49ers Advance to NFC Title Game
Posted 15 January 2012 - 02:52 PM
In some ways, he might have even trumped him by delivering not one but two clutch scoring plays with a postseason game hanging in the balance.
In the final four minutes, Smith had The Run. Then, Smith delivered ... The Post?
There's time to decide on the proper tag for Smith's 14-yard strike to tight end Vernon Davis on Saturday at Candlestick Park, but for the moment it can simply be referred to as the game-winner in San Francisco's improbable 36-32 win over the Saints in the NFC divisional playoffs.
The dart to Davis with nine seconds left secured the franchise's first postseason win in nine years, sent a red-towel-waving crowd of 69,732 into ear-splitting hysteria and inspired water works from Davis, who was crying as he fell into coach Jim Harbaugh's arms after a dizzying four-minute stretch that featured 28 points and more plot twists than a Shakespearean drama.
"It was us against history," Davis said of his emotions following the play. "That's all I could say to myself. It was us against 'no.' Us against 'can't.' "
No? Can't? Smith had heard those words plenty in his first six forgettable seasons in San Francisco. But after a very good regular season, Smith was great when excellence was mandatory Saturday.
In the final 4:02, Smith led touchdown drives of 80 and 85 yards, completing 7 of 10 passes for 135 yards and scoring on a 28-yard run on a sweep left on 3rd-and-8 with San Francisco trailing 24-23 with 2:18 left.
The Saints answered Smith's run 34 seconds later. Amid the din, Drew Brees coolly tossed a 66-yard touchdown to tight end Jimmy Graham and added a two-point conversion pass to Darren Sproles to give the Saints a 32-29 lead with 1:37 left.
A knockout blow? Left tackle Joe Staley conceded his heart momentarily sank.
"Honestly for about three seconds it did," Staley said. "... For three seconds I was upset. But then we all got together on the sidelines and said, 'Let's go win this.' "
Thanks to Smith, they did just that.
First, facing 2nd-and-10 at his 33, Smith found Davis on a 47-yard catch-and-run over the middle. Two plays later, the Niners had a 3rd-and-4 at the Saints 14 with 14 seconds left.
Needing a field goal to send the game into overtime, Harbaugh went for the win with a play the 49ers hadn't run all season. The play, dubbed "Vernon Post," was installed only Wednesday and had been designed by quarterbacks coach Geep Chryst.
A former assistant coach at Carolina, the Saints' rival in the NFC South, Chryst knew from past experience that Saints safety Roman Harper tended to get flat-footed near the goal line. Chryst called the play - delivering it to Harbaugh on the sideline.
"That play was specific for that yard line against the Saints," offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. "So much love to Geep Chryst for bringing that one to the table."
The Niners' offense has been often labeled conservative this season, but Roman said a safer play call - a pass that wasn't thrown into traffic, for example - wasn't considered.
"It's worth it at that point," Roman said. "All those things flash through your mind, but we practiced it. It looked good in practice. Once (Chryst) showed me, it wasn't a hard sell. It was like, 'Yeah, this is a great idea.' "
And the great idea was executed to perfection by Smith and Davis.
Lined up on the left side, Davis, who had lined up on the right side in practice during the week, cut in front of Harper at the goal line and secured the pass from Smith as Harper walloped him from behind.
"I just kept telling myself, one shot," said Davis, who had seven catches for 180 yards, an NFL postseason record for a tight end. "The team is depending on you. Vernon, the team is calling your name. You have to step up and make the play. You have to take charge. ... It was big. Everyone was counting on me."
Including Smith, whose late fourth-quarter performance was every bit as good as anything delivered by Montana or Steve Young, the Hall-of-Famers with whom he's never been linked. It also was good enough to top Brees, a future Hall-of-Famer who threw for 462 yards, four touchdowns and tossed two interceptions.
After the game, Smith wasn't interested in discussing redemption when asked what the victory meant after six year of boos and criticism.
"We're still playing," Smith said. "That's what this means."
But Smith's coach and teammates were eager to get his back.
Davis called him a "warrior," and Staley said he "wouldn't want any other quarterback in the NFL."
When asked about the conventional wisdom for beating the Niners this season - stop the run and make Smith beat you - Roman smiled.
Make Alex Smith beat you?
"How'd that work out for them?" Roman said.
The 49ers will play in their first NFC Championship Game since 1998 next Sunday against the winner of today's Giants-Packers game. The 49ers will travel to Green Bay or host New York. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m.
Houston at Baltimore, 10 a.m. Channel: 5 Channel: 13 Channel: 46
NY Giants at Green Bay, 1:30 p.m. Channel: 2 Channel: 40
Alex Smith and Vernon Davis join an accomplished group of 49ers duos who pulled out playoff wins with late-game heroics. A look at playoff game-winning catches:
Jan. 10, 1982: 49ers beat the Cowboys 28-27 in the NFC Championship on "The Catch," a 6-yard pass from Joe Montana to Dwight Clark with 56 seconds remaining.
Dec. 31, 1983: 49ers beat the Lions 24-23 in an NFC divisional game when Montana hits Freddie Solomon for a 14-yard TD with 1:23 remaining.
Jan. 22, 1989: 49ers beat the Bengals 20-16 in the Super Bowl when Montana connects with John Taylor from 10 yards out with 34 seconds left.
Jan. 3, 1999: 49ers beat the Packers 30-27 in an NFC wild card game when Steve Young hits Terrell Owens among a group of defenders for a 25-yard score with 3 seconds left.
Jan. 5, 2003: 49ers beat the Giants 39-38 in an NFC wild card game when Jeff Garcia finds Tai Streets from 13 yards out with 1:00 remaining.
Jan. 14, 2012: 49ers beat the Saints 36-32 in an NFC divisional game when Alex Smith connects with Vernon Davis on a 14-yard TD with nine seconds left.
Read more: http://www.sfgate.co...2#ixzz1jZPd2n4b
Posted 21 January 2012 - 05:22 PM
Niners will take it. I hope.
Posted 22 January 2012 - 03:26 PM
49ers will take home the gold.
Posted 21 January 2013 - 03:45 PM
...that is all.