SAN FRANCISCO — This is the live blog for the Niners divisional playoff game against the New Orleans Saints. I will update this frequently from the Candlestick Park press box.
12:01 Here are the Niners inactive players: Scott Tolzien, Joe Hastings, Shawntae Spencer, Delanie Walker, Daniel Kilgore, Mike Person and Ian Williams.
The Saints inactive players are Lance Moore, Leigh Torrence, Nate Bussey, Tory Humphrey, John Gilmore and Turk McBride.
1:32 With George Seifert as the Niners honorary captain, San Francisco wins the toss and defers. The Saints will start the game with the ball.
1:34 Touchback Akers. Saints to start at their 20 yard line.
1:35 On first down Drew Brees completes a swing pass to Darren Sproles, who gains five after the catch.
1:35 Brees completes a first down pass to a wide open Higgins. Gain of ten.
1:36 Chris Ivory up the middle for three.
1:37 Brees completes a short pass to Sproles over the middle for 12 yards and another first down.
1:37 Brees completes a quick screen to Robert Meachem on the right sideline. Gain of five.
1:38 Patrick Willis tackles Ivory for no gain. Third and five.
1:38 Brees throws down the right sideline to Jimmy Graham and the sideline judge calls pass interference. Whitner never turned his head to locate the ball. 23 yard penalty. First down Saints at the SF 21.
1:40 Pierre Thomas runs up the middle for six.
1:41 Carlos Rogers nearly intercepts Brees pass to Devery Henderson over the middle. Third and four.
1:41 Brees completes a short pass to Colston and Goldson tackles him immediately, but Coloston got just enough for the first down.
1:42 Goldson blitzes and tackles Sproles on a draw run for no gain.
1:43 Brees completes a screen to Sproles, and Whitner tackles him after a gain of three. Third and seven.
1:44 Brees rolls out and completes a short pass to Thomas. Whitner clobbers him helmet-to-helmet and the ball comes out, and Willis recovers for the Niners at their 2 yard line.
1:46 On that drive the Niners knocked out Jimmy Graham and Pierre Thomas. Talk about a hard-hitting defense.
1:46 On first down Smith hits Crabtree on a quick slant. Gain of nine. Great play call and execution.
1:47 Gore up the middle for five and a first down.
1:48 Gore takes a pitch sweep to the left and gains 15 and another first down.
1:49 Smith throws a slant at Kyle Williams feet. Incomplete.
1:49 Saints blitz and Smith completes a pass to a wide open Ted Ginn Jr. for 11 yards and a first down.
1:50 Smith throws a backshoulder pass to Ginn but he just runs straight up the field. Incomplete.
1:51 The Saints blitz again and Smith throws hot Vernon Davis on a crossing route. He’s hit immediately. Gain of five. Third and five.
1:52 Surprise – the Saints bring a overload blitz from the right side of the Niners O-line. Davis and Snyder can’t pick it up, and Harper crushes Smith, forcing a fumble. Gore recovers. Loss of 15. Punting time.
1:53 Lee’s punt is tipped by a Saint but it still rolls 47 yards. Saints ball at their 19.
1:55 On first down Brees has all day to pass but he throws high to Sproles in the flat. Incomplete.
1:56 Ivory off left tackle for two. Terrible play call by Sean Payton and the Saints.
1:56 Aldon Smith tosses Saints left tackle Jermon Bushrod aside and sacks Brees by the ankles. Loss of 11.
1:57 Morstead punts 60 yards to Ginn Jr, who returns it 16 yards to the SF 46.
2:00 Hunter runs off left tackle and cuts back for a gain of five.
2:00 The Saints put nine in the box, Smith takes a straight five-step drop and hits Vernon Davis perfectly in stride. Davis breaks one tackle and scores. 49-yard score. 7-0 Niners. The Saints don’t respect the Niners pass game at all, and they paid for it on that play.
2:03 C.J. Spillman tackles Courtney Roby on the kickoff at the NO 14.
2:06 Carlos Rogers blitzes, gets a clear lane at Brees but misses. Brees steps up and hits Graham for a gain of four.
