Monday, 16 January 2012 15:46

Headaches After New Orleans Saints Loss To San Francisco 49ers

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paytonThe helmet- to- helmet hit by 49ers safety Donte Whitner that sent Pierre Thomas to the locker room was legal.  The tackle was not against a defenseless player. Helmet-to-helmet hits are allowed against eight categories considered defenseless players, and and a runner is not one of those categories. Thomas suffered a head injury from the hit and didn't return to the team..

 Pat Yasinskas, who covers the NFC South for ESPN, has come up with some interesting stats on the Saints-49ers game. "As expected, the Saints blitzed Alex Smith a lot. In the first three quarters, the Saints sent four or fewer rushers on only nine of Smith's 33 dropbacks (27.3) per cent. But in the fourth quarter, the Saints cut back on the blitz and sent four or fewer rushers on 50 per cent of Smith's dropbacks and he burned them. In the fourth quarter, Smith completed all six of his passes, including the game winner."...

Talk about a game getting out of hand…as per CBS

An angry New Orleans Saints fan shot two San Francisco 49ers fans in a restaurant parking lot Saturday evening shortly after his team lost the NFL divisional playoff game, police said.

Donald Ray Ayro, 31, reportedly became upset with two 49ers fans while watching the game at an Applebee's restaurant. New Orleans lost, 36-32.

Notes from the Saints-49ers game:


Sproles sets NFL postseason record with 15 receptions

*Saints coach Sean Payton is now 5-3 as a head coach in the postseason. Payton led the Saints into a playoff game for the eighth time Saturday; prior to Payton’s arrival, the franchise had played a total of six playoff games.
*QB Drew Brees completed 40 of 63 passes for 466 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions.  
*In eight career postseason games with the Saints, Brees has 19 touchdown passes and three interceptions. 
*Brees’ first quarter interception was his first in his last 237 passing attempts in the postseason dating back to the NFC Championship Game at Chicago on January 21, 2007.
*After Pierre Thomas was forced out of the game in the first half with a head injury, RB Darren Sproles saw extensive action in a receiving role for New Orleans as he set an NFL record with 15 receptions for 119 yards. Sproles set an NFL record for receptions in a postseason contest that was previously shared by four players, including RB Chad Morton, who had 13 receptions in the NFC Divisional Playoff at Minnesota on January 6, 2001. Ivory took on the role of lead carrier and had 9 carries for 23 yards. 
*WR Marques Colston caught 9 passes for 136 yards with a second quarter 25-yard touchdown grab. It was the second consecutive and second overall 100-yards receiving game in the postseason for the wideout. Colston is now tied with WR Willie Jackson (2000 postseason) with the most 100-yard playoff games in franchise history.
*After San Francisco scored on three of their first four drives, New Orleans did not allow the 49ers to convert on their next four drives. 
*S Roman Harper had 8 tackles and his first quarter third down sack of San Francisco QB Alex Smith resulted in a 16-yard loss and forced the 49ers to punt. He later split a sack with LBMartez Wilson. For Harper, who had 7.5 sacks to lead the team on the season and the second-highest single-season total by an NFL defensive back in league record books, it was his first career takedowns in the postseason.


Media Q and A post-game

Sean Payton

San Francisco 49ers vs. New Orleans Saints

Opening Statement:

“First thing is we tip our hat to San Francisco. It was kind of an unbelievable game, the way it went back and forth. Obviously it’s a disappointing game to lose and we recognize the finality of it. To go through the momentum swings that we had, and we had our opportunities and, again, we credit San Francisco for making one more play than us to win a tough game.”

You guys hadn’t turned the ball over that much all season…

“We were fortunate, honestly. At halftime, one of the things I mentioned to the team was that for as many turnovers as we had, to be down three, we felt pretty good that it wasn’t more than that. That was one element that was disappointing. San Francisco made some big plays, but we were able to hang in there and overcome those in the second half. But certainly that’s tough to overcome.”

Can you discuss the defensive breakdown at the end of the game?

“The game went back and forth on offense, defense and the kicking game.”

After you had the three-point lead, you had a lot of guys up front and not deep.

“We were in two or three different coverages — two deep, single safety. Typically, you’re trying to not show one consistent look. There were two different drives, really. There was the first one and then the one at the end. The key was we’re protecting a field goal, really, not a touchdown. They’ve got a really good kicker who’s kicking from that 30, 35-yard line. So we tried to mix things up.”

Seemed like Drew’s protection was good in the game, but you weren’t as good against San Francisco’s secondary.

“I thought two or three things. It’s a really good defense and they did a really good job trying to keep the ball in front of them. We had to be patient at times with the underneath throws. We had to hit some of those. At other times, they were able to get some pressure, but that’s one of the better defenses we’ve played all year. I thought by and large there were a lot of good things and a lot of things we’re going to watch on tape which you would have been able to do better.”

Was there anything specific that stood out?

“Nothing specific right now.”

What was the impact of losing [RB] Pierre Thomas early?

“With a guy like Pierre, obviously you want to stay as healthy as you can. He’s going to be okay, that’s most important. It happened early on and I thought [RB] Darren [Sproles] and [RB] Chris [Ivory] did a really good job of handling more snaps than usually.”

Pierre is usually a big part of your screen game. How much was that a factor?

“Pierre does a lot of things well for us. Screens are a part of it. Darren is the same way. It just meant that those other guys were going to have to pick up the workload. You saw Darren’s snaps go way up. You saw Chris get more snaps. Certainly there’s a number of things that we think Pierre does well for us and you hate to lose a good player like that.”

You came in knowing the 49ers have a good rushing defense. Was that what you expected it to be?

“We were able to create some decent runs. We felt like we were going to have to spread them out some defensively, and we were going to have to throw the ball underneath at times, and then mix in the run in the play action pass.”

Was this the most physical defense you’ve faced all year?

“It’s a really good front seven. They can apply pressure with the pass-rush. I think they do a very good job on the back end. It was a good hard fought game. It’s disappointing to lose, but both teams played hard and it certainly wasn’t a perfect game. It’s hard when you get that close and all of the sudden it slips away. It’s difficult.”

