catch in the opposite end zone from where Dwight Clark made “The Catch” 30 years ago to start the 49ers dynasty.

The Saints did not play soft coverage to protect the late lead with defensive coordinator Gregg Williams still calling up blitzes until the end. New Orleans got burned when Davis

“That is not our style of defense,” safety Malcolm Jones said. “We don’t play prevent, we have never played it, and nothing is new. Nothing has changed so we live by the blitz and we die by the blitz.”

And the 49ers live to play another game. San Francisco triumphed in its first playoff game in nine years and will move on to face the New York Giants or defending champion Green Bay Packers, who play Sunday. A win by the Giants would give the 49ers the home field.

Davis, who wept on the sideline afterward days after saying he was overwhelmed early by Harbaugh’s thick playbook, finished with seven catches for 180 yards. It was the most yards receiving by a tight end in a playoff game.

Smith went 24 for 42 for 299 yards with three TD passes and the touchdown run. He also helped the Niners become the first team in NFL history to score two lead-changing touchdowns in the final 3 minutes to win a playoff game, according to STATS LLC.

“Guys were so confident, as long as we had time we had a shot,” Smith said.

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2 Responses to “Smith and the Niners Stun the Saints 36-32 to End New Orleans’ Super Bowl Run”

  1. Pork Sandwich says:

    “Early adversary”? “Malcolm Jones”? Seriously?

  2. Who dat? says:


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