2:07 Brees hits Sproles on a quick pass to the left for seven and a first down.
2:08 Rogers blitzes again. Brees throws downfield to nobody, or perhaps to Dashon Goldson – the pass was right to the Niners FS. Goldson picks it off and returns it 41 yards to the NO 4.
2:09 Smith play fakes and throws the ball out of bounds. Second and goal.
2:09 Smith throws the ball out of the back of the end zone this time. I would have called run plays if I were Greg Roman.
2:10 Smith hits Crabtree perfectly on a slant for a touchdown. Crabtree was wide open. 14-0 Niners. That was a great play design and call. Similar to the game-winning pass to Delanie Walker in Detroit. 41 seconds left in the first quarter.
2:12 Roby fumbles the kickoff and Blake Costanzo recovers at the NO 13. The Saints look like the nervous team with no playoff experience. The Niners look calm and confident as can be.
2:14 Gore runs a sweep to the left for two yards.
2:17 Smith completes a pass to Justin Peelle for a gain of four. Third and four at the NO seven.
2:18 Harbaugh tries to call timeout but Smith calls hike, scrambles left and throws the ball out of bounds. The timeout would have been the better play.
2:19 David Akers hits the 25-yard field goal attempt. 17-0 Niners.
2:20 Pierre Thomas is still hurt, and the Saints are going to have to pass anyway. So, the Niners have already accomplished a primary objective – make the Saints offense one-dimensional.
2:21 Touchback Akers. Sproles takes a knee in the back of the end zone. No more Roby.
2:22 Brees throws a quick screen to Meachem, gain of eight. Culliver gave too big of a cushion before the snap.
2:23 Brees completes a pass to Collins for eight and a first down.
2:24 Brees completes a long pass to Colston down the middle of the field for 20. The Niners were playing zone and Colston found the hole.
2:24 Brees completes a short pass to Sproles and Whitner rips the ball away from him as he tackles him. The Saints are challenging, saying Sproles knee was down.
2:29 The refs rule that Sproles knee was down. Gain of five. One more challenge left for the Saints. Second and five.
2:30 Brees completes a short pass over the middle to Colston. Gain of 11. First down.
2:38 Pardon my absence, the press box internet went down temporarily. Brees threw a touchdown pass high to Graham that no Niner could get close to. 17-7 Niners.
2:29 On third and 11 Smith completes a swing pass to Gore, who picks up nine. Fourth and two. Jonathan Goodwin is shaken up and he walks off the field gingerly. He appears to have some sort of left leg injury.
2:40 Lee punts it 49 yards and Sproles returns it 11 yards to the NO 34.
2:43 Snyder is working on snapping the ball. He’ll replace Goodwin at center, presumably, and Chilo Rachal will play right guard.
2:43 Justin Smith gets flagged for encroachment on first down. First and five.
2:44 Brees play actions and completes a 13 yard pass to Colston for a first down.
2:44 Brees finds no where to pass so he throws it away before Haralson can sack him.
2:45 Sproles up the middle for two. Third and eight.
2:46 Brees completes a first down pass to a wide open Arrington. Tarell Brown was the closest Niner. Gain of 14.
2:46 Brees completes a pass to Henderson in front of Rogers. Gain of seven. Second and three.
2:47 Sproles drops Brees’ pass. Third and three at the SF 25.
2:47 Brees throws a perfect pass over Chris Culliver’s head to Colston for a 25-yard touchdown. 17-14 Saints.
2:51 Touchback Morstead.
2:51 Kendall Hunter takes a pitch sweep left for ten yards and a first down.
2:52 From the shotgun, Gore runs up the middle for nine. Two good play call by Roman to start the drive.
2:53 The Saints blitz and Smith throws a perfect pass over Vernon Davis’ shoulder for a gain of 20. First and ten at the NO 40.
2:54 Smith throws at Crabtree’s ankles and No. 15 can’t snag the pass. Second and ten.
2:54 Smith throws a perfect pass to Crabtree this time on a slant, but No. 15 drops it. Third and ten.
2:55 The Saints blitz six and crunch Smith immediately. The Niners O-line really can’t stop a blitz on third and long. The Saints overloaded the left side of the Niners line and Gore couldn’t figure who to block, so he blocked no one.