How disappointing was it to not to create more turnovers?

“It’s disappointing to lose. Are you with me? That’s what’s disappointing.”

[TE] Vernon [Davis] is their big play guy. Could you have done anything different against him?

“He made some big plays at the end there just like [TE] Jimmy Graham did. It’s easy in hindsight to go back and second guess, but it’s the mark of a really good football player. I told our team that they ended up making one more play than we did tonight. I was proud of how we fought. I was proud of our guys despite some of the early adversary—the turnovers. Defensively we made a lot of key stops for a good portion of that game. Offensively we battled back. I thought there were some good things. It’s difficult when you lose a divisional game like this and certainly a guy like Vernon Davis is a heck of a player.”

QB Drew Brees

Press Conference – January 14, 2012

San Francisco 49ers vs. New Orleans Saints

After your last touchdown drive, did you feel you left too much time on the clock?

“No, we were thinking go down and score as quickly as we could. And we benefited obviously from the big play and we were ready to sustain the drive when we got down there, but anytime you need a touchdown, I don’t think you can score too quickly. And we got the two-point conversion to go up by three. I think with 1:41 left and one timeout, I know our defense felt very comfortable being able to go out there and stop them. But you have to credit their offense and the plays they ran down the stretch. “

Were you surprised by how well their secondary played?

“I had figured coming into this game they would feel like, let’s keep everything in front of us, let’s not give up big plays and obviously do a good job against the rush and try to put them in third and long situations. They did, yet again, a great job stopping the run in a lot of cases which we felt like in order to really get chunks, we would have to throw it. But we did have some big plays in the passing game, but three turnovers, obviously way too many turnovers. Obviously that’s a great defense. It’s one of the best defenses in the league.”

Is it hard to deal with the finality of playing in a playoff game?

“You understand that when you get into the playoffs, each week you have to win to move on or go home. Unfortunately we are the ones going home this time. We knew the challenge of coming in to play the 49ers. They had a great season. They earned that No. 2 seed. It’s a hostile environment. It creates problems. Obviously you are going against one of the best defenses in football and I think we traded punches all day long. We mounted a great comeback in the end, but unfortunately it wasn’t enough. You have to hand it to their team and the way they battled as well. Really it’s just two great teams that are used to winning and know how to win and know how to finish, just going at it. Unfortunately there can only be one winner.”

Did losing RB Pierre Thomas change your game plan at all?

“Really that just put more responsibility on [RB] Darren Sproles. Obviously it’s tough to lose Pierre especially in the first series for the rest of the game because he is such a big part of what we do and we were able to mix and match with Sproles. Sproles did a lot. I think Darren did an unbelievable job handling the run and protection. Obviously he caught a lot of passes today as well.”

Did you feel like your last two touchdown passes were championship plays?

“Well you’re putting the ball into your playmaker’s hands and they’ve done that all season. Sproles has done that all season. Jimmy Graham has done it all season. They mixed up the coverage on us quite a bit today. They gave us a lot of pressure looks as well, so we caught them in those two instances in man coverage. That’s risk-reward there. Obviously if you miss a tackle and you put one of those guys in space and allow them to make a play and Sproles obviously took advantage of that and so did Jimmy.”

Did you feel like this team was ready to make a Super Bowl run?

“I felt like we had all the pieces in place. I felt like we were playing very well. When you look at this game, all you want is a chance to win at the end and we had that. In fact every - I’d say that every game this year that we’ve lost, we’ve had a chance to win. We won a lot of them. Unfortunately we lost a few and unfortunately we lost today. I would say this is a special group of men and it stings right now because of the expectation level that we had coming into this tournament and understanding that if we win here we are into the NFC Championship game and anything can happen.”

What made this team so special?

“You saw all of the pieces come together and we felt like we were playing some of our best football as the year went on. Especially in the months of November and December which is when we want to be playing our best. Once you get into the playoffs, you feel like anything can happen. I felt like the way that we were playing, continuing to get bet better each week, getting healthy, that this was our opportunity to make a run. And we know what that feeling is like. We did it just two short years ago. And we have a lot of the same faces on this team that we had then and we had some great additions, so we all bought in. We were all in, everybody, together feeling like this was our opportunity. This was our year.”

Do you still feel this team is special?

“It absolutely does. Like I said before, there is such a finality in the playoffs and you go from thinking about the NFC Championship and all of a sudden you’re going home and there’s no more football until next year. I think the sad part of it is when we have our exit meeting and you look around the room, you hope that everybody will be back but you know that there’s some people that won’t be. You start to process all that when you build your team and creating your identity, but I do feel that we have something special with our team, with our coaching staff, with everyone in our locker room. That’s something that everyone wants to be a part of and continue to build upon.”

Can you talk about the turnovers you had today?

“The last time we came here to play the 49ers on Monday night, they were the ones with five turnovers and we won that game. You reverse the roles and we have five turnovers and they win the game. It’s funny how things work out. It’s polar opposite of what we talked about coming into this game. Just understand that this [49ers] defense has been so good at taking the ball away. They’ve got some of the best special teams groups in the league and obviously they were able to take the ball away twice from us on special teams. So you combine those two on special teams and the three they got from us offensively, that’ll get you beat just about every time. The fact that we even had a chance to win this game was pretty remarkable after five turnovers.”

Did the 49ers’ physicality surprise you?

“I wouldn’t say it surprised us. We knew that coming in. You could turn on the film and see that immediately. But yeah, there were a big, tough, physical team coming to get you. They thrive on that and that’s what has been such a huge part of their success is their ability to stop the run and rush the passer. And obviously all those are because of their physicality up front. And when you catch the ball, they are going to light you up and try to get the ball out, which they were able to do a few times as well. So it’s not that it surprised us. We knew that’s the way they play, but certainly when you get in the moment and play on the road with the crowd noise in a hostile environment and they are revved up and ready to go, you just know it’s going to be an all-day sucker.”

LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar

Post-Game Quotes – January 14, 2012

San Francisco 49ers vs. New Orleans Saints

In the press box we felt the emotional swings how was it on the field?

“It was the same. It was definitely an emotional swing, you can kind of feel the momentum going back and forth in the game.”

You guys were up with 40 seconds left and the long play that went to [TE] Vernon Davis you all were in a blitz is that the way that you all do it?

“Yes, [Defensive Coordinator] Gregg [Williams] is going to stay aggressive regardless, we as a defense have no problem with that. As players we have no problem with that. We understand his philosophy, so you expect Gregg to make that call and you expect our players to make a play. I tip my hat to [QB] Alex Smith and [TE] Vernon Davis they made plays and they put their team in position to win the game.”

Is it still to early for it to set in that the season is over?

“It seems unreal, but that is the reality of the situation. The next time I see these guys will be at the exit meeting and that is not cool.”

How do you feel about this team that you are playing with?

“I love this team. I love every individual on this team, we all care about each other, we all care about football, we all care about winning. I absolutely love this team, I love the linebacking corps and the defense as a whole. We have a lot of good players and a lot of better people.”

TE Jimmy Graham

Post-Game Quotes – January 14, 2012

San Francisco 49ers vs. New Orleans Saints

The game was a dog fight the whole second half, talk about that touchdown catch

“You know we have done it time and time again in close games. With just a little bit of time on the clock. You give Drew the ball late in the game like that he is going to drive down the field. He is a good player. Unfortunately it didn’t get us a win.

With the way this game ended are you still shaken up still?

“Shaken up? I mean I have to go home. It sucks obviously. I wasn’t expecting to go home this early. It hurts when you played so well for so long and we couldn’t get it done.

Were the turnovers in the first half the key to the 49ers victory?

“Obviously they have a great defense. The No. 1 defense in the league. We knew that coming in. We knew if push came to shove if Drew had the ball in his hands at the end we would score and we did. But unfortunately we couldn’t stop them.”

When Vernon Davis scored his first touchdown and dunked the ball over the goal post like you do. Did you see that? Did you have a reaction?

“No I didn’t even notice it. That’s cool.”

What are your thoughts on Drew throwing 900 yards over these past two weeks? How amazing is that?

“You know Drew is obviously the man. He has made me into a great player and it is an honor to play alongside him. His leadership and what he does, but it is bittersweet. The yards don’t matter, touchdowns don’t matter, and none of that matters if you don’t come away with the win.”

What were the feelings at halftime? With four turnovers and only being down three points?

“We knew that we were still in the game. Obviously being down three with four turnovers is a testament to our defense in the first half and they did very well. But in the end we just didn’t get it done.”


LB Jabari Greer

Post-Game Quotes – January 14, 2012

San Francisco 49ers vs. New Orleans Saints

Can you put this game into perspective, or is it too soon?

“No man, there is no way to put that into perspective. They made the plays they needed to make to win and unfortunately we weren’t able to do what it takes to get the win. There is no perspective. We have come so far. We worked so hard. For it to end like this. There is no way to sum it up in words. The way that our guys feel. The way that our fans feel. There is no way to give it justice.

Their ability to come up with the big plays and you guys not being able to hold onto a few fourth quarter leads. Did you think you had this one?

“We did. That big play by our offense toward the end. The two big plays, with Darren and Jimmy. Not being able to hold them afterwards when they were making some big plays. It really put us at a disadvantage. There are so many things that happened in the game. There is no way to justify it, it just happened. They made the plays and we didn’t. We are going home after such a special season. So much hard work. So much effort and heart that our guys put into this.”

FS Malcolm Jenkins

Post-Game Quotes – January 14, 2012

San Francisco 49ers vs. New Orleans Saints

Malcolm can you walk us through those last plays in the fourth quarter on those two drives?

“[TE] Vernon Davis made some good catches. He had one on the sidelines on the previous drive to get a big chunk. He also got one across the middle where he was able to run away from us. He did a good job of boxing [S] Roman [Harper] out on the touchdown, just catching it, catching the pass and taking a big hit. They made more plays then we did at the end of the game.”

Did you and [S] Roman [Harper] switch up the coverage on [TE] Vernon Davis with him more in the first half and you in the second half?

“Yes I covered him for most of the game, pretty much from the second quarter on through the rest of the game. He made plays early in the game and late too, that put his team in position to win a game.”

You guys were still blitzing in the fourth quarter even when you had the lead with only one guy deep, why not go into the prevent?

“That is not our style of defense. We don’t play prevent, we have never played it, and nothing is new. Nothing has changed so we live by the blitz, we die by the blitz.”

Were you surprised at all by [QB] Alex Smith’s accuracy passing, normally he doesn’t have numbers like that?

“He did a great job of making passes when he needed too. Especially late in the game, a couple of throws were right on where it was tight coverage and he was able to fit it in there. He did what he had to do to win the game.”

Can you talk about the emotional see-saw that you went through?

“I think everybody always believes that we have a chance no matter what it looks like. I don’t think anybody really lost faith until that final play when they had :09 seconds left on the clock. Until then everybody fought and we knew with [QB] Drew [Brees] and the guys that we have on this team, we always have a chance of winning. We fought and put ourselves in the position to win it, we just didn’t come up with it.”

Carl Nicks

Post-Game Quotes – January 14, 2012

San Francisco 49ers vs. New Orleans Saints

Have you ever been a part of a game with so many swings and emotion?

“No. I have not been a part of a game like today. They got momentum, then we got momentum, then they got it, then we got it, then they finally get it. It was an emotional roller coaster to say the least.”

Where were you when [TE] Vernon Davis caught the game-winning touchdown?

“I was standing on the sideline. Then I saw the pass, then I heard the yells and I just put my head down, and I just could not believe what just happened.”

Can you talk about how special your team is?

“Anytime you give up five turnovers, and you lose the game at the last second, you have a special team. We never stopped fighting, and we never quit. We had this game won, for 40 seconds. If we would have held them, we would have been in the NFC championship. I am proud to be a part of this team.”

Is this one of your toughest losses?

