Alex Smith's game-winning touchdown pass Saturday to Vernon Davis worked almost as planned in the 49ers' 36-32 divisional playoff game against the Saints. Yes, almost as planned.
Lining up to Davis' left was fellow tight end Justin Peelle, who hoped to draw linebacker Scott Shanle farther away from the play to create a better passing lane for Smith.
"The linebacker didn't freeze on me as much as I thought he would," Peelle said Monday. "Vernon makes an unbelievable catch. But Alex drives the ball into a small window."
With nine seconds remaining, Smith delivered a 14-yard bullet down the left hash marks and into Davis' chest at the goal line. "The Grab," as Davis dubbed it, erased a 32-29 deficit and sent the 49ers into this Sunday's NFC Championship game against the New York Giants at Candlestick Park.
"It might have been 100 miles per hour," Davis said of Smith's velocity. "It was just like practice. He pushed up 12 or 15 yards, I snapped my head and the ball was there, just like practice. Great timing, great timing on Alex."
"Alex made the perfect throw," coach Jim Harbaugh added.
Smith, who roomed with Davis during training camp, finished 24 of 42 for 299 yards with three touchdown passes and one lost fumble. He also had a stunning, 28-yard touchdown run down the left sideline for a 29-24 lead with 2:11 remaining.
Defensive lineman Justin Smith lauded Alex Smith's leadership and confidence, adding: "Hopefully, he's got his game-manager label or whatever that label is off of him."
General manager Trent Baalke also praised the quarterback. "Like I told him after the game, I don't know if I've ever been happier for an individual than I was for Alex to come through in those moments like he did and to have the type of game he had," Baalke said on 95.7 The Game. "And to just see the joy on his face ... if anyone deserved it, Alex deserved it. [I'm] very appreciative that he was able to do that."
Alex Smith wasn't available for comment during Monday's locker room access. But he sat down with CSN Bay Area and said: "This last game was pretty special to be a part of. You take the half day or 24 hours to enjoy it, and now we move on. Looking at one more to get to the Super Bowl, and obviously that's the goal."
• Overshadowed on Smith's touchdown run were key blocks by left tackle Joe Staley and wide receivers Kyle Williams and Michael Crabtree. Williams lined up on the left side of the formation and cut inside to throw his 5-foot-10, 186-pound frame into Saints defensive end Will Smith (6-foot-3, 282 pounds). Crabtree blocked cornerback Terry Porter, and Staley ran down field to clear's Smith path along the left sideline.
"Joe told us in the locker room, 'Wait 'til you see my block on film,'??" Harbaugh said. "It was a tremendous block, the stride, the beauty of the arm action, the leg cycle, the speed."
• Wide receiver/return specialist Ted Ginn Jr. entered the 49ers training facility with virtually the same limp he's had for nearly a month. But Ginn did not have his tender right ankle in an orthopedic boot or a brace on the right knee that forced him out of Saturday's game.
• Tight end Delanie Walker posted on his Twitter account that he plans to suit up Sunday for the first time since suffering a broken jaw Dec. 24. Harbaugh said that decision hasn't been made and will be up to team doctors.
• Running back Frank Gore appeared to reinjure his right leg on the 49ers' final drive, but Gore said Monday: "I feel good. I'll do whatever it takes to get to the Super Bowl."
• Center Jonathan Goodwin said he's fine after missing a series Saturday with a leg injury.
• Former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo will serve as the honorary captain, team president Jed York announced on Twitter.
• Hall of Fame coach John Madden, on his daily KCBS 740-AM radio show, said: "That's the best game I've ever watched. It had everything in it. Great plays, and great plays when they were needed to win."
• Justin Smith played every snap on defense and even three on offense as a short-yardage blocker, to which he said: "You just go out there and run into your guy. They dummied it down for me. It was good."
• Jack and Jackie Harbaugh watched on television from their Wisconsin home last weekend as their sons advanced to Sunday's conference finals. A day after Jim Harbaugh's 49ers advanced to the NFC final, older brother John's Baltimore Ravens advanced to the AFC Championship game by beating the Houston Texans.
"I don't know what my assignment will be this week," Jack told Atlanta's WQXI-AM. "Last week, I had a special assignment from Jim. He sent me some Green Bay Packers tape, and I spent a couple hours looking at that. Those notes are moot."
(c)2012 the Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.)