49ers eliminate Saints with last-minute drive

San Francisco 36, New Orleans 32

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SAN FRANCISCO — What a way to celebrate the 30-year anniversary of “The Catch.”

San Francisco's Alex Smith runs into the end zone during the fourth quarter. After the Saints scored, Smith hit Vernon Davis with 9 seconds left to knock off the Saints.  MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ/ASSOCIATED PRESS
MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ/ASSOCIATED PRESS
San Francisco's Alex Smith runs into the end zone during the fourth quarter. After the Saints scored, Smith hit Vernon Davis with 9 seconds left to knock off the Saints.

Joe Montana to Dwight Clark then.

Alex Smith to Vernon Davis now.

Smith completed a 14-yard touchdown pass to Davis with 9 seconds left just after Drew Brees had put the high-powered Saints ahead, and resurgent San Francisco capitalized on five New Orleans turnovers for a thrilling 36-32 playoff victory Saturday.

“This is huge for us,” Davis said. “It’s history, legendary, anything you can describe.”

Smith ran for a 28-yard TD with 2:11 left and threw another scoring pass to Davis in the first quarter. Coach Jim Harbaugh’s NFC West champions (14-3) proved that a hard-hitting, stingy defense can still win in the modern, wide-open NFL by holding off one of league’s most dynamic offenses.

Brees completed a 66-yard touchdown pass to Jimmy Graham with 1:37 left and the Saints seemed poised to rally from an early 17-point deficit when Smith and Davis delivered once more. It was a wild back-and-forth finish featuring an impressive duel over the waning moments.

Their highlight show came in the opposite end zone from where Clark caught a stretched-out 6-yard pass from Montana on Jan. 10, 1982. Saturday’s game-winner by a leaping Davis – who plowed over a defender as he landed – came in the same end zone where Steve Young hit Terrell Owens for a winning TD with 3 seconds left in a 30-27 wild-card win over the Packers in the 1999 playoffs. T.O.’s grab became known as “The Catch II.”

How about this one?

“You’ve got to call it the grab,” Davis said of his play. “We were down. I had to make it happen to take my teammates where we want to go.”

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 today. A win by the Giants would give the 49ers the home field.


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