“I would say so. It was in reach. I was thinking that we had to prepare for the winner of tomorrow’s game. It didn’t work out like that.”

LB Scott Shanle

Post-Game Quotes – January 14, 2012

San Francisco 49ers vs. New Orleans Saints

What is your impression of the 49ers?

“Everybody looks at the preseason game, but with the lockout they were only together a week and a half. I think they have very good personnel, I think they know who they are as a team and what their strengths and weaknesses are. They just did a great job today. Everything that they have prided themselves on that won them their 13 games, showed up today. “

What are the things that worked for the 49ers?

“Ball control, making big plays when they had to offensively. More so than that, it was their special teams changing field position. Their defense did a nice job creating takeaways, and that has been their formula all year.”

What did you think you had to do defensively against their offense?

“We felt like we had to play well against the running game that was first and foremost. Secondly, it was don’t give up anything cheap, because they are a conservative offense. They play off of their special teams and defense. We just felt like if we didn’t give them anything cheap, and made them work on offense, that we were good enough offensively.”

RB Darren Sproles

Post-Game Quotes – January 14, 2012

San Francisco 49ers vs. New Orleans Saints

Talk about the performance at the end of the game.

“We had a good surge at the end but the thing that killed us was the turnovers. That is what got us deep in the hole like that. We just can’t have that.”

You guys knew that the 49ers defense thrives off of the turnovers. Does that make this more disappointing that you had so many of them?

“Yes. When that happens though we need our defense to step up and they stepped up and the 49ers only got three points out of it, so that was big.”

Did you think that third-to-last touchdown was the break-through play for you guys?

“Yes, but they did a great job over there.”

Take us through those last few minutes of the game.

“I think we got too excited. We didn’t think that they could score like that, but they did. They proved all of us wrong.”

Did you feel good at half time knowing that you had given up the turnovers but the game was so close? It was the kind of game that was built for you and this offense.

“Yes. When we went in at half time, we knew the game was still close, that is why we really didn’t panic.”

Is San Francisco’s defense as good as any that you have faced in years?

“Oh yes definitely. They have a great bunch over there.”

LB Jonathan Vilma

Post-Game Quotes – January 14, 2012

San Francisco 49ers vs. New Orleans Saints

Take us through the end of the game, I know your emotions this is very tough…

“Yes, well this was a very tough loss, especially the way we lost, we will find a way to regroup and get ready for next year.”

Defensively, you guys made some good plays despite being put in some bad positions and you still put yourself in a position to win?

“Yes, unfortunately we did not win it though.”

Can you talk about that last play that touchdown to [TE] Vernon Davis?

“He scored. It was a great throw and a great catch.”

Coach [Sean Payton] talked about understanding the finality of this one and how much it hurts but how proud he was of you guys in just a dog fight of a playoff football game.

“Well there are no moral victories in the NFL, so we are going home and they are not. Hats off to San Fran.”


Opening Statement:

“Well, just really proud of our team. You’re going to live or die in these games. We lived. We move on and we move on in spectacular fashion. Really proud of our football team. I know there was ‘The Catch’. I don’t know what you’re going to call this one. The throw? The throw and catch? But it was a great play by [TE] Vernon Davis and [QB] Alex Smith. Vernon was huge today in this ball game. It was a great team effort. Great team victory. I also want to talk about our kickoff coverage. I think those guys are just the best darn guys in the business at covering kicks. A lot of other things. We knew they were going to make plays. We knew we were going to make plays. We felt that we would make more plays and it ended up that we made one or two or three more than they did.”

Talk about the job your defense did, particularly in the first half, forcing all the turnovers and getting you every opportunity to take the lead and take control of the game.

“We got some spectacular stops. On third down, I thought they were outstanding. Five takeaways in the game. I know the special teams contributed to that as well. Very opportunistic today. Got pressure on their quarterback. Made plays on the ball, and made them when they were there to be made, our guys in the secondary made them. Got some huge stops in the game. It was a terrific job by our defense, once again. You just love the way they play. You love the way they compete. Love how hard they work on the field.”

Can you tell us the name of the play that the throw and catch was that won the game? Are you allowed to?

“Yeah, the main part of the play was Vernon-Post. We told Alex, we said, “Let’s go to Vernon here. It’s either Vernon or nobody.” [Quarterbacks Coach] Geep Chryst did a great job calling that play. He designed it. It worked. Great job by Geep.”

What about the run by Alex around the left side when he scored there? Can you tell us the name of that one?


Have you run either of those plays today? Or when’s the last time you ran either of them?

“We’ve run the one with Alex. The one that Alex scored on, we’ve run that before. I can’t remember exactly what game that was. It was a home game. I think it was the Giants. The Vernon-post was new to this game plan.”

What were the Saints showing you that youou felt like it was the time to break open plays like that. Were the Saints showing you anything particular in their coverages that you felt like those plays would be effective?

“We were really taking some shots all game long. I felt Alex played extremely bold. Might be time to give Alex a little credit, huh? Spectacular performance by him as well. We just put things in his hands and our offense’s hands. They really did a great job learning this game plan, understanding it and then going out and executing it.”


Have you ever had another play go running into your arms crying, tears running down their face ever?

“A few times, but that was special. I don’t know if there was anything ever better than that. I can’t remember winning a game in such spectacular fashion as this one.”

What was Alex’s demeanor like after the TE Jimmy Graham touchdown? On the sideline?

“It was no different than it was any other point in the game. We knew we were down by 3 and we had to get at least a field goal to put it into overtime. Then he makes the great throw to Vernon on the go-route. Then we wanted to press it. We wanted to go for the touchdown and take our shots.”

Did you go into the game thinking that Vernon was going to be a big factor or did he make himself a big factor?

“Vernon is always a big factor in any game plan. He was singled up a lot today. They were trying to bring heat and play man-to-man coverage. We won a few times with Vernon getting the separation and making the big run after catch. In the first quarter when we got our first touchdown, similar play to what Jimmy Graham made there in the fourth quarter.”

When you were practicing that play to Vernon, were you thinking that that could be the “go to” play for a situation like that?

