Saturday’s exciting finish shouldn’t have happened


While perusing Peter King’s always-indispensable Monday Morning Quarterback column, I remembered a point that got lost in the frenzy of weekend football action.

The thrilling finish we enjoyed on Saturday shouldn’t have happened.

In MMQB, King takes a great look at the bowling-ball block from 49ers tackle Joe Staley on Saints safety Isa Abdul-Quddus that cleared the final portion of Alex Smith’s path to the end zone for a 28-yard go-ahead touchdown run.  But Smith arguably should have gone Brian Westbrook, taking a knee at the one with 2:11 to play.  (And, yes, 2:11 was left on the clock when Westbrook infamously sacrificed a touchdown.)

The clock would have trickled to two minutes, the Saints had only one timeout, and the Niners would have been able to milk the clock under 40 seconds before kicking what would have been the game-winning field goal.

Instead, the 49ers left the Saints and quarterback Drew Brees way too much time — and Brees took full advantage of it.  Fortunately for the 49ers, Brees took too much advantage of it.

It all worked out in the end for the 49ers, providing San Fran fans with “The Catch, Part III” and everyone watching the game with an unforgettable memory.  But it shouldn’t have created quite as many gray hairs and/or ulcers for our pal Sam Francisco and the rest of the 49ers fans.  Instead of having to pull the latest Dwight Clark/Terrell Owens rabbit out of their hats, the 49ers merely should have had to keep the Saints from scoring a field goal with roughly 30 seconds on the clock.

98 responses to “Saturday’s exciting finish shouldn’t have happened

  1. True, but the Saints probably could’ve scored in 30 seconds. By the end of the game, they had figured out that all they needed to do was to throw at Donte Whitner, and they’d get an easy TD (see the Saints’ last two TD’s, if you want to see the hilarious proof).

  2. This is what I was thinking too. Kneel on 1st to get to 2 minutes. Kneel on 2nd and make them use their time out. On 3rd try and punch it in on the ground, let time run if you don’t make it, then kick the FG on 4th.

    It all worked out for them though, so its moot.

  3. “The thrilling finish we enjoyed on Saturday shouldn’t have happened.”

    That’s what the Saint’s say…..Baaaahhhhhh!!

  4. Nope. The Saints capped off a 66 yard touchdown drive in 34 seconds. What are the chances SF’s defense that was getting smoked would have stopped them from getting a FG in 30?

  5. Ok, smith could have done that but instead they chose to shove another long drive down the throats of the cheap shot artists called the saints secondary. One of the best and most satisfying games i have ever seen. Luckily the 49ers didn’t have to play the new york referees, an expansion team that showed up to lambeau field last night.

  6. Possibly the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. You never give up guaranteed points… especially when it puts you in the lead. Never take the risk of a missed FG, some penalties, turn overs, etc. Uh… remember the Jerome Bettis near debacle against the colts in the playoffs?

  7. People that agree he should have taken a knee, have never competed for anything in their life. This “kid” has been beaten up by every media idiot out there…now he has a chance to run in the go ahead TD in a playoff game, but he should have taken a knee? King and others need to stop over analyzing everything. If that was Rodgers or Brady, it would been deemed the greatest QB run in post season history…

  8. Brees didn’t take “too much” advantage of his opportunity. No such thing as scoring too quickly when you need a TD.

    The blame rests squarely on the defense, who gave up 2 HUGE plays on the 49ers final 2 drives (1 run and 1 pass). Especially the last drive…85 yards in under 2 minutes? Are you f**king kidding me with this crap?! That wasn’t Green Bay, or Detroit out there burning the secondary. It was Alex f**king Smith. No excuse for that. None.

    Good game 9ers. I said the same thing about the Vikings in the 09 NFCCG that I’m going to say about my Saints now. Sloppy football is not winning football. Turn it over 5 times and make too many stupid mistakes, you lose. Period.

  9. This article would make more sense if you didn’t assume that Drew Brees and the Saints couldn’t move the ball 50 yards in 30 seconds, even though they proved that they could with the drive leading to the Graham TD.

  10. If they could run out the clock, sure, you’d be right then. But since the clock wasn’t run out, you are wrong.

    No way I give the ball and 30 seconds to Brees. That would be risking a botched field goal, a kickoff return, and then the New Orleans offense (which has a good kicker).

