With the 49ers down 3 points and on their own side of the field with 40 seconds left, I'm sure a lot of people thought they were finally down for the count. But in a moment eerily similar to the Steve Young-to-Terrell Owens game winner way back in '98 that beat the Packers, Alex Smith found Vernon Davis down the middle on a 14-yard strike with 9 seconds left to send SF to the NFC Championship.
Vernon Davis, who's numbers were down this year despite Alex Smith's success, had by far his best game of 2011/2012, regular season, preseason or postseason, he was a beast today. If he doesn't come up with that TD catch on that perfectly thrown ball by Smith, and hold onto that ball with two defenders barreling into him, then the 49ers would have had to take their chance at a field goal and possibly OT against a Saints offense that was gaining momentum. More importantly, he came up with that big 35-yard catch and run prior to that to put the 49ers in position to tie or win. But first of all, the reason Vernon Davis was able to go for nearly 200 yards on 7 catches, 2 of which were for 6, was because Alex Smith was absolutely on his game today. I really wish Smith would have done the Steve Young "monkey off my back" sign after the victory, cause this game really solidified his arrival as a legit NFL QB. He won this game on his arm. The 49ers running game was never established, granted Gore broke one big 40 yard run, this game was won on the arm and legs of Mr. Alex Smith, the one 49ers fans loved to hate coming into the 2011 season. I know he proved to me today that he is for real, and maybe he was a little late to the party, but he's arrived, and the connection he has with Jim Harbough and his offensive players is really something special. Smith's only blunder on the afternoon was a fumble in which he probably should have tucked the ball and taken the sack but tried to make something happen on that Roman Harper blitz in which the ball popped out of Smith's hand.
Alex Smith arrived, and showed he could keep up with the elite offenses when need be, and the defense, for the most part, did exactly what they do best, cause turnovers and hit the Saints in the mouth. They had Aldon Smith or Justin Smith in Drew Brees' face consistently, and although they did give up the two big plays to, wouldn't you know it, Darren Sproles and Jimmy Graham, the defense came out aggressive from the start and you could tell Brees just was never real comfortable. He did throw for 463 yards, but it took him 63 tosses in order to make it there, and he also mixed in a few interceptions, so by comparison, Smith's game (299 yards on 42 attempts, 3 TD's and 0 Int's) blew Brees' out of the water. I said Dashon Goldson had to have a big game, and he did. I said Aldon Smith had to be on the field and be effective at getting after Drew Brees and he was. They had to account for Graham and Sproles, and even though they each managed to reach paydirt, the 49ers basically shut them down on the most every other play. Graham's TD was the only big play he had all game, take away the borderline PI call he got off Goldson early in the first, but that was nullified by Donte Whitner's clock-cleaning hit on Pierre Thomas that not only knocked the ball loose and gave the 49ers possession deep in their own territory, but also knocked Thomas out of the game, and he was the team's most effective rusher vs. Detroit last week with 2 TD's.
I could go on and on and on about this game, and I'm sure I'll talk about it a little more throughout the week, especially as we preview the NFC Championship which very likely could be another offense vs. defense battle if Vegas odds prevail and Green Bay beats New York. But this game, to me, was a benchmark for Smith. If Smith came out and played badly and the 49ers lost in bad way, then questions would have undoubtedly come into play this offseason as to whether or not Smith is the guy that can take this team to the next level. But he eliminated any need for that talk. No matter what happens in Green Bay next week, or if the 49ers get lucky enough, in San Francisco again, he proved he can win a playoff game against a team and QB that he wasn't supposed to beat. For all Alex Smith has been through, anyone who's followed the 49ers over the last 6 years can't help but feel great for Mr. Alex Smith! For all the defense did, and the game Vernon had, the 49ers don't win this game today without Smith doing what he did, and it very well may have earned him his long-term stay in San Francisco. (He'll be getting some big bucks this offseason, tell you that much!)