“We wanted to call it. We felt like that’s the look we would get. It was really good game planning by Geep Chryst. He drew it up. He showed everybody how they would play. Got a good simulation of it in practice, at least two or three times. Worked on it. That was a great throw by Alex. He had made that similar throw in practice, too. The interesting thing about it though is that every time we practiced it, we practiced it going right. That was the first time we threw it going left, was this ball game. That was the best one. That was the best one of all of them, right there.”

When did Geep draw that up?

“I think we installed that on Wednesday.”

How do you sense that that’s going to be the kind of play that would work?

“Just what he saw on film. Thought that that was a look that we would get. [S Roman] Harper would be on the goal line. Soft peddling into the end zone. Vernon would cross face and we would make the throw.”

So, [Offensive Coordinator] Greg [Roman] decided at that point to go to it? Or was that your call?

“Geep called it. Geep came over to the headset and called it. I relayed it in to Alex.”

When you hugged Vernon, what did you tell him? It looked like you whispered something into his ear?

“I said he’s a great football player. There’s a special place in your heart for players that play great in the big games. You love them all. You really do. You love all the players. But, the guy that plays great in the big game. Boy, there’s just a little extra space for them. That’s what I was telling him, that he’s a great football player.”

When you said it might be time to give Alex some credit, what did you mean by that?

“I think exactly what I said. Time to give him some credit.”

That Alex run on the QB-9 play, is he reading anything on that play or he just gets it and sprints to the left corner?

“It’s to circle the defense. It’s to get it outside to stretch it from hash to numbers to sidelines. He got a great block from [WR] Kyle Williams. A great, physical block. That’s Kyle Williams, number 10, blocking their defensive end. That set the play off. We got two good blocks on the perimeter as well. It was pretty free sailing. He had free access to get past the first down line. Alex has got great athletic ability, great running ability, and then took it down the sideline for the score.”

You’ve been involved in a lot of big NFL games. How does this rank?

“Right now, it feels like the best. It really does. Like I said before, I can’t recall a win like this in this kind of spectacular fashion, as this by our football team. A great team win. Our defense played phenomenal football. Our special teams, the coverage units, they are the best in the business at what they do. The [LB Blake] Costanzos, the [LB Tavares] T-Goodens, [FB] Bruce Miller and [CB Tramaine] T-Brock. I know I’m leaving somebody out, but they run down and cover kicks. They had a lot of opportunities to do it and they did a phenomenal job.”

What was it today that made you guys steer so heavy towards the pass and away from the run game? At least numbers-wise?

“I thought we were pretty balanced. We got some good gains in the run game as well. We knew that they were going to turn it into a blitz game on the second and third downs. We were going to have to make plays. Both teams made plays. Both teams made plays defensively, offensively, special teams. We knew there would be an ebb and flow, but we would prevail and make more plays. Our guys executed it.”

How is that different as a player than as a coach? You did it as a player, these big NFL wins, but as a coach how is that different? Do you embrace it differently? Does it mean more?

“Yeah, I would say it does. It means more. It means that these guys are my heroes, these players. I grew up dreaming of being an athlete. Wanted to be an athlete. Those guys that were athletes were my heroes. Pretty much burnt up my childhood days thinking about that. That time’s past me by now, but my heroes are still these athletes. Our guys and the way they play. I’m just really proud of them. Loved the way they competed and fought today. This was an all day sucker and they prevailed.”

Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio

Press Conference – January 14, 2012

San Francisco 49ers vs. New Orleans Saints

Defense set the tone for the day. Was that an emphasis all week?

“Yeah, certainly. We wanted to come out and play our style of football, which is playing physical, being a great tackling team, and playing with good fundamentals which has carried us all year. We just wanted to play the way we’ve played all year, particularly starting early in the game.”

Was there anything in particular that you did to force the fumbles or the loose balls? Did you focus on that in any way this week at practice? Did you look at film that showed some vulnerability by them?

“No, we emphasized it all the time from day one. Our guys were humming. We were able to pry a couple out and that was big. The interceptions were big also.”

Did something change at the end or was it just the simple matter of you guys running out of gas?

“No, I don’t think they changed anything at the end. It became obvious to everybody, a big passing game for them. They just have two great players there in [RB Darren] Sprolles and [TE Jimmy] Graham who made some plays. We had guys there. Those guys are great players and they made plays. I think part of the most critical parts of the game was at the end of the first half there when they had three possessions and two-minute drives that were very doable for them to go down and score points and we held them three times there at the end of the half with nothing, when they had two-minute drives available to them. That was critical. I thought the third quarter, when we were struggling on offense, we were able to hold them down also. I thought those were big parts of the games.”

A lot of today, you were only rushing three people, playing a lot, like eight, in coverage. Is that what you normally do or just because of their offense?

“We do it some all the time. One of the advantages of playing the 3-4 is you can rush three guys sometimes because you have four linebackers out there. Against a passing game like this, and a quarterback like [QB Drew] Brees, you need to be able to mix it up. We rushed three, we rushed four, we rushed five, we rushed six once or twice in the game. We did it all. With a quarterback like this, you cannot do one thing and one thing only.”

How important was it to chip at him? Get him out of his rhythm? Just to knock him out of his rhythmic passing game? How were you able to do it?

“I think it’s very important if you can get that accomplished with a quarterback like him and the offense that they have in general. The way we did it was just keep mixing it. We rushed three, four, five, six. We played a lot of man. We played a lot of zone. We didn’t get into a rhythm on defense to allow them to figure out what we were doing hopefully.”

DT Justin Smith has made a lot of great plays throughout the season, but was this his most complete game? He seemed like a force throughout.

“That’d be a tall statement to say it was his most complete game. I haven’t watched the tape yet, but obviously he came up big today. He was ready. You could just sense it him all week. Particularly as the game got closer, this game meant a lot to him. He was going to bring it and he did. Does not surprise me. In training camp this year, on the cover of our notebook was a picture of him and I had on there 0-1. He had only played in one playoff game in his career and he was 0-1. Our main goal from the first day of training camp was to get him back in the playoffs and get that goose egg off the board. And we did that.”