  11. I don’t necessarily agree with the headline stating “Saturday’s exciting finsh shouldn’t have happened.”

    It appears to rest on the premise that the field goal kick can be taken for granted. Though Akers is a very very good Kicker – Gary Anderson missed a gimme (at home, in a dome) back in the NFCC against Atlanta. There are other examples, but that is a good one.

    It also appears to rest on the premise that the field goal snap is a gimme. It’s rare, but recall the 2002 or playoff game involving the 49’ers and Giants. The two words “Trey Junkin” became very well known.

    Also, it appears to assume Brees couldn’t have got the Saints into field goal range themselves. Recall how fast Brees tore the Saints down the field for a touchdown. Now imagine only needing to get to the 30-35 yard line. Not a gimme either.

    This headline makes sense in a number of ways from a probability perspective — but for the one part where it takes a higher probability of success, and equates it to a 100% probability of success.

    Just my take.

  12. Hindsight will always be 20/20. Willis had a rare missed tackle and Graham took advantage. Can’t blame the Niners for taking the score and putting the D back on the field.

    Don’t crap on this awesome victory, Mike!


  13. Disagree. Niners wiuld have kicked FG on third down so Saints would have gotten the ball at abt a minute 20 give or take. Rather have Saints with more clock having to score six than 1:2o needing only three…especially w Niners defense

  14. In hindsight, I have to agree. But I’m just a fan. It’s hard to say what was going through Alex Smith’s mind, as that run was playing out. He’s a football player and his job is to win the game and they “usually” win by scoring more points than the other team. Perhaps, the 49ers thought their defense could stop Brees and the Saints’ offense inside 2 minutes.

  15. Same thing with the Texans, although it was intercepted, their last play, if successful, would have left way too much time left on the clock. They were marching down the field just fine, I don’t understand that call at all.

    Coaches today are terrible at managing the clock at the end of the game, whether they are behind or ahead.

  16. Couldn’t disagree more. What if Akers misses the easy field goal? Unlikely to happen, but surely possible.

    Remember, there’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip.

  17. Anybody think Brees wouldn’t have been able to get the Saints back into field goal range in 40 seconds?

  18. Sounds good, but in reality it only took the packers about 40+/- seconds to score a TD. They could have drained the clock down and the Saints could have still scored the go ahead points. Also, if you are going to make the argument that Niners should have rtaken a knee at the one then shouldn’t you make the same case for the Saints?

  19. Interesting point, but the Saints came back with a fantastic play, a 66 yard TD less than 30 seconds after the kickoff following Smith’s running TD. 30 seconds is enough time for that offense to have gotten into field goal position. And, with the Niners defense, you have to think that they don’t really play the game expecting the Saints to put a long drive together in less than a couple minutes for a TD. I say against an amazing offense like the Saints, you take as many points as possible and hope for the best.

  20. im sorry, but how can you fault smith for scoring that td rather than taking a knee and trying to set up for the gw field goal?

    he had a touchdown which put them up by more than a fieldgoal, and if they had converted the 2 pt, it would have been a full td game. when you have a good defense like san fran, that defense should be able to stop an offense from going the length of the field with 1 timeout and less than 2 minutes, which they obviously couldnt.

    now if that smith td gave them only a 2 pt lead, id agree, because then brees would only need to go like 40-50 yds for a fg attempt, but when it gives you more than fg lead, you go for the td and have faith in your ”great” defense to stop them. fg is not a sure thing.

    also, how can you compare it to the westbrook thing, the westbrook play was to seal the game, the eagles had won. A better play to compare it to would be MJD vs the jets in 09, when he had a td but went down at the 5 yd line so the jags can milk the clock and kick the gw fg.

  21. The fact that Brees took too much advantage of it shows why leaving 40 seconds to Drew Brees to only need a FG to win would have been the wrong decision.

    So you’re completely wrong.

  22. What if they would have missed the kick/blocked/fumbled snap? I think if they had to do it all over again they would have done it the same way.