2:56 Touchback Lee.
2:57 Brees throws a pass to his own feet. I’m not sure how. Second and ten.
2:58 Brees completes a short pass to Sproles in the flat and Goldson tackles him immediately. Gain of two. Third and eight.
3:01 Brees throws deep for Henderson but Tarell Brown makes an amazing interception – jumping over the receiver the snag the ball high in the air. That’s four turnovers so far for the Niners, who have the ball at their 29 yard line with 1:49 left in the first half. Niners have all three timeouts left.
3:04 Smith completes a short pass to Vernon Davis for a gain of eight. Second and two.
3:04 Smith completes an out to Kyle Williams for a gain of six and a first down. Jonathan Goodwin is back in the game at center.
3:05 Smith gets his pass batted at the line of scrimmage.
3:06 The Saints put nine in the box and Alex Smith does not check out of the run play for some reason. He hands the ball off to Gore who runs up the middle for one. Saints call their second time out.
3:07 Smith completes a six yard pass to Kyle Williams. Fourth and three at midfield. The Saints take their last timeout with 1:06 left in the half.
3:08 Lee punts and Sproles makes the fair catch at the NO 14 wih 59 seconds left. Remember, the Saints have no more timeouts in this half.
3:09 Colston catches Brees pass at the sideline but can’t keep both feet in bounds. Second and ten.
3:09 Brees completes a screen to Sproles and Aldon Smith tackles him immediately for a loss of four. Third and 14, and the Niners call their first timeout. They want the ball back.
3:10 Brees completes another screen to Sproles who gains seven before Willis tackles him. The Niners take their second timeout with 40 seconds left. Fourth and seven and Morstead is in to punt.
3:12 Ginn Jr.’s ankle flared up, so Kyle Williams is in the game at punt returner. He returns the punt five yards to the SF 45.
3:13 The Saints rush three, Smith has all time to throw but he throws it way over Kyle Williams head and out of bounds.
3:13 Smith fumbles again, and this time the Saints recover. New Orleans ball at the SF 44 with 17 seconds left.
3:14 Brees throws deep for Henderson but Henderson tripped. Second and 10 with 12 seconds left.
3:15 The Niners cover the sidelines, giving up the middle of the field. Brees tries to run for it but gets caught from behind and flicks the ball away incomplete. Four seconds left – Hail Mary time.
3:17 Brees throws the ball away before Patrick Willis can sack him.
3:31 Kyle Williams takes a knee in the end zone.
3:32 Smith completes an out to Crabtree on first down for seven yards.
3:32 Justin Smith and Isaac Sopoaga are in the formation. Gore runs off right tackle for two. Third and one.
3:33 Gore powers up the middle for four yards and a first down.
3:34 Smith throws a pass at Vernon Davis’ feet. Incomplete.
3:34 Hunter runs off right tackle for one yard. Bad play call. Third and nine.
3:35 On third and long the Saints blitz – no surprise – and they sack Smith – no surprise. Adam Snyder let the blitzer through.
3:36 Lee punts 57 yards to Sproles who fumbles. Costanzo forced it. Colin Jones comes away from the pile with the ball. Niners ball at the NO 26. That’s the Saints fifth turnover.
3:38 Gore runs a counter to the right for three.
3:38 The Saints bring ten in the box and blitz. Smith drops back and throws the ball out of bounds. Third and seven.
3:39 The Saints blitz again and Crabtree drops a pass on a slant again – this one was right on his hands.
3:40 Akers makes the 41-yard field goal. 20-14 Niners.
3:42 Touchback Akers.
3:45 Brees checks down to Sproles. Whitner tackles him after a gain of six.
3:46 Brees play fakes, rolls right and completes a 31 yard pass to Colston.
3:46 Ivory up the middle for two. No idea why the Saints called that play.
3:47 Brees throws the ball away before Aldon Smith drags him to the ground. Third and eight. That run of first down is hurting the Saints now.
3:48 Brees tries to call timeout but the refs don’t give it to him, so he snaps the ball and throws it out of bounds. After the play the refs award the Saints the timeout. Still third and eight.