In a year when offenses were making news across the league, with 5,000 yard passers, this defense kind of brought everything back to the old school way. Especially playoff football. Do you take a lot of pride in that?

“We do. We like to think that we play defense the right way. We play physical, we play with our hands. We run to the ball. We don’t try and do anything too fancy, although we do have our changeups here and there. We try and play defense the old fashioned, hard school way.”

Your overall philosophy today was no big plays, right?

“That’s the philosophy every game. We were doing pretty good at that until those last two scores they got. Kind of put a little wart on the performance. Thank God our offense came through there at the end. But yes, with a team like this, you’ve got to make them go the long way and hopefully you’ll end up making a play yourself and we did. We got some turnovers. We got off the field on third downs some. We had a nice run of good defense there. They’re a hard team to contain when you keep giving them the ball back.”

Even on those two plays, you had somebody hit their guys both times. That was part of the philosophy, right?

“Right. We wanted to get close to them. We didn’t want them to have an easy day of pitching and catching with the ball. We wanted to challenge them.”

Do you ever remember a game where you gave up this many points and felt as good as you do?

“No, it’s like I said, they said they wanted me to come in here and talk to you guys and I said ‘we gave up 32 points, that’d be a first for me.’ I really had a feeling during the game that we were really playing well. More important, from my perspective, and the rest of the coaches’ perspectives, we were doing what we needed to do to try and win that game on defense. Our plan was good, we were calling it good, our players were playing good. They’ve got great players over there. They’ve got a great scheme. You keep giving them the ball back, they’re eventually going to get some scores on you. We had guys in position on both of those last two touchdowns, but they’re great players and they made the plays.”

Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman

Post-Game Quotes – January 14, 2012

San Francisco 49ers vs. New Orleans Saints

Were they loading the line on that touchdown run near the end by QB Alex Smith?

“Yeah. They do a great job with that stuff, the overload stuff. It was one of those deals where it could have been a mess or it could have been great and it was great.”

When you saw it lining up what was it like?

“Excitement was in the air. It was a great job by the players and obviously a great job by [TE] Vernon [Davis] there at the end. It was an unbelievable, unbelievable game by him and I’m just so proud of him.”

Did you learn anything new about Alex Smith from this game?

“No, not at all. I hate to sound like that but I had all the confidence in the world in him.”

Do you talk to him between series’?

“A little bit, sometimes, when I need to. I usually communicate through [quarterbacks coach] Geep [Chryst]. Not a whole lot. He was on it, we just had to clean up some protections. We try not to over coach during the game. We say what we need to say.”

Was there any impulse to play it safe at the end and just go for the tying field goal?

“No, zero. They’re a great team and once Vernon made that huge play down at the 20, Geep Chryst, our quarterbacks coach who was in Carolina and played against them twice a year, he knew there was a red zone tendency that he really felt strongly about and it really paid off hitting Vernon on that bang-post.”

Is that something you want to do after a big play from the other team?

“No doubt, go for it. There’s no question and plus we had a play we believed in.”

And that play wasn’t a play in your book until this week?

“Yeah, it was very specific for the Saints.”

And what about the sneak, the QB nine?

“I had that as a critical call for the game and they were overload blitzing us over here and it was completely a 50-50 roll of the dice on what side they were going to blitz us on. If they overload blitzed into it, it would have been a mess. So that was just one of those deals where you have to roll the dice and just go with it. But, conversely, if they blitz away from it, a big payoff and that’s what happened.”

Head coach Jim Harbaugh said the throw to Vernon was called ‘Vernon post. ’ Is that just the name of it?

“Yeah. It was a route very specific to the Saints this week in the red zone. It was perfectly executed, perfect timing, focus, finish on the catch by Vernon. What a great game, I’m so proud of him.”

QB Alex Smith

Press Conference – January 14, 2012

San Francisco 49ers vs. New Orleans Saints

Alex, what was that like emotionally, that win right now?

“Yeah, it’s about as good as it gets. Feels great. There were just so many ups and downs in this game, so many ups and downs. We talked about it. We knew it was going to be like that a little bit. Didn’t know it was going to be to that extreme. Kind of the whole day it just seemed like. First quarter, come out we’re getting the turnovers, we’re scoring. Then lull there in the second quarter, kind of lull there in the third. Then the last five minutes were dramatic enough. So, crazy. I feel so much different than in years past, just the sideline. The sideline atmosphere is so much different. When bad things happen, when plays get made against us, things like that. The guys are just so confident. I think that as long as there’s time left, we have a shot.”

You felt confident after the Saints TE Jimmy Graham touchdown?

“Well, I knew we had to get a field goal. No, so it wasn’t like we had to get the touchdown. I knew a field goal was at potential, absolutely. We’ve had a great special teams, great kicker. Knew that he’s made long ones all year. So, just to give him a shot, that was the goal really. I wasn’t afraid to take [RB] Frank [Gore] early. We were getting eight, 10-yard chunks with him. At 1:30, we had one timeout. So, we could do that all day. We could take that down the field. That would have got us in field goal range. Then they jumped into man and as soon as I saw it, I knew [TE] Vernon [Davis] was the guy and he made a great play.”

Could you describe that play? The pass to Vernon that won the game.

“That won the game?”


“We clocked. We had the timeout left. So, I think there were like 14 seconds left. Taking a shot there at the end zone. You get it, you score, you win the game potentially, or you get down, you check it down, you call timeout and kick the field goal. I got the window and I cut it loose to him. Vernon made a great play in traffic, getting hit as he catches it. He deserves a lot of credit. He made a great play.”

Did you throw that ball especially hard? It seemed from where I was standing that you really threw it hard.

“Yeah, all week we had practiced it. I knew it was going to be a bang-bang play and that you were going to have to get it in there. It wasn’t going to be a lob ball.”

On your run you huddled with Harbaugh on the sideline before that. Can you just put a taste through that conversation?