  23. B.S. !!! Nothing like 20-20 hindsight to come up with what should have been done hours after the game is over. He scored a TD and put one of the very best defenses in football on the field to protect a lead. That is not arguable or a bad decision.
    No one could have expected Smith to go untouched on the play and no one should have expected him do things any differently than he did. If he had done what the Monday morning experts are crying about who knows what could have–would have happened? A penalty, a bad snap on the field goal try, a fumble, an inexplicably horrendous call by the officials (no way–that would be impossible!)…bottom line, he did exactly what a good football player would do.

  24. If they could kneel and fully run out the clock when attempting a FG sure. But unless they specifically told Alex to take a knee at the one any player in the NFL is going to run that in for a score. Not to mention I wouldn’t give Drew Brees thirty seconds to have to only score a FG to win.

    I would also lend to the fact that it gives the 49ers more confidence in Alex Smith in that he can lead them to victory when they are down late. As they did itnot once but twice to get the lead again. That confidence could be immeasurable in terms of winning or losing next week.

  25. Actually, there is a much more stunning point in today’s MMQB that deserves mentioning.

    Peter King has the same agent as Jeff Fisher! Wow- does that explain a lot.

    I would love to know how many other media members have Marvin Demoff as an agent.

  26. If Smith takes a knee then he would not have taken the team on that incredible last minute winning drive that was a huge confidence builder. He grew as a quarterback on that drive and the team will benefit from that experience next week and hopefully in Indy in 3 weeks.

  27. Ask Philip Rivers about for sure kneel downs.

    Ask Tony Romo about for sure field goals.

    Ask Jerome Bettis about for sure touchdowns from point blank range.

    Besides, Westbrook and Jones-Drew were closer and had thought about the possibility of getting to the endzone. No way anyone could have considered Smith would scamper around end and rumble for a touchdown from nearly 30 yards out.

    I guess for that matter so should’ve Jimmy Graham.

  28. I’m sorry but now not only are you importing any news you print from others but now you are importing dumb opinions as if your werent good enough?!?

    Besides pointing out the obvious that even if he had taken a knee and everything went according to plan, the saints would have had about 35 seconds, considering the saints did score a touchdown in that amount of time I think we can all agree they would have made a game ending kick.

    To compare Westbrook going down in week 4 when your a bad team just trying to win a game to a team fighting for a spot in championship game is stupid and lazy. Once again the purveyors of this site prove they suck and are lazy. And appear to be trying to knock a young man who just played the game of his life . Good Job!

  29. Maybe…… but remember Philip Rivers against the Chiefs nothing is guaranteed you should not mess with the football Gods. Take the points and trust your D.

  30. This logic is plain stupid. Take the points. And by your own argument, graham is the one who should be criticized for not kneeling at the 1.

  31. This is insane commentary. FG’s are NOT automatic. Just ask Tony Romo, Phillip Rivers and Olindo Mare about guarantees in handling snaps and making kicks. You only take the knee when you have the lead.

  32. if you think the saints might not score a field goal with 3o seconds left youre a moron. here we go again with the media downplaying the brilliance of the 49ers. we dont take knees. we give them.

  33. The Giants had about 5 of “the catches” last night.

    We’re more interested in “the rings”…

  34. Uh… There would have been over 40 seconds left and they woulda had a 2 point lead. Thats plenty of time for a guy like Brees. Rodgers moved into field goal range easily against the Giants earlier this year with 50 seconds left.

    Westbrroks play and this play were 2 totally different scenarios. The Eagles were up by 9 points and by taking a knee, they were able to run out the clock to 0. If they scored, it woulda have still been a 16 point lead with 2 minutes left on the clock…

  35. Never put your playoff win in the hand of your field goal kicker…. or is that just me?

    charger fan

  36. Absolute Nonsense – you’re an underdog in a playoff game you take the points when you can get them.

    Haven’t you seen enough in recent years (Colts giving away perfect season, Dallas icing their own kicker, etc etc) to realize the football gods do not appreciate our human cleverness. They give you a gift you take it gladly and say thank you.

  37. the important point that many people are missing, is that westbrook & the eagles had the lead, and could end the game on offense. the niners were behind, so nobody should fault them for taking the guaranteed points the lead.

  38. Taking it to the endzone on the boot was the right thing as they were playing from behind. Different if they had the lead.

