NFL: 49ers upset Saints in thrilling finish

Alex Smith threw for three touchdowns and ran for another to spark the San Francisco 49ers over the New Orleans Saints 36-32 in a second-round NFL playoff game.

Smith tossed a 14-yard touchdown pass to Vernon Davis with nine seconds remaining to give the 49ers the deciding points and a victory in their first playoff game in nine years.

"I had to take it upon myself to step up and make plays," Davis said. "I had to step up and make it happen to get myself and my team-mates where we want to go. The opportunity came and I took advantage of it."

The 49ers took advantage of five Saints' turnovers and exchanged the lead four times in the last 4:02 against the NFL's top offensive unit to reach next week's National Conference final.

San Francisco will play on January 22 against the winner of Sunday's game between the reigning Super Bowl champions Green Bay Packers and the New York Giants for a berth in Super Bowl 46 on February 5 at Indianapolis.

With the 49ers leading 23-17, Brees connected with Darren Sproles on a 44-yard touchdown pass that put New Orleans ahead 24-23 after John Kasay's conversion kick.

Sproles caught the ball over the middle, his 13th grab of the game matching a NFL playoff record, and raced up the middle of the field into the end zone to give the Saints their first lead of the game.

San Francisco answered with an 80-yard touchdown march that was capped when Smith ran 28 yards around the left side and into the end zone to put the 49ers back on top with 2:11 remaining.

But Frank Gore was stopped on a two-point conversion run attempt, leaving San Francisco ahead by only 29-24 as the Saints took the ball needing a touchdown for the triumph.

In response, Brees flipped a 66-yard touchdown pass over the middle to Jimmy Graham, who evaded a defender to make the reception then raced the final 40 yards into the end zone to give New Orleans the lead.

When Brees flipped a two-point conversion pass to Sproles, the Saints led 32-29 with 97 seconds remaining.

But that was plenty for Smith and Davis, who caught seven passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns to send Brees, who set a single-season passing record this season, out of the playoffs.

"On that last drive, we knew a field goal was going to get us into overtime," Smith said. "We got the look with Vernon and he made a nice play that got us into field goal range ... then Vernon made a great catch in traffic for the touchdown."

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