“Well, we went from third and I think, two, and we got the penalty. All of a sudden you’re at third and seven or eight. So, the play-calling changes. [Offensive Coordinator] Coach [Greg] Roman, as we were kind of talking over there on the sidelines mentioned that one. He and Coach Harbaugh were kind of debating whether or not to do it. I loved it, so I jumped on it.”


So, you campaigned for yourself?

“Yeah, I did a little bit. I like the QB run stuff. It adds a little dimension for us. And it was just a great call, great call. I think the coaches deserve a lot of credit there. And then [WR] Kyle [Williams] came down and cracked the end. [T] Joe [Staley] pulling out in front and got the last block on the safety. It made my job pretty easy.”

Going around there, did you see a big open space?

“Well no, once I saw the crack, really it was third-and-eight. The first down was what I was going for. Once I saw that and got around the edge, I knew I was going to get the first. It was just a matter of whether or not you get the six. Joe made a great block on the safety.”

Alex, you’ve been doubted for so much of your career. What does this mean to you personally? Especially orchestrating those game-winning touchdowns there at the end?

“We’re still playing. That’s what it means. It feels great. We’ve got another week of work and I don’t want this to end. I don’t think anyone does in that locker room because it’s been such a great year. Such a great group of guys, coaches and players. I think we love coming to work every day, I know I do. And we’ll get one more week at least. I’m loving it right now.”

What were you thinking when you see Vernon get so emotional there after the touchdown? You went over there too?

“Yeah, happy for him. Really happy for Vernon. Even at halftime, got in here at halftime and got a little emotional with us on offense and got after us a little bit. There in the second half, really just stayed patient. Just for Vernon, just to stay patient though. The whole third quarter there was not much happening for us on offense, even in the start of the fourth. And then really three or four times he got one-on-one and he made the play every single time. We got the cover-zero the first drive and I hit him down the sideline. He made a great play on that. Then there on the last drive, he made his plays when he had to with the game on the line. So, I’m really happy for him.”

Tell us what was going through your head before you made the greatest touchdown pass of your life?

“I didn’t want to force it if it wasn’t there, obviously. I knew we were in field goal range. So, it’s one thing if you have to have the touchdown, that throw’s a lot easier I feel like. If you’re down by four, you’ve got to score. We were in field goal range. So, we had what we had in hand. You don’t want to force anything. So, really it was if the window was there, I was going to cut it loose, but if not I didn’t want to force that. It’s a fine line and Vernon made me right.”

How big was that window to Vernon?

“I don’t know. I cut it loose early. So, I don’t know. I threw it and he made the play.”

It seemed like you guys were aggressive throughout. What did that philosophy sort of say about you, just the overall push for the game?

“We had to play that way. Just the style, their whole team. Obviously, the way they play on offense, the way they move the ball. They can kind of score at any second. But the way they play on defense. They’re coming every snap potentially. It’s a really high risk, high reward, a lot of pressure. The guy nicknamed himself Dr. Heat. So, it’s that for a reason. It’s coming. And it’s like that. It’s the name of the game. High risk, high reward. You’ve just got to be able to make your plays when you get it. They’re going to have theirs and they did. They were going to make their plays, but you had to be able to make them pay when you got your chances. And we did. Luckily, they just came there at the very end.”

LB NaVorro Bowman

Post-Game Quotes – January 14, 2012

San Francisco 49ers vs. New Orleans Saints

You guys had quite the turnover ratio.

We’ve got a great defense. We feel like we can stop anyone. When it’s not working for our offense, it’s our job to get the ball back for them as many times as we can. That’s all it was. If those guys aren’t doing well it’s our job to pick it up. That’s what a team is and I think we have a great one here.”

On TE Vernon Davis.

“A lot of guys have a lot of trouble covering him. That’s the guy we go up against every day in practice. We are prepared to go up against any tight end in the league. I’m happy for him. He hasn’t been to the playoffs yet since he started in the league and I’m glad to give it to him.”

You weren’t disappointed were you?

“Not at all. Those guys couldn’t wait to play. We knew that being up 13, they have [QB] Drew Brees back there. We just have to keep fighting, stay on edge and fight through adversity.”

LB Blake Costanzo

Post-Game Quotes – January 14, 2012

San Francisco 49ers vs. New Orleans Saints

How about what [TE] Vernon [Davis] did with those two big catches late in the game [the 37-yard pass late in the fourth quarter and the 14-yard touchdown to win the game]?

“I go against Vernon on the scout team at practice all the time. The guy is unbelievable. He and [QB] Alex [Smith] came through today. Alex Smith led those drives today. I’m so glad for him and Vernon, the guys who’ve been here a long time. It’s a tribute to their success.”

What is it about playing in front of this crowd that makes you guys force more turnovers at home?

“It’s the crowd. We feed off each other. We have a bunch of guys who care about football and the team. That’s all they care about. They don’t care about the individual. They care about the team. When you do that, good things happen.”

You guys [special teams] didn’t get on the field a lot, but can you speak to how you put a charge through the team when you’re out there?

“It’s a tribute to the guys we’ve got. We bring so much life to it. Usually, special teams gets overlooked. But guys take it so seriously. We’ve got so many personalities on offense and defense. We just have it all on this team. We care about each other and it shows on the field.”

How about that initial hit [in the first quarter] that [S] Donte [Whitner] had on [Saints RB] Pierre Thomas? When you saw that from the sidelines, what kind of charge did it give you?

“We’re a physical team and to see that kind of play, I wouldn’t want to step on the field to play against our defense. Like I said, it charged us all up. No one was sitting down the whole game. It was just awesome. I’ve never been in a kind of game like this before. It’s a tribute to the guys we have on this team. It’s the guys who make it go.”

TE Vernon Davis

Post-Game Quotes - January 14, 2012

San Francisco 49ers vs. New Orleans Saints

Did you sense that the ball was coming?

“Yes, I knew it was coming, we rehearsed it all week in practice. Alex knew right away that once I got 12, 14 yards, planted the outside foot, and looked for the ball. It was the exact same thing. It worked. I had confidence in myself and Alex. Confidence in the play.”