  39. Remember when Terrell Owens caught the catch on the packers from Steve Young and cried? Then he was known as T.O.

    Did you notice Vernon Davis after he caught the game winner? I hope he is known as V.D. from now on.

  40. What does it say about a team that has 5 takeaways, yet still is sweating the game down to the final minute?

    Everyone knows the Saints are unbeatable at home, but a very different team on grass.

    I think the 49er fans are a little too confident here, and really need to worry about the Giants.

    The Giants play a different defense than the Saints. The Giants are not going to be blitzing all over the place, which created the matchup issues the Saints had.

    I’m calling it now – Giants 24 49ers 10.

  41. no, milking the clock by doing nothing but running or kneeling is the coward’s way out. Ask the Bears and Martz how that guaranteed victory in Denver this year. By playing to win, the team got a lot more confidence knowing they can score with anyone in the clutch.

  42. As a Saints fan I am pretty miffed (considering the Giants won) we lost the way we did but all the credit goes to SF.

    That was a great game with some great plays by both teams down the stretch. Just an exciting game to watch and a heartwrenching defeat for Saints fans.

    I don’t blame Smith for punching the ball in it’s like Jimmy Graham said you can never score too qwuick if you can score you score. Props to Smith and VD they were a couple of guys that not so long ago folks were calling busts they steped up bigtime. Congrats to them and the 49ers.

    The one consoling tought I can take from the whole thing is I know next year my Saints will still be there. Next year we need to win enough to get the top seed. We just can’t win on the road in the playoffs.

  43. People keep saying in hindsight it’s the right move? Really? In no reality is that the right call. I can’t believe someone who is a “football expert” would waste their time and ours with such a ridiculous article.

  44. Did you have to bring up the Eagles who were 5 – 1 in the division but couldn’t manage to make the dance? It’ll be ironic if the NFC is represented in the Super Bowl by the winner of it’s crappiest division.

  45. This makes no sense. If the field goal would have made it a two-score game, fine. Play it safe, and trust your kicker. But it wouldn’t have. Smith saw the opportunity for 7, and he took it. Would King has been merciful if Smith had taken the knee, Akers kicked the FG, and Brees threw a 70-yard TD as time expired? Somehow, I don’t think so. You see 6, you take it. This isn’t the preseason. You don’t get cute and outthink yourself.

  46. Brian Westbrook “infamously” sacrificed a touchdown? You’re a writer, get your words right:

    in·fa·mous [in-fuh-muhs]
    1. having an extremely bad reputation: an infamous city.

    Nothing “infamous” about a team-first player sacrificing a touchdown for a guaranteed win. And I’m no Eagles fan.

  47. Saints didnt deserve to win that game!!!!give the 9ers credit…Saints gave that game away,an all football fans know that.You lose the turnover battle”you will lose the game”. you know why they won.Alex Smith will get the credit but 9er’s only had 198 total yards until GW went to the prevent yourself from winning. defense..Good luck to the rest of the way,to 9ers an the Giants.,Pats an Ravens fans……

  48. Initially, I thought that would be a good move. After further thought, no way. If the niners had the one point lead then sure, it makes sense, but they were behind. Imagine the backlash Smith would have received if he took a knee and then they got stopped, penalties, turnover or a botched field goal. All the experts would be screaming about a colossal mistake that lost the game and he would have been forced out of town with little chance for a decent contract elsewhere. Under the actual circumstances Smith did the smart thing.

  49. If a touchdown is ever a bad thing for your team, you don’t deserve to win a playoff game.

  50. All I know is that as a Saints fan, I was happy that if we were going to give up the first down, that A Smith go went ahead and got the TD. Doubtful Saints would have been able to get anything done with 30 seconds left and no TOs. And just because the Saints scored in 34 seconds on the subsequent drive doesn’t mean that they could have or would have done so with no timeouts, the 49ers likely playing a different, more conservative defense, and with the Saints avoiding throws down the middle to save clock. So, in the end, I agree with this premise.

    Would you also say that Graham should’ve taken a knee at the 1 yd line on his TD so that the Saints could’ve run more clock at the end? Of course, they needed a TD and not a FG (much different situation). I don’t think Graham could’ve possibly had that awareness. A Smith should have though.