3:49 Justin Smith obliterates Drew Brees for the sack. Fourth and 17. He started on his feet, ran around the Evans the right guard, beat him and sacked Brees easily.
3:50 Ted Ginn Jr. returns Morstead’s punt to the SF 19.
3:52 Ginn Jr. takes a fly sweep to the right and gets planted on him back by Jonathan Vilma. Gain of three.
3:53 Smith hands off to Gore, he runs right and throws back to Smith low. Smith drops it and falls on it. Third and thirteen.
3:54 Smith slides left and completes a short pass to Gore over the middle for seven. Not nearly enough.
3:55 Lee punts a line drive on purpose which Sproles lets drops. The ball bounces to the NO 13. Mark that a 63 yard punt.
3:57 Brees has forever to pass, he throws it up and Goldson almost picks it off. Second and ten.
3:58 Brees completes a quick slant to Henderson for a gain of 19.
3:59 Ivory up the middle for seven. Second and three.
3:59 Brees completes a nice backshoulder pass to Graham over the middle for 12 yards and another first down.
4:00 Brees play fakes and throws deep to Arrington. Rogers was all alone in coverage, he caught up and batted the pass away. Great play. Second and ten.
4:01 Graham drops a pass in the flat. Third and ten.
4:01 Niners call their first timeout of the second half. I guess they felt the Saints had them beat before the play started.
4:03 Patrick Willis knocks the ball away from Arrington on the pass from Brees. Fourth and ten, and Morstead is in to punt.
4:04 Ginn Jr. makes the fair catch at the SF 15. 3:21 left in the third quarter.
4:05 The Saints put nine in the box, Smith play fakes and completes a short pass to Bruce Miller, who gains 16. Great play call by Greg Roman, finally.
4:06 Hunter off left tackle for no gain.
4:06 The Saints blitz, Smith throws deep and the refs call pass interference on Ted Ginn Jr. The Saints decline the penalty. Third and ten. Ginn is down on the grass.
4:09 The trainers are examining Ginn’s knee cap. It looks like he banged his knee on the defender the previous play.
4:10 Smith throws down the sideline for Crabtree but overthrows him by a mile and the pass sails out of bounds. Kyle Williams for a pass interference on the play, anyway.
4:11 Lee punts, it takes an NO bounce and Costanzo downs it at the Saints 34. Very un-lee-like – the 35 yard punt.
4:12 Brees checks down to Sproles who picks up 12 and a first down.
4:12 Ivory up the middle for five.
4:13 Brees completes a short pass to Henderson for ten yards and another first down. First and ten at the SF 39.
4:16 Brees completes another one, this one to Colston for nine yards. Second and one.
4:16 Ivory up the middle for three. First and ten at the SF 27.
4:17 Brees throws to Graham’s feet before he gets sacked. Second and ten.
4:17 Ahmad Brooks plants Ivory for a loss of two. Third and 12.
4:18 Colston drops a touchdown pass. Brees put it on him at the goal line and he dropped it. Reggie Smith was right there.
4:19 John Kasay makes the 48 yard field goal. 20-17 Niners with 13:08 left in the fourth quarter.
4:25 The internet went out again, but it’s back. The Niners went three and out. On third and four Smith threw high over the middle to Kyle Williams, who got his hands on it and should have caught it but didn’t. Lee punts. Saints ball at their 18.
4:27 Brees flicks the ball away before Justin Smith drags him down. Second and ten.
4:27 Brooks sacks Brees. Loss of seven.
4:28 Justin Smith pushes Jermon Bushrod all the way back to Brees and then sacks him. Morstead punts. Niners to start this drive at their 36.
4:31 The Saints put their whole team in the box, still the Niners run. Smith hands off to Gore who breaks through the line and gets caught from behind after picking up 42 yards.
4:32 Hunter takes a pitch sweep to the right and gains four. Second and six at the NO 18.
4:32 Dixon up the middle for no gain. J. Smith, Sopoaga and Boone were in on that one. Didn’t help.
