This is a game of juggernauts — San Francisco 49ers fourth-ranked defense against the first-ranked quarterback in the 2011 postseason and second-ranked quarterback in terms of quarterback rating during the regular season, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees. The New Orleans Saints, however, will have deal with sixth-ranked running back in total rushing yardage during the regular season, the 49ers Frank Gore and an improved Alex Smith under their new head coach Jim Harbaugh. On the Saints side, however, we have head coach Sean Payton, the River City gambler on their 2009 path to the Super Bowl championship and in this year as well. To bring more class to this playoff game, Huey Lewis and the News sang the national anthem prior to the start of the game at Candlestick Park.
Now to the post-game analysis:
- First series of Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints was quenched by Pierre Thomas’ fumble at the San Francisco 2-yard line at 8:57 into the first quarter. The San Francisco 49ers demonstrated that their defense can bend but not break even under one of the potent offenses, but the Saints have demonstrated they can move down the field with relative ease.
- The San Francisco 49ers defense finally hit paydirt as Drew Brees was sacked for a 11-yard loss by linebacker Aldon Smith at 3:29 in the first quarter.
- With that, 49ers Alex Smith bomb one to his tight end Vernon Davis for a stunning 49-yard touchdown at 2:17 in the first quarter. The 49ers take the lead 7-0, and Candlestick Park goes crazy.
- Capitalizing on 49ers interception on Drew Brees by safety Dashon Goldson, Alex Smith spears one to his wide receiver Michael Crabtree from 4 yards out to lead the game 14-0.
- With the Saints wideout Courtney Roby fumble on a kickoff return, San Francisco 49ers kicker David Akers booted an easy field goal to bring the lead yet again 17-0 at 14:17 in the second quarter.
- After nearly a fourth — and fifth turnover, Drew Brees tossed a touchdown to tight end Jimmy Graham from 14 yards out at 9:37 in the second quarter. The New Orleans Saints bring the score to 17-7. The New Orleans Saints definitely needed this score to bring their confidence up after their prior three turnovers, including Drew Brees interception.
- With 4:16 left in the second quarter, New Orleans Saints wideout Marques Colston gets a 25-yard touchdown to bring the score to 17-14. Yet another Saints comeback after another slow start…well, almost…
- Drew Brees gets another interception by the 49ers defense by cornerback Tarell Brown at the two minute warning. Luckily, the 49ers could not capitalize on this turnover.
- Yet another Saints turnover in the beginning of the second half…running back Darren Sproles fumbled on the New Orleans Saints 22-yard line. The 49ers David Akers kicked an easy 41-yard field goal to bring their score up 20-14 at 10:39 in the third quarter.
- After some interchange in the third quarter between the New Orleans Saints and the San Francisco 49ers, Saints kicker John Kasay kicked a field goal to bring the score within three at 13:13 in the fourth quarter.
- After San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore broke for 42-yard run, kicker David Akers kicked yet another field goal to bring the score to 23-17 with 7:40 left in the game.
- With a pass from Drew Brees, running back Darren Sproles broke through the secondary for a 44-yard touchdown and helped brought Saints the lead 24-23 with 4:11 left on the clock.
- A surprising 28-yard quarterback rush by San Francisco 49ers Alex Smith with 2:18 on the clock. Simply amazing.
- Yet another amazing play as Drew Brees threw a 66-yard touchdown bomb to his tight end Jimmy Graham to bring the carry the lead 32-29 with 1:48 left in the game.
- Another intense play as 49ers Alex Smith threw a 49-yard pass to his tight end Vernon Davis with 40 seconds left on the clock. To top it off, Alex Smith threw a 14-yard touchdown reception to Vernon Davis to bring the score and the game win of 36-32 with 14 seconds left in the game.
The first half was one of turnovers for the New Orleans Saints with two fumbles and two interceptions. However, through the in-game adjustments by their head coach Sean Payton, the Saints made a comeback to 17-14. The San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh brought their fourth-ranked defense overall to this playoff game. Interestingly, none of the running backs on either side could establish rhythm as San Francisco 49ers dominant running back Frank Gore had only 32 rushing yards and the New Orleans Saints running backs Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory had a combination of 14 total rushing yards in this half.
The second half was a chess game as both offenses and defenses had problems establishing rhythm. However, it was not until late third quarter through mid-fourth quarter, things starting getting interesting. Field goals and touchdowns started happening. With both quarterbacks relying on their tight ends to score touchdowns to contest the lead within the final few minutes of the game, San Francisco 49ers overcame the New Orleans Saints offensive juggernaut.
Now Alex Smith, their stellar running back Frank Gore, their clutch tight end Vernon Davis and their fourth-ranked defense will await their next opponent in the NFC Championship game. Whether it’s the New York Giants or the Green Bay Packers, they will be tested, and they passed this test — barely.