I was born a 49er fan. My first words were “Montana to Rice.” In the 1980s, mother somehow talked her way into the 49er locker room and got her NFL jacket signed by much of the team. I was in attendance when Steve Young took his final snap and Aeneas Williams sacked him 4 feet under. All week I’ve been saying the Niners could beat the Saints, but I never imagined the game that unfolded today.
Today’s game is sure to become a classic, and defense will be the word of playoffs. The 49ers won the coin toss and deferred. The Saints opened with a long drive down to the 49ers six-yard line. The safety Donte Whitner hit Pierre Thomas, knocking both the ball loose and Thomas out of the game. That was the first of 4
turnovers, and turnovers and field position have been the 49ers winning formula all season. The 49ers’ defense was incredible. After the 49ers took the early lead on a 49-yard touchdown from Alex Smith to Vernon Davis, 49ers safety Dashon Goldson intercepted Brees and returned the ball to the four. The 49ers scored for a second time on a pass to Michael Crabtree. The Saints fumbled away the ensuing kickoff and the 49ers kicked a field goal to open up a 17-0 lead in the first half.
That felt so good, but it wasn’t a big enough lead when facing a team like the Saints. First, Drew Brees found tight end Jimmy Graham for one touchdown and then Marques Colston for another, to make the score 17-14 at halftime. I was a wreck. The 49ers let slip a 17-0 second-quarter lead, finally falling behind, 24-23, with 4:02 remaining after Drew Brees connected with Darren Spoles for a 44-yard touchdown.
If the first 55 minutes of the game were good, the last 5 were incredible. Smith led the 49ers down the field, then ran the ball for a 28-yard touchdown with 2:11. I was finally able to breathe. Then the Saints scored; I was devastated. But the 9ers came back and scored. The lead changed again when Brees completed a pass over the middle to tight end Jimmy Graham, who spun and ran the rest of the 66 yards for another go-ahead touchdown. I was crushed, exhausted, and dismayed. The 9ers had gone 3 and out too many times to convince me they could get the ball down the field with 1:47 left in the game.
But I shouldn’t have doubted my team. Smith’s 14-yard touchdown pass to Vernon Davis with nine seconds left led to the 49ers’ 36-32 dramatic win. That’s one hell of a way to celebrate the 30-year anniversary of “The Catch”–Montana to Dwight Clark; those were the days, and maybe these are too.
Now they are one win away from the Super Bowl. I cannot wait!