49ers strike gold with comeback win

US Presswire

The 49ers celebrate after rallying for a 36-32 win over the Saints in a NFC Divisional Playoff game.The San Francisco 49ers and New Orleans Saints once again proved that no lead is safe in the playoffs. The two teams exchanged leads four times and combined for four touchdowns in the final five minutes of the game, with Vernon Davis catching the final score with nine seconds remaining to lift the 49ers to a 36-32 win.

Elias confirms that this game was only the second playoff contest in NFL history in which both teams scored at least 16 points in the fourth quarter. The only other game was Super Bowl XXXVIII between the New England Patriots and Carolina Panthers.

Why the 49ers Won

Davis emerged as a pass-catching threat for the unusually pass-happy 49ers. Davis caught seven passes for a career-best 180 yards, the second-most in 49ers postseason history, as Alex Smith reached season-highs in attempts (42) and yards (299).

Smith was really effective finding Davis on deep throws. Smith went 5-for-5 for 167 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner, when targeting Vernon Davis 11 yards or more downfield. Davis hadn't caught five such throws in a game over the past four seasons.

At Least 3 Pass TD, 0 Int, Rush TD
Postseason History

Smith also was able to do damage with his legs, scoring a go-ahead touchdown on a designed run on 3rd-and-7 from the Saints' 28-yard line. That play was far from ordinary.

During the regular season, quarterbacks attempted a designed run on 3rd-and-7 or more only 2.4 percent of the time and only once on those 81 carries did the quarterback score a rushing touchdown on the play (Chad Henne in Week 1).

The 49ers defense also did its job, forcing five takeaways that led to 13 points. San Francisco tied for the NFL lead in takeaways during the regular season and had the sixth-most points off turnovers.

Turning Point

Facing third down on the Saints' 14-yardline with under 15 seconds remaining in regulation, Smith found Davis on a short pass up the middle and Davis went in for the game-winning score with nine seconds left on the clock.

According to Elias, this was just the fifth time in NFL postseason history that a team scored a touchdown to take the lead when trailing with fewer than 10 seconds left in regulation. The last such score was Kevin Dyson’s 75-yard kickoff return in the 1999 Wild Card Playoffs.

Why the Saints lost

Drew Brees piled up the passing yards in typical fashion but was uncharacteristically inaccurate in this game. He entered this game with a NFL-record streak of 215 postseason passes without an interception and then threw two in the first half.

Drew Brees This Season
Passing 21+ Yards Downfield

Both of those picks came on throws more than 20 air yards downfield, his first multi-interception game on such throws since Week 7 of 2009.

Brees also struggled when under duress (i.e. forced to move or alter throw due to pressure) in this game. Brees completed just 5-of-16 passes when under duress, after posting the second-best completion percentage (53.3 percent) in those situations during the regular season.

Brees did throw for 462 yards, becoming the first player in NFL history with three 400-yard passing games in the postseason. Brees now has the two highest passing yard totals in a playoff regulation game. His 63 attempts were the fourth-most ever in a postseason game.

Stats of the game

With the win, the 49ers have have 19 home playoff victories, matching the Cowboys and Raiders for the second-most in NFL history.

With the loss, the Saints drop to 0-5 all-time in road playoff games, tying the Cincinnati Bengals for the worst road playoff record in NFL history.