  51. 2 big differences between the Westbrook play and the Smith play – The Eagles had the lead, and since Dallas was out of timeouts, the ability to take a knee to run out the clock. GAME OVER.

    You never heard of a fumble? a bad snap? a blocked kick? wide right???

    No way you give up the sure TD for a possible field goal later.

  52. People that agree he should have taken a knee, have never competed for anything in their life. This “kid” has been beaten up by every media idiot out there…now he has a chance to run in the go ahead TD in a playoff game, but he should have taken a knee?

    I agree it was the right call to score the TD (you only take a knee when leading by a few points), but your argument is bunk. You’re saying it’s OK for a player to do something because it makes him look better? He shouldn’t be looking for validation in the media. Heck, I’d give him more respect if he did take a knee instead of giving himself a TD, because that shows he cares more about the team and winning than personal stats. Again, though, he was right to score the TD because they were not leading.

  53. This may be the most ridiculous premise I have ever heard. Seriously? Don’t score a touchdown when it’s available to you?

  54. “If that was Rodgers or Brady, it would been deemed the greatest QB run in post season history…”

    Actually, if it was Rodgers, the Giants would have tackled him on the five yard line and Leavy and his officiating crew would have ruled that the ball broke the plane of the goal line. Kidding aside, I agree that it’s 100% understandable for Smith to want to score. He’s been the press corps punching bag for everything that was wrong with the 9ers. Has to be a very, very satisfying season for the young man.

  55. I respect Peter King and his ‘observations’, however, if you think for one minute this potential eventuality was even discussed between Harbaugh and Smith prior to the call, than you don’t understand football or competition and the mindset of a QB’s mentality. They were thinking we need to score a TD on that particular drive and go up by 5 and possibly 7. Had Smith been pushed out of bounds or tackled, than yes, the option King describes would have been the likely outcome. With that said, 30-40 seconds on the clock for Brees is plenty of time to get back into FG range and kick a winning FG. As someone suggested above, these ‘analaysts’ are paid to do just that, analyze and criticze every potential outcome that could have, should have or would have happened. In the heat of the moment, this was the last thing on Harbaugh’s/Smith’s radar when they called the play they thought would score a TD, period.

  56. Saywhat? You got it completely wrong about who should have pulled a Brian Westbrook.

    It was Saints TE Graham who should have gone to the ground at the one half yardline. Then the exciting finish would not have been possible.

  57. Greg Williams playing man that late. He is overated as a defensive guru. Lots of intricate defenses and blitzes that are built on smoke and mirrors.

  58. Even though I would have liked to see the 9ers play better D at the end, I wouldn’t change a thing about this game. Seeing Alex Smith do all of that was incredible. No one deserves it more than that dude. We don’t get credit for being a hardcore market like NY or Philly, but 9er fans, and NFL fans in general, have killed the former #1 overall from 2005 a million times. “We want Carr!” Remember all of that?

    This entire post is pointless. I would love to argue with Peter King on this one and tell him how stupid this is! You think Harbaugh and 9er fans wanted to find out if Brees could have gone 35 yards in 30 seconds and ended the game with a lame field goal. The way it ended was the way it had to be. Now start analyzing the championship games and let this one go down as one the best playoff games ever.

  59. my instant reaction on the run was that he should have taken the knee, i’ve read all of these posts and still don’t think he should have run it in. 2:11 on the clock with a timeout leaves drew brees a very high likelihood of scoring, everyone knows that and idc how good the 9ers defense is. When the saints score you the 9ers most likely be left with too little time to score and not as efficient an offense. By draining the clock to between 30-40 seconds after the kickoff, hopefully pinning them inside the 20 after they try and force out a kick return you give your defense the ability to stop the saints much much easier. scoring in 32 seconds with no time outs is not the same as scoring in 32 seconds with essentially 2 time outs (they do NOT run a seam route to graham with no time outs!!!!). of course they ended up MIRACULOUSLY winning but i think you have extremely higher odds of winning by taking that kneel.

    and to steelers hypocrite, not only have i competed and played football for years but so did brian westbrook and we saw him do it so that theory is retarded.

  60. Peter King picked the Saints.

    Peter King can’t predict 2 minutes & 11 seconds anymore than he could predict Saints v. 49ers.

    Peter King is FOS.