4:33 Smith gets his pass batted down at the line of scrimmage again, but Gore happens to catch it. He runs for a loss of one.
4:34 Akers makes a 37 yard field goal. 23-17 Niners.
4:37 Sproles returns Akers kickoff to the NO 21.
4:37 Brees checks down to Sproles who gets clobbered right away by Bowman. Gain of one. Second and nine.
4:38 Aldon and Justin Smith run the stunt. Aldon beats the center easily Brees throws the ball away before he’s sacked. Third and nine.
4:39 Brees rolls right and hits Henderson for 13 yards and a first down.
4:39 Brees completes a pass to Colston between three Niners defenders. Gain of 11 and another first down.
4:40 Brees completes a quick pass to Meachem. Brown tackles him immediately after a gain of four.
4:41 Brees completes a quick pass to a wide open Sproles. Goldson tackles him nicely after a gain of five. Third and one.
4:41 Sproles up the middle for one. First down at the SF 44.
4:42 Brees play fakes and looks long but no one’s open, so he throws it out of bounds. Second and ten.
4:42 Brees completes a short pass to Sproles and he breaks away from everyone for a 44 yard touchdown. 24-23 Saints with 4:02 left in the game.
4:45 Morstead kicks it out of the back of the end zone.
4:46 Smith play fakes and completes a short pass to Hunter, who picks up 13 yards and a first down.
4:46 Smith gets his third pass of the game batted down at the line of scrimmage. Second and ten.
4:47 The Saints blitz and Smith throws it as far as he can off his back foot. It happens to be the perfect pass – right over Vernon Davis’ shoulder for 37 yards. First and ten at the NO 30.
4:48 Gore runs a pitch sweep right for five yards.
4:49 Hunter up the middle for two. Third and three. The Saints use their second timeout of the second half. 2:18 left in the fourth quarter.
4:50 The Niners get flagged for 12 men in the huddle. How atrocious. Niners have to call their second timeout. Third and three becomes third and eight.
4:51 The best play of the season: Smith takes a designed run around the left end all the way for a touchdown. Greg Roman completely redeems himself. 28 yard touchdown run by Smith. Joe Staley made the key block downfield. The refs are reviewing the play to see if Smith stepped out of bounds. He certainly did not. Touchdown confirmed. 29-24 Niners and they’re going for two.
4:55 Gore takes an inside handoff up the middle and doesn’t score. 29-24 it remains. 2:11 left in the fourth quarter and the Saints have one timeout left.
4:57 Colin Jones plants Sproles at the NO 12.
4:57 Brees completes a WR screen to a split-out Sproles who picks up 10 and a first down at the 22.
Two Minute Warning
5:00 Justin Smith hits Brees as he throws high and incomplete. Second and ten.
5:01 Brees completes a 12 yard pass to a wide open Colston, who gets out of bounds with 1:48 left. First and ten.
5:02 Brees throws deep and hits Graham, who breaks away from the secondary and scores. 66-yard touchdown. The Saints must go for two here.
5:03 Brees hits a wide open Sproles in the end zone to convert the two-pointer. 32-29 Saints with 1:37 left in the fourth quarter.
5:04 Williams returns the kickoff from halfway in the end zone to the SF 15.
5:05 From the shotgun Smith checks down to Gore for a seven yard gain.
5:06 Smith checks down to Gore again for 11.
5:06 Smith throws deep for Swain who lets the ball bounce off his right hand. Not a great effort by Swain there. Second and ten with 40 seconds left.
5:07 Smith hits Davis on a post over the middle for a gain of 47. Whoa. First and ten at the NO 20.
5:08 Smith checks down to Gore for seven yards, then Smith spikes the ball with 14 seconds left. Ball at the NO 13. Third and four.
5:08 Smith throws the best pass of his career by far – a 14-yard rope to Vernon Davis at the goal line. Davis catches it and scores. It’s The Catch III. 36-32 Niners.
5:11 Colin Jones tackles Roby at the NO 14. Three seconds left.
5:13 The Niners call timeout.
5:14 Game over. The Niners win 36-32. Harbaugh sprints off the field. I’m sprinting down to the locker room. Back at you soon.