Stingy 49ers hold down Drew Brees, Saints 36-32

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith crosses the

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith crosses the goal line for a touchdown against the New Orleans Saints in the fourth quarter. (Jan. 14, 2012) (Credit: AP)

SAN FRANCISCO — Alex Smith completed a 14-yard touchdown pass to Vernon Davis with 9 seconds left just after Drew Brees had put the high-powered Saints ahead, and the resurgent San Francisco 49ers capitalized on five New Orleans turnovers for a thrilling 36-32 playoff victory Saturday.

Smith ran for a 28-yard TD with 2:11 left and threw another scoring pass to Davis. Coach Jim Harbaugh’s NFC West champions (14-3) proved that a hard-hitting, stingy defense can still win in the modern, wide-open NFL by holding off one of league’s most dynamic offenses.

San Francisco triumphed in its first playoff game in nine years, moving within one win of returning to the Super Bowl for the first time since capturing the proud franchise’s fifth championship after the 1994 season. The Saints finish at 14-4.

Next up for the 49ers is the NFC title game against the winner of Sunday’s New York Giants-Green Bay Packers matchup.

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