  61. If it was a case where you’re in the lead or you can win via FG with no time left on the clock than taking the knee would’ve been a correct decision.

    I think people are also forgetting that if the 9ers get the 2 point conversion than at best the Saints score a TD and tie the game.

    And to add Smith didn’t even really have time to even think about taking a knee as he wasn’t for sure in till the last second so I doubt clock scenarios and game management was running through his head as he was running with everything he had.

  62. “You Play to Win the Game!”

    All we have been hearing all week is how the Niner’s can’t win by taking field goals. They took the TD that was available on a play that no one expected. Kudos for NO to come back and score again. I thought it was over at that point. Great drama can’t happen by taking a knee. The game manager managed to do more than just manage the game.

    I will take the drama every time…makes the outcome that much more special. The Run, The CatchIII, The WIN…and Smith and Davis were instrumental in both drives and are making a case to not be forgotten in all the talk about our D, special teams and running O. Davis was the forgotten man all season and Smith was derided as a Game Manager. This is the big stage where you either lay down or fight.

  63. Coula shoula woulda and IFs don’t matter here because the Niners WON. If SF would have lost, then you could talk about these scenarios as a possibility. SF advances.

  64. I can understand taking a knee if the score is tied, or if you’re ahead by less than a TD.

    However, when your team is behind and you have a chance to make the go-ahead score, you do it.

    What’s more, why kick a field goal with 30-40 seconds left and then give the other team a chance to get in FG range, which could get you beat. John Kasay is money, and all the Saints would have needed to get into FG range was get to the 49er 35 yard line.

    Sorry, but I think this ‘take a knee’ with 2:11 left when you’re trailing is a bogus argument. Smith knew his team was behind and scored the go-ahead TD. Then he followed it up with a clutch drive and TD pass with :09 left. That’s the stuff legends are made of.

  65. Smith did the right thing. You have to take the bird in the hand and score. What happens if you kneel, then fumble the snap on a subsequent play, or get the FG blocked. He was right in not getting too cute with it. Take the sure points then move on.

  66. This is possibly the dumbest article you’ve posted.
    Why the hell would you knee at the one in lieu of a guaranteed td?? You take the points in front of you! I know I’m ranting in hindsight but if Alex Smith had taken a knee yesterday I’d have screamed at my tv!

    Seriously, we’re you wearing a dress when you wrote this?

    I will say that the NFCC game should be a classic. Two old skool powerhouses playing against each other and our games against the Giants have always been good ones. Giants secondary’s better and that front four rotation is scary. Hoping Davis has another monster game.

  67. How come Peter King didn’t say Graham should have also dropped a knee at the 1 yard line? Thank Goodness Carlos Rogers did not complete the tackle and Graham scored leaving Alex and the Niners enough time to run an 85 yard drive completed by #85 Vernon Davis! WGIBTU??? NOBODY!!!!

  68. Are you forgetting the 2 minute warning? Play ran, then timeout with 2:05 remaining. Play ran 2 minute warning. Play ran clock ticks down to 1:20. It would of been incredibly stupid to risk doing this and 80 not 40 seconds is way more then enough time.

  69. seriously, if half the responses to your “story” are along the lines of “this isn’t even a story” then it’s time to think about a new line of work, dude. and don’t call “hits” to your “story” a symbol of success when you practically trick people into clicking on it.

  70. Wait what?

    Can you imagine if Smith had actually DONE this?

    Every media micromanager would have had a field day with Smith if he did this. Smith went all Van Helsing on the Saints for good reason. You gotta kill it. You can’t let it hang around.

  71. no way, had to happen the way it did, 9ers had to show themselves and the fan’s, owners and all the past coaching staffs that they mishandled Alex and this team.big ups to Vernon he’s grown up alot with our D, special teams, and the offense has more confidence.the niners are gona win Superbowl.hard to think any team can beat them. they been most consident team all year getting better every game have not been blown out;man this feels like 1981 really good team peaking at right time.

  72. Peter King is a tool. I wish he would just go away forever. Or at least go cover the Red Sox permanently. He actually sounds like he has a clue when he’s talking about baseball. As for football, he is just an idiot. I hate PK so very much. Probably the biggest douche to ever write about the NFL.

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