When the San Francisco 49ers and the New Orleans Saints faced off in the divisional round of the playoffs on January 14th, it was a match-up featuring the top offensive passing team against one of the better defenses in the league. Most games of this nature rarely live up to the hype, but this would not be one of them. With four lead changes in the final quarter, the outcome of this game was in doubt right down to the final possession.
The Saints were ahead 32-29 with 1:37 to play when Alex Smith marched the Niners down the field and capped off the game-winning drive with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Vernon Davis, giving San Francisco a 36-32 victory in one of the most memorable playoff games I’ve seen in recent years. Here are my keys as to why the Niners are advancing to their first NFC championship game in 17 years.
The Niners forced five turnovers against the Saints, including four in the first half, which resulted in 10 points. It is well known the team that wins the turnover battle, often wins the game as well. There was much talk about the Saints’ high-flying offense all week, but the Niners did a good job generating pressure on Drew Brees and not letting him get too comfortable in the pocket.
Another fact that should be noted is that while Brees completed 40 of 62 passes for 462 yards and four touchdowns, the Saints were forced to abandon the run after falling behind 17-0 early. Give the Niners credit in taking away one of the Saints’ strengths and forcing them to become a one-dimensional team offensively.
Alex Smith was all but written off coming into this season. He was a first-round draft pick in 2005, but he had failed to live up to expectations. With having seven different offensive coordinators during his time in San Francisco, it’s not difficult to imagine why he has had his fair share of struggles. Despite all of the criticism, Smith silenced his critics with a great game, going 24-of-42 for 299 yards and three touchdowns.
Vernon Davis caused match-up problems for the Saints’ defense the entire game. Davis caught seven passes for 180 yards, the most receiving yards by a tight end in a postseason game. Davis was a huge factor against the Niners and will more than likely play a key role for San Francisco in the next round as well.
James Tillman is a resident of the Chicago-land area who has been an NFL fan for over 20 years. James is also a fan blogger on Yahoo Sports and a sports contributor for Sports Rantz. For interesting topics on the NFL, NBA and MLB, follow him on Twitter @jtillman9693.