Sunday, 15 January 2012 19:40

New Orleans Saints Dreams Crashed Against San Francisco 49ers In Thriller

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brees-panthersThe culmination of a 14-4 season and Super Bowl dreams were compressed into a five-minute segment when the 49ers capitalized on five turnovers to take a thrilling 36-32 playoff victory on Saturday over the Saints and sent them home empty-handed.

The Saints' season ended when 49ers quarterback Alex Smith threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to All-Pro tight end Vernon Davis with just 9 seconds left just after Drew  Brees had put the Saints ahead in one of the most exciting playoff games of all-time on a sunny afternoon at Candlestick Park in San Francisco.

Brees completed a 66-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jimmy Graham with 1:37 left and the Who Dat Nation figured their team was on its way to the NFC championship game. But Smith and Davis delivered again.

Brees came up big down the stretch after throwing a 44-yard touchdown pass to Darren Sproles with 4:02 remaining -- one of Sproles’s 15 catches for 119 yards.

"It was kind of an unbelievable game the way it went back and forth," said Saints coach Sean Payton in his news conference after the game. It's a difficult game to lose."

The Saints had lost five fumbles all season, they gave away three in this game with the 49ers stripping the ball.  Brees threw two interceptions as he was under pressure all during the game and never appeared smooth in his passes.

The Saints lost their top running back Pierre Thomas when he went out with a head injury on his first carry. Without Thomas, the Saints managed just 37 yards rushing and Brees threw 63 passes, completing 40 for 462 yards and four touchdowns.

"It stings right now because of the expectation level that we had coming into to this tournament and understanding that if we win here we're going into the NFC championship game and anything can happen," Brees told the media. "That's tough, tough to swallow at this point."

Brees hit a well-guarded Graham for a leaping 14-yard touchdown catch and then had a 25-yard TD completion to Marques Colston to send the Saints into the half trailing only 17-14 after being behind 17-0 in the second quarter,

Brees threw two first-half interceptions and had his NFL record-streak of 226 postseason passes without an interception broken.

The 49ers became the first team in NFL history to score two lead-changing touchdowns in the final three minutes of the fourth quarter in a playoff game.

Smith, who got a $1 million bonus for appearing in a playoff game, accounted for three of his team's four touchdowns, throwing two to Davis and one to Michael Crabtree and adding a 28-yard scoring run down the Saints sideline. He was 24-of-42 passes for 299 yards and had a 103.2 quarterback rating.

Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was criticized for his play-calling in the final minutes of the game. He called for a blitz leaving safety Malcolm Jenkins to cover Davis without help. Davis runs a 4.4 40. He beat Jenkins on both TD catches.

Davis wept on the sideline after the game, said, "History, history was going through my mind. It was us against history. I said to myself, 'It's us against no, and us against can't.' All those things. We managed to pull it off. It was a very emotional game."

Saturday's game will go down as an all-time classic. It included two teams with legitimate teams with Super Bowl hopes and one of them had to lose.

Two years after their incredible Super Bowl victory, the Saints faced the realization that this wasn't their year.

"I felt like we had all the pieces in place. I felt like this was our opportunity to make a run," said  Brees.

Across the locker room, Saints 350-pound defensive tackle Shaun Rogers wiped tears from his eyes.

SOME HITHER, others yon: Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is expected to leave the Saints to work for close friend Jeff Davis, the recently hired Rams head coach. Williams' contract is up with the Saints, but it could take a few days for his future to clear up. Former Rams head coach Steve Spagnulo  and Dolphins defensive coordinator Mike Nolan are both high on the Saints; short list of replacements. Nolan's father, Dick, was head coach of the Saints 1977-80... Drew Brees is  a free agent, but he's not going anywhere. "So the Saints essentially have two options. They can strike a deal quickly with  Brees or they could the franchise tag on him to retain his rights while continuing to work on a long-term deal. Option  No. 2 includes a hidden coast. The Saints won't have the option to use their franchise tag elsewhere, and they nave at least two can great candidates: guard Carl Nicks and wide receiver Marques Colston  both headed for free agency." Nicks, an All-Pro guard will be difficult to sign because the Saints have already paid huge money for Jahri Evans and Nicks is rated as one of the best guards in the league. Signing Nicks, on a one-year deal, would be ideal, but it won't be possible unless Brees' contract is worked out quickly...LSU wide receiver Russell Shepard said he'll return for his senior season. He has NFL hopes, but needs more playing time for  NFL scouts to rate him higher. He only had three snaps in the BCS game...

by Ed Staton

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Ed Staton

Ed Staton is a former sports writer for the Times Picayune and New Orleans States Item.  He also served as the New Orleans Saints Information Director.  He has won 43 media awards in writing, design and photography. | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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