by Lee Hubbard
“The Grab” was a moment San Francisco 49er tight end Vernon Davis will remember for the rest of his life. With his team down 32-29 to the New Orleans Saints, Davis ran up the left side of the field, cut across the middle and caught the pass quarterback Alex Smith heaved. It sailed into Davis’ hands as he crossed the end zone to give the 49ers a 36-32 lead.
“I knew I had to step up and make some plays in the game,” said Davis. “We were down and I had to make it happen.”
The Saints would get the ball back with 15 seconds to go, but the 49ers would stop any last second wins, as the 49ers won their first NFC divisional playoff game in nine years. They did this in front of a sold out house of 70,000 people and now they will be playing in the NFC championship game, which was something that would have been unheard of at the beginning of the season. But these 49ers are for real and they believe.
“This was a great team victory,” said 49er head coach Jim Harbough. “We knew they were going to make plays. We were able to make more plays than them to win.”
The playoff game started off with the Saints driving up the field. Drew Brees was throwing pinpoint passes on the 49ers. The Saints were inside the 20 yard line when running back Pierre Thomas was hit by 49er safety Dante Whitner, fumbling the ball on the 49er 2-yard line. Patrick Willis recovered the ball and the hit on Thomas would knock him out for the rest of the game.
That play set the tone for the 49ers. The 49ers jumped off to a 17-0 lead in the first half on Alex Smith’s touchdown passes to Davis and Michael Crabtree. The 49ers converted on various Saint miscues, as the Saints had five turnovers in the first half – two Brees interceptions and three fumbles. The Saints, however, would battle back on a nine-play 80-yard drive, capped off with a Brees’ 14-yard touchdown pass to Jimmy Graham, making the game 17-7 in the second quarter.
The Saints stopped the 49ers on their next possession and they would score again on an eight-play 66-yard drive, capped off with a Brees 25-yard pass to Marques Colston, making the game 17-14, the score at halftime. The 49ers recovered a Saints fumble on their 27-yard line off of an Andy Lee punt. They were stopped on three downs, but a David Ackers’ field goal of 41 yards gave the 49ers a 20-14 lead in the third quarter.
The scoring fireworks would begin in the fourth quarter. The Saints scored on a 48-yard John Kasey field goal to make it 20-17. After a 42-yard Frank Gore run, the 49ers had a stalled drive and Ackers kicked a 37-yard field goal to give the 49ers a 23-17 lead. The Saints would take their first lead in the game on a seven-play 79-yard drive capped off with a Darren Sproles 44-yard touchdown catch from Brees, giving the Saints a 24-23 lead with four minutes in the game.
This is when Davis stepped up. Davis caught a 37-yard pass of the left side of the field to put the 49ers in Saints territory. After two runs, which netted 7 yards, the 49ers faked out the Saints. On third down and 3, Smith dropped back to pass, but instead he ran an end round play up the left sideline for a 28-yard touchdown, giving the 49ers a 29-24 lead with two minutes and 18 seconds in the game.
The Saints, however, weren’t done. After two passes moved the ball to the 34-yard line, Brees connected with his tight end Jimmy Graham up the middle for a 66-yard catch and touchdown run, giving them a 32-29 with a minute and 40 seconds left.
With the game on the line for the 49ers, Davis caught a Smith pass and scampered up the sidelines for a 47-yard gain, putting the 49ers at the Saints 20-yard line with 40 seconds to go. It looked as if the 49ers were going to settle for an Ackers field goal to tie the game and bring it into overtime. But they weren’t settling, as they went for the win.
That is when Smith hit Davis over the middle for his game winning “grab,” which re-established the 49ers as a playoff winning team that may be capable of winning championships. That will be determined in next week’s game.
“This is history for us,” said Davis. “I had confidence in myself and we won.”
Lee Hubbard is a Bay Area journalist who is well known to longtime Bay View readers. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.