Vernon Davis #85 of the San Francisco 49ers celebrates after his touchdown with Michael Crabtree #15 against the New Orleans Saints during the NFC Divisional playoff game at Candlestick Park on January 14, 2012 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

I’m a baseball fan who’s only recently expanded my horizons into football, and one of the things I’m still having trouble with is the way that football games end.

I’ll usually stay until the actual end of a baseball game, even if my team is down by ten runs — until the game’s over, there’s still a chance, even if it’s tiny. Not so with football, as my friends have tried to explain to me when I ask, “why are you all getting up? The clock says there’s two minutes left.”

Last Saturday’s 49ers-Saints game was an exception to the ambiguous game-end experience, as my live-blogging colleague Dan Brekke described.

In the last five minutes of the game, the score changed 7 times: Niners 23, Saints 17; tied at 23; Saints 24, Niners 23; Niners 29, Saints 24; Saints 30, Niners 29; Saints 32, Niners 29; Niners 35, Saints 32; and the final score, Niners 36, Saints 32, with nine seconds left on the clock.

Earlier today, we got some insights from broadcaster and analyst Rick Tittle, who’s heard on 95.7 The Game and Sports Byline. Rick had previewed the game with KQED’s Kelly Wilkinson on Friday, when he boldly predicted a final score of San Francisco 21, New Orleans 20.

Rick Tittle: People say that the last three minutes of a basketball game is when it gets interesting, but here it is a divisional playoff game in the NFL and you had the same kind of story.

It was the first time in NFL playoff history that you had lead changes with touchdowns like that, three times in a timespan like that. It looked like the 49ers had won it when Alex Smith ran that bootleg in off the left side. And then they came right back down and New Orleans, with the long touchdown pass to tight end Jimmy Graham, it looked like the 49ers had thrown it all away.

Then Alex Smith, coming back with his signature moment “The Grab,” as tight end Vernon Davis wants it to be known instead of “The Catch” — yeah, it was theater, no doubt about it.

Nina Thorsen: You were expecting them to win, I think.

Tittle: Yeah, when I was in on Friday I predicted a one-point victory. I just thought the 49ers at home, such a tough defense giving up just 10 points a game. And New Orleans is not as prolific offensively when they’re outside the Superdome. I didn’t think that Drew Brees was going to throw for nearly 500 yards against that defense. The Niners did definitely stop the run.

But it was all about turnovers, the Saints got down 17-to-nothing very early, and maybe as maligned as that 49ers defense was in that fourth quarter, they gave the offense that huge lead in the first quarter which allowed them to win in the end. So the numbers might look pretty for Brees, but overall, all that matters is the score.

Thorsen: What can we expect from this Sunday’s game against the New York Giants?

Tittle: It’s amazing, if you think about it. The 49ers are going to host the NFC championship, and then you have the Giants – you know the Giants only made the playoffs on the last day of the season, as they played the Cowboys, winner-take-all in the NFC East. It’s a game the 49ers can’t discount. They’ve played the Giants at Candlestick this year, and it was a very, very close game.

But you have to think that the 49ers were favored, despite the Giants shocking the Packers at Lambeau yesterday. It’s probably gonna be an ugly affair, I would assume, probably going to be a lot like the Saints game, very close, very dramatic.

The game is at 3:30 PM on Sunday. Tickets go on sale to season ticket holders at 10 AM Wednesday, and the leftovers — if any — will be offered to the general public at 1 PM.

Q & A: Why the Last Two Minutes of the 49ers Game Was Historic 16 January,2012Nina Thorsen


Nina Thorsen

Nina Thorsen is a KQED radio producer and director, and frequently reports on sports, food and culture.  

She co-created and produced KQED’s Pacific Time,  a weekly radio program on Asian and Asian American issues that aired from 2000 to 2007. Before coming to KQED, Thorsen was the deputy foreign editor for Marketplace.  In her home state of Minnesota, she worked for A Prairie Home Companion and for Public Radio International.  

Nina was honored by the Radio-TV News Directors Association of Northern California in 2012 for a series of stories on the Oakland A’s stadium.  She is a graduate of the University of Minnesota with a degree in speech-communication. 

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