You seemed really emotional after the catch, what was going through your mind?

“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, it was like a roller coaster. Very stressful for me, and as I can imagine, stressful for my teammates. Especially our defense in that last play. I knew right away that I had to step up and be a factor, help out, and I did it.”

Coach Harbaugh said that you ran that play on your right all week, but today you ran it on your left. Did it feel any different?

“No, it was just making a play, that’s all. To me, when a big-time game is on the line, you have to step up if you are a playmaker. Big-time players make big-time plays and that’s all I could think about. I kept telling myself that over, and over and over again, ‘Vernon, you have to step up, the team needs you.’”

What was the message you gave to the team at halftime?

“It was very emotional. One shot, that was the message. We only have one shot and if we don’t take advantage of it, we go home. There was a lot of fire within me at that moment. Something just hit me and I had to let it out. When you are a leader on this team, that is what you are supposed to do, step up and lead the team. In times like this, and during that moment. I watched these guys on film and the game before us and they are the real deal. They could come back at any moment and I knew that. I decided to get my teammates going.”

Are you dizzy/exhausted from that hit in the end?

“It’s not from the hit at the end. It’s just from a long game, long and stressful game.”

When you knew there was only one shot, what was your confidence level?

“I just kept telling myself, one shot. The team is depending on you. Vernon, the team is calling your name. You have to step up and make the play, you have to take charge, handle the responsibility. It was big. Everyone was counting on me.”

You and QB Alex Smith have been through hell. What was that moment like together?

“Along the way there has been a lot of stress, doubt and criticism. Especially for Alex. He has had a lot of criticism in his life. But when I look at that kid, I look at him as a warrior. You can just imagine a little kid standing there and getting picked on in grade school. Getting picked on rocks thrown at him, spit on… it’s those types of things that Alex is just one of those guys. Alex has been there, right there. I just wish him all the best. I want to see him successful and have all good things happen to him because he is a warrior.”

How long have you dreamed of making a catch like that?

“Since ‘The Catch.’”

Do you see a little of ‘The Catch’ in your catch?

“I don’t know, I just made the play. Alex made it happen. If it wasn’t for Alex I could not have been able to make it happen. Alex, you are the man.”

This week there has been a lot of hype around Saints TE Jimmy Graham, did you feel forgotten?

“It’s not about me. It’s about the team, the team, the team. That is something that Coach Harbaugh always says, the team, the team, the team. I just wait for my opportunities. It’s not how you start but how you finish. Jimmy Graham can get all the plays he wants, that’s fine. It’s not deal or responsibility. I’m not worried about the Pro-Bowl or the individual accolades. I’m here to help this team win, make it to the playoffs, make it to the Super Bowl. That’s what it is all about. Everyone is waiting for me to complain this year about the opportunities, but I started telling myself that this game is bigger than you. This here is what matters the most.”

You did slam the ball over the crossbar which is Jimmy Graham’s signature move.

“I wanted to get a slam dunk. I saw Jimmy do it and I wanted to do it too.”

What did Coach Harbaugh say to you at the end of the game?

“I have no idea. Honestly, I have no idea. I will find out in our meetings.”

S Dashon Goldson

Post-Game Quotes – January 14, 2012

San Francisco 49ers vs. New Orleans Saints

What was the approach you took to this game?

“We knew we had to come here and do the fundamentals, tackling, catching the ball, running the ball, blocking. There was no secret about it. Through the playoffs you see guys lack a lot of those things and as long as we came in here and played solid football we had our chances.”

Did you get sick of hearing how good the Saints offense was?

“We got tired of it throughout the week. They gave us no chance. They kept talking about the Saints, the Saints, where they stand against us and what they were going to do. We ignored everything and focused on us and what we had to do to come win this game.”

How does it feel to be one game away from the Super Bowl?

“It feels real good. We know that we’ve still got a lot of work cut out and we’ll see how the next game pans out. We’re going to get better and come out play another hard-fought football game.”

QB Alex Smith has been doubted from time to time here. What was it like to watch him in those last two drives come through when you guys needed him the most?

“It was big time. He came and stepped up for our football team, made plays down the field and he gave a lot of us players on defense a second chance. We fell short on a couple coverages and tackles and it cost us. He came in and we believed in him and he believed in himself and he got it done.”

C Jonathan Goodwin

Post-Game Quotes – January 14, 2012

San Francisco 49ers vs. New Orleans Saints

Are you going to watch the game [Giants vs. Packers] tomorrow and do you have a rooting preference?

“I’m just going to sit back and watch. You don’t want to get caught up in rooting for anybody.”

It seemed like the Saints were blitzing a lot today.

“They brought some pressure. We had some things that should’ve been picked up but weren’t. But we won the game and that’s all that matters. We’re going to go back, review and correct those things and look forward to next week.”

[T] Joe [Staley] was saying that [QB] Alex [Smith] was keeping everyone composed in the huddle. What was he doing?

“Alex and a couple of the guys were saying to relax and don’t make the moment bigger than what it is. Just stay composed because it’s still just football. We were able to do that and move down the field two times when we needed it. One thing about this team is in these kinds of situations, we’ve been composed.”

RB Frank Gore

Post-Game Quotes – January 14, 2012

San Francisco 49ers vs. New Orleans Saints

Not that you guys needed to prove anything, but what did QB Alex Smith show today?

“That he’s a ball player. He had a tough time here but I’m just happy for him. He had a great game, a great year. He just keeps balling every day. As long as he keeps doing what he’s doing we can as far as we want.”

You’ve been here for a while. What has it been like to see him go through the full circle that he’s gone through with this franchise?

“It’s great. I’m happy for all his success. He deserves it. He’s worked hard. He loves us and we love him.”

Have you ever played in a game like this?


Did you have any nerves coming into this game today?

“No. It’s football, it’s what we do. It was a playoff game but it’s still football.”

Talk about TE Vernon Davis and his performance:

“Big-time players make big-time plays when they’re supposed to and that’s what he did today. He’s a big-time player and I expect that from him.”

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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